All her life _____ had grown up feeling like an outsider to the small town she grew up in. From the very start of her life she had felt unwanted. Abandoned in the woods as a baby and found in the center of a ring of mushrooms, the stories followed her all her life that she was otherworldly. Of course it was only the old women in town that whispered about the tiny points at the top of her ears and the shine in her eyes. They were all old enough to remember when this small town was nothing more than a street and all the girls played in the forest with the fae. But that was before the darkness had come and taken their friends away. The flowers wilted and the fairy circles died. The mushrooms bowed under their own weight and let the ground eat them up. And just when they thought all magic had died, a baby was found in a new circle. No one would believe them that she was fae-born. They would mock their age and roll their eyes, talking about how the women loved their stories.
_____ was all but invisible to most of the town. She sat in the small orphanage, listening to these stories whenever she could. The old women in town doted on her, but none of them had the means to adopt such a young child. The years passed and just as the flowers once had, the women began to wither and die. Their stories of the fae-folk left with them and _____ grew out of the tales, forgetting them with each woman's passing.
She was never adopted. No one wanted the strange girl with the strange glint in her eye. When she came of age, she packed up her very few belongings and tried to make her way in a world that was not made for her. She always felt like she was lagging behind. Her first car. Her first cellphone. Her first apartment. And there was always a hole in her heart. In the very fabric of her being. For a long time she thought it might be the hold her parents had left the night they left her in the woods, but over the years the hole grew. It festered. It felt like she was always homesick for a place she had never been. She longed for places she had only ever seen in her dreams. And it was beginning to take its toll.
In the otherworld, many years ago, a war began. It was not a war fought on any battlefield, but a war bought by brothers. Prince's. Fate had decided that the first prince should not receive an heir. If his younger brother was able to do so, then his child would be their legacy. In his anger and jealousy, he decided to kill his brother: an action no fae royal had ever stooped so low to sully themselves with before. And the world felt it. It cried out in pain for the love lost between the brothers and the earth turned dark. All manner of fae, large and small, felt weaker. And the sully's prince ruled with such darkness that for the first time in ten thousand years a royal fae found himself ruling without heart and without law.
Many stood up to the new prince, so different than he was before. Those who did not fear his wrath amassed an army and threw themselves at his forces, but nothing would break the shield of hatred he covered himself with. And soon the attempts faded. Soon, everyone accepted that this new world was dark and cruel.
Korvo had also learned that lesson the hard way. He had tried to do right. He he fought with the others. He had seen the death. Young and foolish is what he was. An assassination attempt gone awry had landed him in the arms of an executioner. His life should have ended there, but he was a coward. And he was weak. He begged.
Cursed into a grotesque form, he was tasked to serve his majesty "until I see fit, or until I forget about you." His form was chosen for the black cloak he had worn, his hooked nose, and the lightness of his feet. A raven. A signal of death. An assassin and thief.
The prince make good on his promise and released Korvo who was now little more than a slave to the very man he had tried to kill. Now, he killed for him. He stole secrets for him. Trinkets he had heard about and merely wanted to lay his eyes upon. Korvo did all of this and more. And over the years, the prince made himself a king. All the while, Korvo grieved his once beautiful features, but realized that with training, he could become his cursed half. He could slip into the skin of a raven as easily as slipping on his cloak. And he began to enjoy it, along with everything else that came with it. Soon, he found himself waiting for the next time he was asked to steal. To kill. To kidnap. The darkness was spreading in him and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Nor did he wish to.
And then the day came when the king found other things to entertain him and just as he said, he had forgotten Korvo. And Korvo found himself angry that he had been so easily thrown aside. He could hardly remember his old self: so sick and afraid and weak. The old Korvo had wanted to be forgotten so he could leave this place and try to live a normal live again. But Korvo now... He had tasted blood.
He left. He found he could get paid to kill and thieve and hunt. He frightened the fae around him, but he didn't need their trust, just their money. His greed outweighed his anger and he spent it all on drink and women who might look him in his raven eye if he paid them a little extra.
Years passed in a drunken stupor. Much older and all innocence gone, he received a summons. Down a dark alley and into the back door of a small pub. A hooded figure handed him the largest coin purse he had ever seen and his human eye narrowed.
Travel between worlds? Retrieve a human girl for this strange witch he had just met? He did not need to be asked twice. He would have done it for free just for the excitement and he certainly asked no questions.
☆ The plot twist to this story is that- you guessed it- your character is the child of the king's brother and therefore has a right to the throne. Time passes differently between the two worlds. ☆ This is a romance. You can absolutely change the gender of your character. The complete agony and angst of a beauty and the beast tale with a starcrossed lovers addition. Once they figure out who she is, he will never look at her the same again and it will take a long time for him to think he could have any kind of future with her. -cue sappy music- ☆ This world is also lightly based on that of fae lore, but I am not limiting it to that. In my mind it is more like a medieval land where lots of fairy-like species live together.
I do not write with minors.
☆ Mature themes. Purity police dni. ☆ Anything spicy will be taken completely offsite or time skipped if you so choose. ☆ I work a full time job. I expect patience and I will give you the same. ☆ I am looking for paragraphs of posts. And I do not want to be the only one moving the story along. I always get tasked with making the plot twists and taking the next action. I genuinely do not mind this most of the time, especially when it's in a story I made, but if I feel I am doing too much of the heavy lifting I will grow tired and bail. ☆ TALK to me about the plot. Obsess about our characters. Send me songs or a playlist. I have pinterest boards for most of my stories and I enjoy not just writing, but bonding over the story as well. I really don't bite. ☆ This story is an amalgamation of several ideas formed from all kinds of random books I have been reading lately. :) ☆
[size14 A name to a fae is like a limb. It is so much a part of the soul, yet a part that can be severed by one with enough power. The pain that follows such a blasphemous act is almost unbearable. So unbearable that some do not even survive the separation. Those that do are usually changed. Their old name, no matter how long they once had it, is forgotten.
It is an act usually performed when a high fae has disgraced their family. Banished from their home they wander in shame and if anyone they meet knows their true name their tongue will refuse to speak it. The only person who can give back the name is the one who took it from them. Many will wander, remembering their old life, unable to face the future. Some manage to find a semblance of new lives and find a new name, but they will always feel a perpetual emptiness.
Korvo was not a high fae. He had not disgraced his family. He had only tried to change the world.
When he felt his name tear away from his soul he was sure he was going to die. He didn’t remember his real name, but he remembered that. One hundred years later and he remembered the pain like it was yesterday. He had never heard of a lesser fae, such as himself, having gone through the torture. Lesser fae were weaker. They were lower in social status for a reason. And yet he had survived the punishment for attempting to assassinate his own king.
The following years were easy compared to the pain of losing his name. He rather enjoyed them after he learned to stop pitying himself. He stopped seeing the loss of his name and the curse that took its place as his downfall. He leaned into the name the new king had given him. He leaned into the curse. He left his old self behind in the same place where lost names went.
He felt more power than any lesser fae could understand and it was all thanks to the Shadow King. Even now, as he drifted through the streets, unwanted even by the royal fae who created him, he felt strong. People shied away from him in the streets, afraid to look upon his disfigured face. They shrunk under the weight of his black raven eye. A hundred years ago he might have hid himself away in shame. Now he enjoyed the power.
His cloak hung heavy on his shoulders in a sharp cut. The overlapping ends gave the appearance of dark wings. The hood was down, exposing his face for all to see. Black feathers sprouted from his right forehead and cheekbone and jaw, working their way into his hairline and getting lost in the dark waves framing his face. The beginnings of a beard completed the makings of a shadow walking.
He ducked under a swinging pub sign. Everything was smaller in Lowtown. The lesser the fae, the smaller the fairy. He didn’t duck inside. Instead, he ducked into the alleyway beside the building. He could hear the usual bustle of a late night pub. Fae had to find ways to keep their spirits up these days and the best they could settle for was a little mead in their bellies.
“Didn’t think you’d show,” came a gruff voice, close to the ground at the end of the alleyway next to some empty casks. While anyone else might not have been able to see the gnome in the shadows, Korvo’s raven eye granted him the ability to see in the darkest of places. He was squat. Almost wider than he was tall. A large nose and pockmarked face. His gray hair sprouted in all different directions before it tamed itself enough to become his beard.
“Griz,” Korvo said in response.
“Suddenly we’re not too good for ye?”
“As long as you’re [i suddenly] able to pay up front.” Korvo took a step closer to the gnome, his mouth tugging up into a dark grin. He had to give Griz credit. He tried not to shake.
“Well, it ain’t me whose doin’ the payin’. And you’ll get your monkey up front. I told her you were a tough one.” Griz shuffled over to the side door and turned the knob. He stepped inside and Korvo followed after, ducking through the frame. It opened up into a small room he was familiar with, though he usually entered pub-side. A quick glance around told him that Griz’s normal guards were not there. And in Griz’s usual place sat someone in a fine cloak.
The gnome waited by the desk and a hand came out from one of the sleeves to drop a small coin purse in his hands. Griz looked at it with wide eyes before turning and leaving the room the same way they had come.
The door closed. Korvo could hear the muffled sounds of the pub on the other side of the wall, but that was it. He stood there, looking at the figure hunched over the desk. Their hood was so low over their face that he couldn’t see them. Neither could they see him.
He took a step closer. Just one. “There have been many attempts on my life.” His voice was strong. It broke the silence like glass. “And I am still here, so you must know this does not bode well for you.” He held his arms out to the side. The candlelight glinted off exposed claws on his right hand. Feathers untucked themselves from his sleeve.
“I am not here to kill you,” came her voice from under the hood. The power of it pulled at him. His eyes widened.
“What is a high fae doing in Lowtown?”
“I heard you are one of the last that is able to travel between worlds.” Once again, the sheer melody and magic to her voice nearly sent him to his knees. This was no ordinary high fae before him. “I heard that you used to go there for the king.”
“Yes,” he said, unable to stop himself. She was a weaver of powerful magic and he could not deny her the truth. “He wanted to know what the human world was like. He would have me bring things back for him.”
“And you still do this? You still go to the human world?”
“Rarely. I have no reason to.”
“Then I am giving you one more reason.” Her hand reached up and placed a coin purse on the table. It was so full that coins were threatening to fall out of it. He could feel the pulling of greed, the urge to reach out and grab it. Yet he stayed his hand. She sensed his apprehension. “You will get another when you return with what I want.”
[i Another?] He could hardly believe it. “And just what is it that you want?” he dared to ask, knowing that once he did, there would be no going back. He was stepping into this contract just by asking.
“A human girl. A mere child in our eyes, but a woman nonetheless.” The words hung in the air and he parted his lips. Finally, the woman looked up at him. Try as he might, he could not see through the shadow to her face. Her magic was strong and she did not want him to see her.
“I have never brought a living thing between worlds,” he told her. “No less a human. And even if it did work, it would be a death sentence should the king find out.”
“The king will not find out,” she replied in a way that told him that was only partially true and that she was not telling him everything. With one hand she pushed forward the bag of coins. More coins than he had ever seen in his life. He glanced between them as he weighed the consequences with his greed.
Finally, he reached for the coinpurse.
[center * * * ]
Finding someone was easy. When you had their name. And when you knew what they looked like. Yet Korvo knew none of these things. He had gone around in circles with the woman for an hour trying to get details, yet she was unable- or unwilling- to give anything up. Eventually she gave him enough to at least [i start] his search. Her aura. How she had come into possession of it he didn’t know.
All beings had one and it was one of the few magics humans had of their own, though they didn’t know it. Everyone left a wake wherever they went that told a story. Fae could gather theirs up and gift it to people they loved or trusted. In this case, Korvo took this human’s aura into his mind as a way to track her. He wrinkled his nose at it. It felt all wrong and he wanted to be rid of it as soon as possible. He was also given a vial of gold liquid. He knew what it was without even asking. When he was younger he used to dream about getting a hold of some.
“Bring her to Three Star Lake. Hand her over to me and [i only] to me. I will not send anyone else to collect her. If anyone promises you more money for her, bring me their heads and I will give you even more. I will give you all I have. But I [i must] have this girl. You will go and you will go now.”
The urgency in her voice was enough to tell Korvo that this would be the adventure he had been waiting for. Too long had he gone staring into the bottom of a bottle. Too long had he gone wasting his time on petty crime and too-easy killings. Too long had he yearned for the days when he served the king just because it had filled him with excitement and purpose.
He emerged from the pub and slipped into his raven skin, a shadow taking to the skies. He was far too large to be a real raven, yet when he traveled the wind it was the only time no one looked at him in fear. He found a place where the veil between worlds was thin, so high up that it was almost hard to breathe. He saw white for one blinding second. Every fiber of his being tingled. He focused only on the human’s aura and let it carry him.
The veil opened up and he gracefully landed on the first thing he saw. He glanced around himself, getting his bearings. If Korvo could have let out a laugh in his current form, he just might have.
For he was perched on a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield. The irony was not lost on him.
[i What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.]
Jane Doe often pondered this Shakespearean quote. She wondered whether she would ‘smell as sweet’ if she had been given a different name. Her true name. For Jane Doe was not a name at all. It was a placeholder for the unknown, the unidentified. She was given the placeholder name when she was found as an abandoned baby in the woods. It was supposed to be temporary. There was an understanding that on the day she was adopted, she would also adopt a new name. That day never came.
When Jane came of age at eighteen years, she was released from the care of the system. With her newfound freedom came the option to choose a name that best suited her. However, given her isolated upbringing in the orphanage separated from all others, Jane Doe remained the best fit. Unknown, unidentified. Sometimes, it felt, even to herself.
Untethered, Jane knew she wanted to go somewhere that dwarfed the town of her childhood. In such a small place, her loneliness felt like it echoed endlessly along an extensive, empty cave. It resounded off the walls and bounced back at her in mimicry. As if being an orphan wasn’t othering enough, her peers were further perturbed by her appearance. At a glance she seemed normal. Perhaps more slender than most, but with thick wavy black hair and an unassuming face she was otherwise painfully common. However, with closer inspection came the sensation that one was peering directly into the uncanny valley. The tips of her ears peaked in unnatural points and there was a curious glint behind her dark brown eyes. It was enough for the townspeople to mind their distance when crossing Jane’s path. She had always hated it.
So, in the search for a new home, it was essential that she find someplace where she could blend in rather than stick out. New York City checked all the boxes. Unfortunately, as a young girl with no prospects, experience, or secondary education, acquiring decent accommodations was difficult. Jane was forced to settle for indecent instead. She entered into an unsavory agreement with a landlord three times her senior. He accepted her in ways she’d never experienced, but also in ways she’d never choose. He didn’t know about her ears since he always preferred her hair in pigtails, yet he must not have minded the sparkle in her eyes because liked to make her keep his gaze whenever they were together. Jane moved out at the first opportunity she got. Which was for the best since she was fast approaching aging out of the agreement anyways.
At twenty years old, just two months shy of twenty-one, Jane was able to afford an apartment in Washington Heights. She worked some odd jobs here and there to keep the lights on and water running. Thankfully, nothing else suspect. Mostly she survived doing the things no one else in such a busy city wanted to do: taking care of homes, plants, pets, and kids. It was easy work. But incredibly inconsistent. Although she was loathe to do it, at some point she had to bite the bullet and enter the food service industry.
Jane was hired by an independent coffee shop near Highbridge Park. Roasts & Toasts. They served fifteen different blends of coffee and ten different types of toast including, of course, avocado. It was the type of place that loved using exposed lighting fixtures that were always a touch too dim. She thought that it seemed pretentious, but her coworkers and customers were generally nice people. Plus, the coffee shop’s down time often gave her the ability to write freely.
Ever since she could remember, Jane would always have incredibly vivid dreams. Only they didn’t feel like dreams. Every aspect was too vivid, as if she were experiencing them in real time. She could feel the tickle of the grass between her toes, the coolness of the breeze on her face, and the hum of something [i otherworldly] in the air. That was the only way to tell that they were dreams rather than memories, the unearthly qualities. Even though they weren’t real, Jane still felt a magnetic pull toward them. At times she thought the longing for the mythical place would be enough to tear her in two. It never did. But it did compel her to write about it.
Jane sat on one of the high-top bar stools by the window typing on a second-hand laptop she’d acquired through Facebook Marketplace. Her mind worked faster than her hands could move, but there was something therapeutic about dumping all of one’s thoughts into written words. Writing without restraint or censorship. She’d find the time to sort through the mess of it back home.
“Whatcha writing?” A curious voice came from over her shoulder. Jane turned to see her coworker Naomi standing there. She was an effortlessly cool Black woman who sported what she liked to call a ‘teeny weeny Afro.’ The style suited her nicely. It freed up her face to showcase her perfect cat eye liner and deep purple lipstick. Naomi was the same age as Jane, but she somehow seemed so much more mature.
“Oh.” Jane shrugged and subconsciously moved her body to block the laptop screen. As much as she enjoyed writing, she’d never shared her work before. “Just some stuff.”
“Stories? Blog post? Essay?”
“Uh, yeah, stories, I guess.”
“That’s cool.” Naomi took a seat next to Jane, looking at her expectantly. “Stories about what?” There was a certain easiness that came with talking to Naomi. She was one of the rare kinds of people who asked questions about others and genuinely wanted to know the answer. Jane liked her, considered her one of her only friends. Even if they never talked or hung out outside of work.
“Like magic and stuff. It’s kinda silly,” Jane said sheepishly.
“No, hey, that’s awesome,” Naomi countered with an encouraging tone. “Harry Potter’s got the same deal going on, and it’s easily one of the most popular things out there. I’m sure your magic stuff is great too.” She offered a smile that Jane couldn’t help returning. “Anyways, a couple of my buddies and I are gonna go hang out in Midtown later tonight. I’m pretty sure Adam’s coming too.” Another coworker. “Wanna join?”
“I can’t. I’m closing tonight.” The fact that the two women never hung out outside of work was not for lack of trying on Naomi’s part. She was always inviting Jane to see local musicians, check out new bars, or even simply walk the neighborhood. Jane made up some excuse or another to not go every time. She’d kept to herself for this long and managed fine. No point in changing that.
“Girl, we close at like [i eight,]” Naomi said with a laugh. “That’s plenty of time to pregame. Come out! It’ll be fun, I promise.”
“Okay, yeah, maybe.”
“Maybe means no.” Naomi had encountered many maybes since knowing Jane. “You’re not seriously staying in on a Friday night, are you?”
Jane shrugged. “I’ve got things to do.”
Sensing she wasn’t getting anywhere, Naomi conceded. “[i Fine.]” She scribbled something down on a nearby napkin. “But here’s my address if you change your mind. Like I said, we’re gonna pregame and then probably head out around 10 or 11ish. If you want, you can meet us at the bar too. You know Connolly’s?” Jane nodded even though she had no idea. “Great, that’s where we’ll be. I really hope you can make it.”
Naomi shook her head and laughed again despite herself. “Kay, I’m about to head out. You need anything?”
“No, I’m good. Thanks.”
“Alright, well I’ll see ya.” Naomi left.
Jane examined the napkin with the messily written address. She was about to toss it into the nearest trashcan but thought better of it. She stuffed it into her front jean pocket instead then got back to writing.
The rest of the day passed without much incident or excitement. Since there were no customers for the last half hour, Jane was able to close shop ten minutes early. After giving the surfaces a good wipe down and the floor one final sweep, she gathered up her laptop bag then headed home.
Jane’s apartment was a squalid little place. It hadn’t been renovated since the sixties or seventies and the last inspection date was unknown. However, the worst of her problems were mainly in the lingering smell of mold and the lack of heat which, in retrospect, weren’t all that bad. She combatted the issues by buying an impressive arsenal of scented candles and keeping an electric blanket nearby at all times. As it was summer, she didn’t even have a need for the latter.
When she entered the apartment on the fourth floor, the lights flickered a few times before buzzing to life. Although it was a small space with the bedroom and living room doubling as the same thing, she managed to make it rather cozy. A variety of plants grew in abundance all over. Some were potted on the floor while others hung from the ceiling, their tendrils positioned just so. Fairy lights wrapped around the perimeter, giving the room a gentle glow. Jane also favored furniture fashioned out of wood. Her bed frame, dresser, and miniature desk were all made of rich oak. One might have thought she would shy away from the earthy tones and atmosphere given her origins, but in truth they made her feel more at home than anything else.
Jane put a kettle on the stove and collapsed into bed. She took out her phone to scroll mindlessly through the content until the kettle began to scream. Once the water was piping hot, she poured it into a mug and began to steep a bag of chamomile tea. Taking the tea and her laptop, she took a seat at her small desk overlooking the street below. Jane settled herself in to write, however her fingers merely hovered over the keyboard. Naomi’s words rang through her mind again.
[i “You’re not seriously staying in on a Friday night, are you?”]
How many Friday nights had she spent at home? Probably all of them. Jane racked her brain for an answer as to why. Yes, she could manage alone, that much she knew. But when someone was so clearly and consistently trying to reach out to her, why did she decline? The answer lay in the fact that she sensed she was so [i different.] However, Jane had to wonder if she really felt removed from the people around her, or if she was still harboring those feelings from her upbringing. Perhaps the distance at this point was self-inflicted.
Chewing on the inside of her lip for a moment, the young woman came to a decision. She pushed herself away from the desk, her tea now forgotten, and made a beeline for her closet. Jane couldn’t remember a time when she’d ‘gone out’ – what was she supposed to wear? After trying on at least six different outfits, she settled on a plain black tank top and some denim shorts with frayed edges. The look was completed with a pair of beat-up old Converse she’d had for ages. She also tried to spruce up her look with some makeup. At first, she went for a bold red lip, like Naomi would wear. It was very much not her style. She smeared it off with the back of her hand. Jane then tried to wear eyeliner instead. That also resulted in a catastrophe of imperfect lines. She was more than a little out of practice with applying the stuff. Defeated, she washed her face and opted for no makeup. That was supposed to be a bold choice these days anyways, the natural look. Her hair she kept down as it was the best defense for hiding her ears.
Grabbing her phone, keys, and wallet Jane left the apartment for her first night out. It was just past 8:45pm and the sun had long since made its descent behind the towering buildings. The evening was balmy, but not unpleasantly so. Jane took out the crumpled napkin and tapped Naomi’s address into her phone’s GPS. It was about a twenty-minute walk, but the weather was nice enough to allow it. With an anxious excitement churning in her belly, she set off.
[size14 It had been a long time since he had come to the human world, but not much seemed to have changed. He wasn’t surprised. Time passed slower here. Much slower. For every year that passed here five or six had already passed in the fae realm. He jumped and glided from rooftop to powerline, marveling at the human nature to both create and destroy. His beak opened and a harsh noise came out as he choked on the exhaust from a passing, rumbling truck. It was the perfect example. Humans had no magic to aid them so they had come up with other ways to make their lives easier. But in doing so, they also hurt the very air they breathed just to achieve it.
When he used to come here for the king he would study these creatures. The king had not asked him to do this. It was his own curiosity. No one paid him any mind. Ravens were common enough here and he could watch the humans as long as he wished. At first he thought they all looked the same. Then he began to realize that they, too, came in all shapes and sizes and colors, though the variety was lacking compared to the fae.
In the Otherworld there were pixies who walked on the tips of their delicate toes, mermaids with shining tails, trolls that towered over even the largest high fae and gnomes that waddled underfoot. These humans were dull. There were no wings or antlers or tails. Nothing to sing about as the songs of old did.
He never thought he would ever actually get to meet a human. He had not been a wandering fairy like some of the others when the passages were open. He did not feel especially fond of the species. And to bring one back with him? He was not concerned with overpowering a human. He was simply unsure how to get one back to the Otherworld.
He shook his raven head. He would worry about [i how] to get her to Three Star Lake when the time came. At the moment, he just had to focus on finding her.
Her aura, strangely, was strongest in the woods nearby the friendly scarecrow’s field. This is where the aura had been picked up and there was no way to tell exactly how old it was.
Like a dog on the scent, Korvo followed the tug in his mind. It led him in circles around a small building that had clearly seen better days. Two children sat forlornly on the seats of a swingset, unmoving. Around and around he went. She had spent some time here, it seemed. He thought he would go mad, that the aura would never pull him away, and just when he was sure this was all some prank, the aura broke off and the emotions attached to it changed. He hadn’t been paying attention to them at first. They were so dull and muted that he hardly noticed them. Now he understood that it was loneliness. An aching she had dealt with for so long she wore it like a second skin.
[i Oh], but on the road there was a whisper of hope. A dream of the future. His wings carried him further and further. So far he had to keep reminding himself to pay attention to the aura. This was not simply a flight of pleasure. Eventually, the small road rolling through fields and forests turned into stretching pavements. And then it was onto concrete jungles.
Korvo had flown through cities like this before. Giant populations of people living on top of each other was something he could not wrap his mind around. Most fae gravitated towards community, but none had ever built something taller than it was wide. Hell, even the royal castle would not have been able to withstand the sheer number of humans living in New York City.
The sun was just beginning to set as he perched above a shop. Her aura was strong here. She must frequent the place. But when he landed on the sill he could see that no one was inside and the lights were off. Onward, then.
He told himself he could not be far now, but really he couldn’t be sure if it would be another day’s flight or three. He would have to eat before too long. After all, he had a man’s stomach, not a raven’s. But the mice that skittered about in the back alleys were starting to look all the more appetizing.
[i Focus, Korvo. The sooner you find the girl, the sooner you can return home, line your pockets, and eat better than the fucking king himself.]
He nearly pulled a wing when he felt the tug of the aura. In his distraction he had not noticed it curving downward at first. He landed on the sill of a window and a fleck of rotted wood came out from under a talon. His wings [i thwapped] against the siding as he tried to right himself and he peered inside. The sun had set now, but he could clearly see there was no one inside. And yet he could clearly tell this was the little human’s home.
He looked about the side street. No one was about. And where there once was an oversized raven there was now a man holding onto the gutter and jimmying one of the two knives from his back under the window. He deserved a peek, right? Perhaps he would find something that would help him find her easier. Anything, [i anything], than the sickening feeling of having someone else’s aura inside him.
The window gave with a satisfying click. With one smooth motion he slid it up and entered feet first. He did not have to find the lights to see. His raven eye did all that for him. And what he found was not unlike a few pixie’s homes he had been in. Plants were everywhere. The air felt cleaner here than it did outside. The wood from her furniture almost reminded him of his boyhood home. He quickly moved his gaze to focus on something else.
“Why does she want you, little human?” He looked over surfaces hoping something might jump out at him all while running his hand over the wood grain of the furniture as he went. “Why are you so important?” he asked, finding her makeup, her clothes, her kitchen. He turned back to the living room, about to call it quits when something stark white caught his attention on the table in front of the couch. Or rather, it was the scrawl that he was interested in.
He reached out and picked it up in his human hand and read. He was not the best at reading English, but everyone used to learn it before all the fairy rings were destroyed. Even [i he] could speak it. Working out the letters took him a moment and when he realized he was looking at an address, the corner of his mouth tugged upward.
His other hand brought the vial of gold liquid the woman had given him up to his eye. He couldn't help but feel a little foolish for it, but he was excited he was getting the chance to use it. He was heading into a throng of humans. He had to look the part, after all.
Jane stood awkwardly in front of the apartment door that was twenty minutes south of hers. She had already knocked, but she had done it so softly that the occupants inside were unlikely to hear even if there hadn’t been any music blasting at full volume. A knot was twisting itself into tighter and tighter configurations in the pit of her stomach. She could hear them raising a toast to the night, but she didn’t have much of a taste for alcohol. She could hear them laughing, but she knew she wasn’t funny. She could hear them swapping stories, but nothing noteworthy ever happened in her life. What was she [i doing] here?
Just as Jane was turning to leave, the door opened.
“Yeah, it’s just around the corner, so I shouldn’t be – [i fuck!]” Adam, a tall man made entirely out of muscle, practically squealed when he ran into Jane. “Jesus, I’m sorry – ”
“No, I’m sorry, I – ”
“Wait, wait, hang on. Holy shit – [i Jane?!]” His handsome face broke into an incredulous grin. “No way! What’re you doing here? You live in the complex?”
Jane stumbled weakly over her words. She had always had a crush on Adam but was usually pretty good about keeping those feelings in check while at work. Now that she didn’t have the safety blanket of coffee machines and toasting ovens, however, she felt strangely exposed in front of him. It made her jittery as she looked up at his towering stature. “Uh, no, I live – well, Naomi gave me her address earlier. I mean, she invited me out tonight.”
“Adam, you good?” came Naomi’s voice from inside.
“Yeah, all good!” he called back. He beckoned Jane into the apartment. She barely suppressed a titter when his large hand rested on the small of her back to guide her into the long entrance hall. “And look who I found,” he announced to the living room at large once they rounded a corner. Four expectant faces all turned in their direction.
“Ohmygod! [i Jane!] Hey!” Naomi came bounding up to Jane and flung her arms around her neck. Jane stumbled back a few steps, surprised by the energetic welcome. “Wow, wow, wow – you’re here! Like, actually here! This is great, I thought you weren’t gonna come.”
“I said maybe,” Jane said with an embarrassed grin.
Naomi gave a hearty laugh that was a little more than Jane deserved. “Keeping me on my toes then, I like it.” She turned back toward the rest of her guests and said, “Everyone this is Jane. She works with me and Adam. Jane, that’s Santiago and his partner Evan.” She gestured to two men sitting together on a velvety blue couch. They both waved at her cheerfully. She simply nodded back with a small, shy smile. “We all went to college together. And this over here is my best friend, Mia.” The strawberry blonde sitting on a bar stool at the kitchen counter flashed a toothy smile.
“It’s nice to meet you all,” Jane said. There was a murmur of reciprocation before a semi-awkward silence fell over them. Even with the music still playing, it was uncomfortable. Whatever lively party had been going on moments before had died with her arrival, it seemed. She could feel a bright red flush rising to her cheeks when Adam broke the silence.
“I guess I should head back out. Jane,” Her name almost sounded special coming from his lips. “I’m going out to get some drinks real quick. Any requests?”
“I don’t know.” Not wanting to seem too lame, she quickly added, “I guess anything that’s sweet.”
This answer earned another classic Adam smile. “Something sweet for someone sweet, you got it.” There was no avoiding it now. Redness blossomed all across her face.
When Adam returned, he carried enough alcohol to inebriate an elephant with him. Naomi scolded him for sparing no expenses, complaining that too much liquor was already left at her place from other past parties. The man simply gave a shrug and a quick wink to Jane, explaining that it was a ‘special Friday.’ Without much effort on his part, he managed to goad her into taking what he called a blow job shot with him. To her immense surprise, it was [i delicious.] If alcohol could taste like that, maybe she could learn to like it. There was barely any burning. Only a strong sweetness that reminded her of chocolate milk. She had two more.
The alcohol made everything so much easier. She had nice conversations with all of Naomi’s friends. Santiago and Evan shared the story of how they met one another and asked about her love life. They caught on immediately when her dark eyes darted to Adam. They teased her some, but not in an unkind way. Mainly they encouraged her to make a move, saying that they’d be a cute couple. When she drifted over to Naomi and Mia, the former spent nearly the entire time hyping Jane up. She complimented her writing skills, interpreted her quietness as an observant intelligence, and continuously repeated how glad she was to finally see Jane outside of work. Mia was incredibly receptive and kind. She even commented how much she liked Jane’s pretty eyes, which had her blushing again.
Jane also spent a lot of time talking to Adam.
It was so easy getting along with this group of friends that they might as well have been her own. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been this close to really feeling [i happy.] It was almost overwhelming.
By the time it was a quarter to eleven, the group began to organize themselves to head out. Mostly it involved putting on shoes, trying to locate personal items, and taking turns using the bathroom. Young and drunk, they stumbled outside of the apartment and began to make their way to the subway. Jane’s arm was hooked in Adam’s. Naomi eyed them together inconspicuously. Jane was laughing at some joke Adam said when she caught a glimpse of a man staring at them from across the street. He was shrouded in shadow, but it was unmistakable that his gaze was targeted in their direction. Unblinking. The city was no stranger to the homeless population unnerving passersby. Their minds were sometimes clouded with alcohol or drugs which made them do or say strange things. But the stillness of this figure implied that he was on neither. An unbidden chill ran up Jane’s spine. Two moments later, and much to her relief, they descended the stairs of the subway and lost sight of the man.
Connolly’s turned out to be an Irish pub in the middle of Times Square. It had warm low lighting with the brightest bulbs focused on showcasing a well-stocked bar. All the tables and chairs were made of wood too, which meant that Jane liked it more than she might have otherwise. On a stage toward the back of the pub, a four-piece band of boys were playing some synth-rock music.
The six found a table that was comfortably close to both the bar and the band. Santiago ordered everyone a round of tequila shots almost as soon as they sat down. They downed them with mixed reactions. Santiago and Naomi looked like they’d tossed back water. Evan, Mia, and Adam all pulled a face and stuffed their limes into their mouths immediately. Jane nearly spit the shot back out. Everyone laughed good naturedly. Under the table Adam patted Jane’s thigh in comfort and left his hand there. Unfortunately, she would have been remiss if she ignored the fact that she had to use the bathroom again that very moment. The alcohol went right through her.
Excusing herself from the table, Jane stood to find the bathroom. She tried to play it cool as the world began to tilt on a ten-degree angle. Judging by the chuckles she left in her wake, she did not succeed. But, by that point, she was laughing at herself too.
As Jane approached the table again, she caught the remnants of an exchange between Naomi and Adam, even over the loud music.
“I’m serious, Adam, don’t you hurt that girl, or I’ll fucking kill you. She’s too sweet.”
“Uh, I know that.” There was a defensive tone in Adam’s voice. “I’m not trying to hurt her; I actually like her!”
“Really?” Naomi snapped sarcastically. “‘Cuz weren’t you the one going around calling her ‘Plain Jane?’”
“Naomi, she [i is] plain. She like never wants to come out or talk to anyone. You know how she is – ”
“She’s [i sweet.]” A warning edge lined Naomi’s voice.
“Please. You just pity her and have that weird thing for charity cases. You did the same thing with the one kid two months ago – what’s his name? – Kyle! God, he was so weird. Glad he got fired.”
“Ugh. You’re such an ass. I have no idea how we dated for so long.”
Jane had heard all she needed to hear. Rather than returning to the table, she hurriedly staggered her way outside to get some fresh air. Times Square, however, was unfortunately the worst place to seek reprieve. Even though it was nearly midnight, the streets were still packed with people. The lights overhead were bright and invasive even with the brimming tears in her eyes distorting their shine.
[i Of] course. [i How could I be so fucking stupid?] she chided herself. She buried her face in her hands, her dark hair falling in a curtain around her. At least it did something to alleviate the stimuli around her. But did nothing for the hurt inside her.
This was somehow worse than simply being ignored, intensified by the depressant liquid in her blood. At least when she was disregarded, she knew where she stood. This, however, was a much more difficult game to play. One where the rules included deceit and falsehoods. It felt like the exact moment she dared to venture outside of her comfort zone, the universe took her in a chokehold and slammed her back into her rightful place. Alone. That was how it was always meant to be. Surrendering to that knowledge, Jane lifted her head with a sniffle and a choked sob, looking around for the nearest subway back home.
And there he was.
There, in the crowd, standing eerily still was the same figure of the man that she’d spotted earlier. Jane rubbed her puffy red eyes to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. He remained. Uneasy, she shifted her gaze behind her to see if perhaps he had his sights set on someone else. It was only her. She swallowed hard and slowly inched her way back into the bar. Even in her wounded, drunken stupor she at least still had some sense. There was no way she was about to try to travel on a subway alone with whatever that was so nearby. Figuring he’d leave eventually, she wiped her eyes again and composed herself. She plastered on a fake smile and returned to join the others. There was safety in numbers, after all. She engaged with them as if nothing was wrong all while knowing full well that she’d never interact with them again.
[size14 Korvo knew it wasn’t real. He knew the vial of Glamour only changed his outward appearance. With his raven eye he could still see himself in the darkness of the human’s bathroom without turning the light on. (He wouldn’t have turned it on anyway, as he hated the artificial light). He could still feel the talon-like fingers digging into the palm of his hand as he took in his appearance. No, it wasn’t real. But it hurt a lot more than he thought it would.
The last time he had seen his face free of feathers and scars was almost a century ago. Back then he was young. Smooth-faced and beautiful. He could have had any woman he wanted back then.
But looking at him now… He leaned in to really observe the deep set lines in the corner of his eyes and the dark shadows underneath them. The eyes themselves- yes, [i eyes]- were not so bright anymore. But at least he had two matching ones. He stared into his own gaze. He knew the black eye was under the Glamour, but not even he could see the illusion waver. This was no cheap potion made from a corner stall in the market. This was the real deal. And he only had a few hours before it began to fade.
Finally, he sighed and pulled away from the mirror. As he turned his cloak upset several things from their places on the counter and sent them barreling to the floor. He didn’t pick them up, but it did serve as a reminder that he might want to store a few of his items nearby.
He had focussed enough when using the Glamour to emulate an outfit he had seen on one of the large, ever changing signs on the streets. One of the many endless ways humans tried selling useless things to each other. In this instance it proved useful. He did not understand the appeal of such form-fitting clothes and was just glad that it was all an illusion and he didn’t actually have to force his legs into the tight jeans it appeared he was wearing. The black shirt under a leather black jacket was more his speed and something he felt much more at home in. Leather was a familiar material. The boots were also black and if anyone thought to notice- which they would not- the sound of them against the floor would not match the material. Humans put hard rubber soles on the bottoms of their shoes. His personal boots left his feet free enough to jump on rooftops and sneak effectively despite his large frame.
He took one last look at his face, memorizing what he might have looked like had he never been cursed, then left.
Finding her was easy, then. With address in hand and using his aerial view as a map, he managed to find the address rather quickly. He stood across the street formulating a plan. And just when he thought he might finally act, the door opened, pouring light onto the street. Several humans began a journey down the sidewalk and he took one step back into the shadow of an alleyway, but he did not stop watching them. His eyes scanned over every single person in the group, but wasn’t until they met those of the last girl that he knew. [i She] was the one he had traveled so far for. He could feel her aura almost pulsing and at the same time she looked away, he let it free.
He felt the space in him open up again. He could finally breathe full breaths again. He never wanted to share another’s aura again. He didn’t know how it became a statement of love or affection to gift that to someone.
He followed after the human girl and her friends at a safe distance. He could have reached out then and snatched her away. They wouldn’t have known what had happened until it was too late. But there was risk in that. There was always risk. No, he had to play this smoothly. He had to play this like a game.
Korvo’s specialty was staying out of sight. She did not notice him the entire time he trailed them. In fact, he was such an expert at weaving through the shadows that hardly anyone noticed him. He didn’t bump into anyone, despite how full the streets were.
It was the waiting that was the worst part. The waiting outside the bar. He was hoping she would be an easy catch. If she would just step outside for one moment alone… Fate laughed at him. He had wanted adventure after all.
He looked up, readying to cross the street to the pub when he noticed that she [i had] stepped outside. Her eyes found his again. He should act. He could have been across the street in seconds. And yet there was something about her that made him freeze. He remembered the emotions attached to the aura he had followed here. Her loneliness reflected in the look on her face. Even from this distance he could tell that her eyes held a depth that only the fae had. He took but a second to wonder who this human was. And the moment passed. And she was gone again.
He cursed himself.
Getting inside the pub was the easy part. Getting out with the girl would be the hard part.
He weaved expertly through the crowd, wondering how the woman could have so easily seen him when usually he blended in with the shadows so well. He was going to have to take a more direct approach. Halfway to the bar and he had already successfully pickpocketed two different men leaving the establishment. Then he sat down on a stool and looked over his corner at the large table of friends in front of the band.
This place, though very human, was much more his speed. He could almost picture Griz waddling around the corner with a tray full of pints.
“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked him.
Korvo had no idea what drinks were what here in the human world, so he just said, “Surprise me.”
A second later and he had a pint of foaming alcohol in his hand. It was absolutely incredible. He had no idea humans could make things taste better than the fae equivalent.
He glanced back at the table. The human he had come here for was looking rather out of place and like she wouldn’t mind leaving. It was easy to tell that something had happened, but none of the others had noticed. The largest of the group was scanning the crowd behind her head and only landed on his by chance. His brows raised.
“You looking at something?” he asked over the music, clearly one too many in. His words slurred together slightly. Korvo didn’t answer. “I asked you a question, old man.” A grin came to the boy’s face as he peered around at his friends as if asking for encouragement. None came. The others were telling him to hush and hiding their faces in their glasses. Still, Korvo only stared. This angered the boy further. “What the hell, man. Say something, you’re creeping us out!”
Finally, seeing a moment, Korvo finally stood. “Perhaps I am ignoring you,” Korvo said, his voice smooth and low as he approached the table. He no doubt had an unidentifiable accent. As he did so, the large one’s eyes grew because he came to realize that where he was big, Korvo was bigger. He reached out and placed a hand on the back of the little human’s chair. He still had yet to see her up close but he would not turn to her now. Surely she would not recognize him as the man she had seen in the shadows. It was far too dark. “Perhaps I pity your friend here for having to put up with you all. She has not said a word since I walked in here and none of you have even [i asked] her a simple question. [i Perhaps] I was only giving you the same treatment you have been giving her.”
The boy opened his mouth to argue, but Korvo held up one long finger. “None of you know what it’s like, do you? To feel [i truly] alone?”
He was bad, he knew. Playing on a drunk girl’s deepest and innermost fears. He had felt them all through her aura. If he could manipulate the situation just right- and if her friends were drunk enough to let it happen- he might be able to walk out of here with her tucked right under his arm.
He finally turned to look at her. He almost forgot he was playing a part. He was so close to faltering. There was no way she was [i just] human. Those eyes held far too much to be just that.
“I would listen to you,” he told her, and he almost felt himself believing it. “I wouldn’t invite you places only to talk over you… ignore you…” His eyes scanned her face. “I noticed how special you were from the moment I saw you.” It wasn’t [i technically] a lie. “Come sit with me. You have so much life in your eyes. Tell me how such an intriguing person came to be friends with such dull people.” He wanted to gag at the high fae coming out of his mouth. He had spent so much time around them that he knew how to flatter, even falsely. This was not how he talked. He was gruff and short and bitter. Always bitter.
As he spoke, he hoped to coax her out of her seat and over to the bar if he could. With baby steps, he might be able to get her all the way out the door…
Jane played idly with the straw sticking out of the light orange concoction that Adam had ordered for her in her absence. She had yet to take a sip. “It’s sweet,” he had said when he noticed she didn’t immediately down the stuff. “You’ll like it.” Then he had given her another dazzling smile. But she would not be taken in by it again. Where once butterflies fluttered now stood an empty chamber devoid of emotion. [i Fool me once…]
She barely registered when he called across the bar to someone else. Jane was too busy silently simmering and feeling sorry for herself. Meanwhile, the rest of the group tried to talk Adam down. Unfortunately, to no avail. Adam only grew more agitated.
As the stranger finally picked up on the bait, Jane remained engrossed in her straw. It was only when she felt his hand on the back of her chair that she pulled herself from her thoughts to look up at the man. She couldn’t help but notice how large he was. Bigger than Adam even. Jane felt as though she had to crane her neck back at a ninety-degree angle to see all the way up into his face. Even if she had been standing, her 5’2” figure would not have come up very far on his. He was handsome enough, she decided, if not a little run down looking. At least he knew his color palette well. Black suited him.
Her breath caught as the man mentioned her predicament. An embarrassed blush began to flare in her cheeks. [i Why] had he been watching her? The group eyed her in disbelief, apparently wondering the same thing. Yet without a trace of guilt for what they’d been accused of doing.
“None of you know what it’s like, do you? To feel [i truly] alone?”
The words hit her with such a force that she finally released the breath she’d been holding. He knew. Jane wasn’t sure how he knew, but he knew, nonetheless. The man – this [i stranger], whoever the hell he was – could see her. Really see her. In a way that no one else ever had. Not because no one had ever bothered to try, but because Jane was certain she kept it securely locked away. Her loneliness oftentimes stretched to such lengths that she felt like she could fashion herself a noose and hang with it. She refused to rope anyone else into that too. However, in spite of her many precautions, he still knew.
Finally, her turned to look at her. His gaze pierced her, held her in place. She swallowed hard. Her lips had formed a tight, thin line and the slightest tremor racked her body. Jane listened to his words intently, her eyes as wide as saucers. Everything he said was like fresh water to her when it had for so long felt as though she’d been dying of thirst. She drank it in greedily.
Jane was on the edge of her seat now. She looked alight, eager. Her legs were slightly angled to the side, ready to make her escape. She was leaning forward too, a bird about to take flight for its bid of freedom.
A slight pressure gripping her thigh held her in place. Protective. Possessive.
“I think she’s fine here with her ‘dull’ friends.” Adam shot her a look. The fantasy she’d allowed herself to become entangled in slowly faded from her face. She cast a glance around at the rest of the table. They looked tense, concerned, uncomfortable.
Reluctantly, Jane nodded. “That’s right. I’m…I’m fine here. Thank you.”
Adam wore a look of triumphant glee. But the stranger wasn’t looking at Adam. He was still looking at her. [i Into] her. The moment felt like an eternity. But eventually he inclined his head politely and stalked back to the bar. Jane forlornly watched him go before settling her gaze back on her straw.
Perhaps this was for the best. After all, had she not already opened herself up once this evening? And look how far that got her. She couldn’t risk it. Not again. Not even…not even when she had the feeling that the man had known her probably better than anyone ever had. Better than anyone ever would. Jane simply had to ignore the pull. Strangely, she realized, it was the same pull she felt from her dreams. But still! She already learned her lesson from the universe. She was better off alone.
“Man…that guy was [i weird.]” There was a murmur of agreement around the table. “Did you know that guy, Jane?”
Jane looked at Adam, her brows knit together and a frown quickly forming. “What?”
“That guy – did you know him?”
“No, of course not. Why would you think that I knew him?”
Adam shrugged. “He seemed to know you.”
She could feel her jaw beginning to clench. She thought that maybe she would’ve received some sympathy or concern for having to endure such a strange encounter, but no, apparently it was her own fault? “So…you think he’s weird, and that he came over here to talk to me because he knew that I’m weird too?”
He gave her a bemused laugh, clearly not following this line of thinking. “What? No! You’re not weird, Jane.”
“No, not weird. Just plain, right?” That wiped the smile from his face. “[i Plain Jane?]” She pushed his hand from her leg and stood up rather dramatically. “You know what? I think I am going to go talk to him.” Her eyes flashed to Naomi. “Maybe [i he] doesn’t think I’m a charity case.” Jane turned on her heel, her hair flying out in a sweeping motion behind her.
Naomi quickly scrambled to her feet and grabbed Jane’s arm before she could get too far. “Hang on, Jane! I-I don’t think that you’re – ”
“[i Don’t!]” Jane snapped dangerously. She stared into Naomi’s eyes. The eyes of someone who she thought genuinely wanted to be her friend. And, because she felt the hot sting of tears beginning to well up again, she simply said, “Just don’t…don’t wait up for me,” before yanking her arm out of the other girl’s grasp.
Jane felt the five pairs of eyes staring directly at her back as she walked away. She didn’t care.
She found him back at the bar nursing a pint of beer. With more courage than she normally felt (likely in part due to both the alcohol as well as the outburst) she tossed her hair back a bit before taking the stool next to him. Jane didn’t look at him directly. At least not at first. She was still working on settling her emotions down, willing the tears back.
She raised a dainty finger to get the bartender’s attention. He came over immediately. Plain though she may be, at least she could still wield her feminine wiles. “I’ll have whatever he’s having,” she said as she gestured to the stranger beside her. She added in a bat of eyelashes for good measure. Oh, yes, liquid courage was surging through her veins now. The bartender came back with the frothy beverage and set it down in front of her. She took a tentative sip. Then tried to hide the disgusted face that followed. [i Okay, so still not ready for beers,] she concluded. Taking it in stride, she finally turned to face the man.
“I’m Jane,” she said it with such a finality and residual bitterness that it didn’t extend an invitation for him to share his name. They’d get there soon enough. “Why were you watching me? How did you know all that…[i stuff?]” There was suspicion in her tone. If she was going to let this man in while she was already so bruised, he’d have to tear down some walls first. “Who [i are] you?”
He had her. She was his. He beckoned with his eyes and promised her all she wanted and more with a look alone. And then… the spell was broken. The oaf could not seem to keep his mouth shut. Still, he didn’t look at the source of the interruption. He kept his gaze on his prey. He saw her discomfort. Not just with him, but with the people around her.
Nonchalantly, he tipped his head and stood to his full height. “If you insist,” he said. “It’s your loss, really.” His male opponent wasn’t worth a glare, but he did let his eyes glance over him and realized that he looked vaguely like a fleshy troll the way his brow sat heavy over his eyes. He couldn’t help the smirk, but he had turned away by then and made his way back over to his drink at the bar. He could feel his eyes on her the whole way.
Korvo was not worried he had lost her. He had planted the seed. All he had to do was wait for it to grow. He took a long drink, counting silently. He drained the pint. When he set the empty glass down, it was as if he was giving the cue for the arguing to begin. He could hardly hear them over the music, but their voices were stressed. He nodded when the bartender asked if he wanted another.
When the drink was set down in front of him, he could see in the reflection of the golden liquid that his little human was fighting her way out of her friend’s grasp. He had to force himself not to grin when she took the seat next to him. He had won. Well… almost.
Korvo didn’t look at her at first. He allowed her to settle in and shake off the nerves it took to approach him. He listened to her order and when the drink was finally handed over to her, that’s when he allowed himself to look. She was making a face and he surprised himself with a chuckle low in his throat.
He was just opening his mouth to say something smooth again, but she was blurting out her name. Humans had no special connections to their names. No power. So why did he get the sense that she was lying? His lips remained parted, taking in the odd feeling and he let the silence in the aftermath of her outburst hang between them and the music still playing.
And then there was more. Korvo’s brows raised in amusement as she assaulted him with her questions. They were almost accusatory, but of what, he could not say. Neither could he blame her. He [i was] trying to kidnap her, after all.
He turned in his stool to face her, waiting until she could produce no more questions. “Is it my turn, now?” he asked, amused. This was his favorite part. Of course, when he was sent to fetch people for the king he usually just threw a bag over their head or drugged them, but sometimes it needed far more delicate measures. It always called for a story. Poise. To make the victim believe you were their best friend.
When she did not argue, he smiled. He ran his tongue over his bottom lip before starting. “My name is Korvo,” he told her. He had no qualms giving this to get since it was not his true name. “And I didn’t know all that ‘stuff’, as you like to put it. I felt it.” His eyes scanned over her face, remembering her aura. It had been so strong he almost felt like it was still with him now. “Don’t tell me you haven’t gravitated towards the loneliness places your entire life. You move from place to place, always hoping if you just fill the void, you might feel less alone. Less different.” He paused and took a sip, letting the words sink it. He hated feeling like he was talking about himself here, so he switched gears.
“It’s why I moved here,” he lied. “I thought all these people around me would make me feel something. But I’ve never felt like I belong. And I’ve lived long enough to know people who suffer the same loneliness when I see them.” His eyes found hers again, hoping to capture her again as he had before. “All I want is to talk to someone who [i understands],” she said, slow and emotional.
[i You manipulative bastard,] he told himself silently.
A semblance of a smile twitched the corners of Jane’s lips. She had been rather brusque with him, she realized. But the smile did not reach her eyes. Those remained wary. The direct questions were admittedly not her forte, yet she did not feel bad for asking them. Even if it came off a bit more aggressive than intended. Civility aside, she wanted answers. In response to his question, she simply gave a curt nod.
Jane gave him a dubious look when he said that he ‘felt’ the things she’d experienced. “You…felt it?” She raised an eyebrow at him as the doubt dripped from her words. The notion that he’d known about the very depths of her being from a look alone gave her pause. That was impossible. She shook her head, about to voice those very concerns, but held her tongue as he continued speaking. Again, he was reading her like a book. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair. It was one thing for him to offer her his listening ear earlier. It was another thing entirely to accurately identify the reasons why she needed it. Clearly, she was not used to such examinations.
She was grateful when he offered more information about himself. It was unfair that he seemed to know so much about the specifics of her situation while he remained a stranger to her. Jane nodded knowingly when he explained his impetus for moving. And the picture became clearer. He knew her because he [i was] her.
One of the heaviest burdens to bear in her loneliness had always been the fact that she felt as though she would be the only person to ever endure it. That not only was she alone in general, but also in her suffering. With this realization, she could already feel some of that burden beginning to shift onto this man's shoulders. And she was relieved for it.
Her features softened as her guard lowered. There was pity in her eyes. Though whether it for him or for herself was unclear.
“Well,” she said slowly, breaking their eye contact and lowering her gaze to her pint glass. Her fingertip traced the rim absently. “I guess you’ve got a good eye then.” She paused. Her eyes flicked up to his again. “I do understand.”
Taking a deep breath, she leaned back in her stool. “I’ve always felt out of place too. Different, like you said. But, not in the normal way. Not in a way that’s, like, manageable, ya know? Like, people will feel that way sometimes, I guess, but they can carry on with their lives in spite of it. With me it just feels like…” Jane trailed off. Her eyes scanned the bar as if the next right words would appear to her there in flashing neon lights. They didn’t. This was the most she’d ever shared with anyone about her feelings. Having never discussed it before, it was difficult to put words to it.
She bypassed it entirely. For now.
“Anyways, I moved here for the same reasons.” She exhaled deeply and shrugged. “Not that it helped.” Jane looked at Korvo and now the shadow of a genuine smile began to light up her face. “It’s kind of obvious that [i you’re] not from around here though.” She gestured vaguely to his mouth. “The accent. Well, the name too, actually. Korvo, is it? That’s definitely not American,” she mused. A thoughtful expression replaced the smile. She looked at him through narrowed eyes beneath a furrowed brow. “Not British either, but I am thinking something…European, maybe? Oh, I got it! Italy, right?”
Jane laughed with victorious glee even though he hadn’t confirmed her guess. She let out a longing sigh. “I’d love to visit Italy. I can’t imagine what could’ve been so bad for you there to feel the things I do. But, then again, I thought the same would’ve been true for Manhattan. Now look at us.”
She was rambling now; she could feel it. The alcohol had loosened her lips too much. She’d long lost count of however many she had. And still she tried to choke the beer down. The results were similar to her first sip. “God, that’s awful,” she groaned, pushing the drink toward Korvo instead. “Here, since you seem to like it. From one lonely person to another.”
Jane leaned an elbow against the bar and propped her chin up in her palm. “So, what makes you feel so alone? Or different? Because for the record, you at least look normal enough to me. Maybe even a little better than that.”
Hook, line, and sinker. She’d fallen for his tale of woe that sounded so much like her own. He could see the shift in her demeanor. The stoop in her shoulders, the slight raise of her brows. She felt [i pity] for him. It was a strange feeling. Even artificial, the feeling felt foreign. No one had pitied him before save for himself and that was a long, long time ago.
If his discomfort showed, she didn’t notice. She launched into a speech about how different she felt. How her different was a different kind of different. He was growing bored now and he hid this by bringing his glass back up to his mouth.
When he placed it back down she was saying something about his accent. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know the geography or languages well enough to give her a valid answer to her curiosity so he let her come to her own drunken conclusion.
Italy? [i Sure, why not.] He might have been there a time or two in his travels to the human world, but he couldn’t remember. But he didn’t have to confirm or deny. The alcohol had clearly made its way to her head and she was a talker.
As if she noticed this, she turned back to her drink. He watched in fascination at the human ability to get drunk so easily. Fae were highly tolerant to alcohol. He couldn’t help but chuckle again as she pushed the drink towards him. He had just finished his second and he gladly took the rest of hers. It was almost full except for the two sips she had taken.
“Thank you,” he said, taking a long swig. It was half gone by the time he set it down again. When he looked back at her he was startled to find her looking at him rather intently. The questions that followed did not help put him at ease. Wasn’t he supposed to be the predator, here? Why did he feel like he was being put under a spyglass?
He tried to focus on the last part of her question instead: She said he looked normal. [i Better] than normal.] Not grotesque. Not monstrous. A smirk grew slow on his face. The Glamour was doing its job and doing it well. And had she not just admitted that she found him attractive in this state?
“I may look normal,” he told her lowly, causing her to lean in if she wanted to hear him. “But I was born with a rare deformity.” He kept his voice soft and sad. He met her eyes with his, now mere inches away. “I don’t tell people often. They don’t believe me.”
He sighed, like this fact hurt him more than anything. He took another long drink from her glass, killing it. Then turned back to her. He feigned slight drunkenness so she might feel safety in being on the same level of inebriation, then he leaned close. His stubble grazed her ear, his lips parted, and he prolonged the silence as long as she might stand not knowing his secret.
And then he whispered, “I can fly.”
When he pulled back, he noticed the slight tip to her ear, but he didn’t have the time to wonder. It was not his place. Maybe she was some fae’s bastard child he had had with a human. It made no difference to him. Not right now. Not while he was waiting to see if her mind, drunken and gullible, would believe him.
“I can show you,” he said, and leaned in again. He brought his fae hand up to move the hair from her face. He caressed her jaw and looked her square in the eyes. “I want to [i someone]. I don’t want to be alone anymore.” The surface of his eyes held the look he had given many women in his past before he had been cursed. Rarely did it not convince them to share his bed.
Jane leaned in to hear Korvo better as he spoke. For whatever reason the band had chosen that exact moment to increase their volume. In such proximity, she could smell the beer on his breath. She wrinkled her nose at it ever so slightly; it was just as unappealing as the taste.
At the mention of a deformity, more pity swam to the surface of her eyes. Unconsciously, she stroked her earlobe. She knew a thing or two about deformities as well. At least his abnormality was something he could only reveal by telling someone. An errant wind could give hers away immediately. Even when going to the salon, Jane often instructed the hairdresser to steer clear of the strands closer toward the front of her face. She would cut the hair herself before allowing someone else to point out the points.
Jane leaned in closer, if that was even possible. She wanted to implore him that he could trust her with his secrets. That she was different from the others that might not believe him. He mirrored her movement, closing the distance between them so that his lips were just opposite of her ear. Despite the music and drunken chatter filling the pub, Jane found that she could specifically zero in on the sound of his breathing. Her eyes fluttered shut momentarily, listening. She did not rush Korvo to speak. After all, it was likely a sensitive topic for him.
She opened her eyes when he revealed that he could fly. As he pulled back, she tried to hide her baffled amusement. He trusted her enough to tell her. It would’ve been hypocritical to laugh about it or admit that she didn’t believe him. But she couldn’t shake the image of him zipping around the room in tights and a leotard like Peter Pan. That made it even more difficult to restrain her smile.
Her eyebrows rose in interest when he said that he could show her. Then he reached out a hand to stroke her hair. The movement was instinctual. She violently jerked away from him. Her eyes widened in shock of her own actions. Jane looked to the floor, embarrassed, thinking she might have offended him or ruined their conversation. Suddenly Korvo’s hand was on her jaw instead, bringing her head back up to meet his eye.
Jane could have melted then and there. And he could have asked anything of her in that moment.
“You’re not alone,” she whispered. “I believe you. And I’d love to see you fly; it sounds [i amazing.]” She still didn’t actually believe it, but it couldn’t hurt to humor him. Jane looked around the packed pub. She ignored the vehement glances that her former friends kept tossing her way. “But maybe this isn’t the best place for it. C’mon.”
Jane rose and tossed some cash on the counter as a tip for the bartender. Before stepping into the warm night air, she hesitated at the door. Her eyes scanned the square, searching for the ominous figure from before. He was nowhere to be found. It was later than it had been, and the crowds had dwindled some. Perhaps he’d taken his leave with everyone else. She was fully aware that he could still be lurking around any corner, though. Jane took comfort in the fact that at least this time she was accompanied. It made her feel safer.
“I think I know somewhere a little more secluded,” she explained as she walked out with him. As they headed down the street together, every so often she would bump into the man. Not because of the alcohol. Just for the closeness. As predicted, he towered over her by several inches. Maybe even a full foot. She liked their height difference though.
Although her words alluded to heading back to her apartment, Jane bypassed the subway stations that would take them back uptown. Intoxication aside, she wasn’t ready to invite him to her home yet. She’d never had a one-night stand before, and she damn well wanted to ensure that this wasn’t going to turn into that. At least not so soon after just meeting him. God forbid she come off as too ‘easy.’ No matter how much she longed to feel him touch her again.
The young women led them away from the busy brightness of Times Square. After a few blocks, their surrounding light came from streetlamps and empty office windows as opposed to billboards and taxi roofs. There were still a few pedestrians in the area, but mostly they were couples too engrossed in one another to pay anyone else any mind. Likely they were just heading home from their weekly scheduled Friday date nights. She turned to him expectantly. “What about here?” She asked, gesturing around. “There’s not too many people and it’s kind of darker here, so I figured it’d be easier for you to do the thing without someone freaking out about it.” Still a laughable idea in her mind. “Do you need to like, I don’t know, get some height somewhere else first?”
Korvo could see that she did not fully believe him, but she [i was] enamored and felt enough pity for this character he had created to amuse him. The looks her former friends were giving her perhaps aided him. A woman scorned might [i want] her friends to see her leaving with the mystery man they had tried to warn her against. When she suggested they leave, Korvo trained his sly grin into a polite smile before she had time to see it shift.
Not knowing how currency worked here, Korvo took everything from the stolen wallet and laid it out on the counter. By the look on the bartender’s face it was more than enough. “Keep the change,” Korvo said with a friendly wink. He wouldn’t be needing it, after all. Then he turned to Jane. “Lead the way,” he said smoothly, his arm stretched out.
As they left, he saw her scan her surroundings and he knew she was looking for [i him]. But she wouldn’t find him. He was standing right next to her now, smiling down at her. She told him she knew someplace private and he wondered if she had perhaps gotten the wrong idea. He had been trying to be alluring,sure. But was he curious enough to sleep with a human?
[i Fool. She’d feel the claws on your hand the moment you touched her.] Glamour was visual only. And dammit she kept bumping into him. It was only a matter of time before she felt cloak instead of jacket.
At that moment, as if to laugh at him, he felt a tingling in his toes and he knew the Glamour was about to wear off. [i No matter,] he thought. [i She is almost mine.]
The sensation climbed as they wound their way silently through brightly lit streets into the darker side of town and away from where he knew she lived. So at least she wasn’t expecting so much out of him. She was genuinely curious what he meant when he said he could fly.
As they walked, he continued to think of ways he could get her back to the Otherworld, but his options were slim. There were fewer and fewer portals every year. His luck in finding one down an alley would be slim. None so well used and in sight would remain. His only option was the same way he had come here: the skies.
Which meant he had to take a form he vowed he would never take again. A form between forms. Being all Korvor or all raven was easy. But to take on wings in his normal form was an excruciating job. Yet he could see no other way. He could not carry her in his raven form and there was no way to get her to the Otherworld from the ground.
She wanted to see him fly? He would show her he could. And she would regret letting her curiosity take her so far from safety. Not because he thought the woman who wanted her planned her harm, that was none of his business, but because not only would she see him in his normal half-raven state, she was going to have to see him at his most monstrous…
By now he could tell his form was returning to normal. His boots were showing through the Glamour but it would be hard for her to tell in the dark.
“Here is fine,” he replied finally. He had to remind himself to keep his voice light and play the character she had left the pub with. He cleared his throat and looked around. “I… I’m a little shy about it…” he feigned, reaching out slowly to take her arm. [i Gently,] he reminded himself. [i Like hunting a rabbit.] He slowly pulled her into the alleyway next to them. “This is better. I feel much better showing you here.” He couldn’t believe how convincing he sounded. “I just have to prepare,” he said, reaching into the pouch at his side. To her, it probably looked no different than a man reaching into his pocket.
“I’m sure you’ve heard it before?” he asked. The Glamour was wearing of faster now. And oh, was he enjoying the dramatics. “All you need to fly is a little bit of this…”
He knew he was going off script now. What he held out in his hand had nothing to do with the deformity he had so promised her: she would see that soon enough. Still, he could not deny himself the little bit of pleasure he got when she leaned in to look at it.
“Pixie dust,” he said, dropping the lilt in his voice and blowing the powder into her face.
It was not, in fact, pixie dust. If one was to ask a pixie for her dust she would beat you to death with whatever was nearest. No, this was stone powder. It caused the afflicted person to freeze completely except for their eyes. It was banned, of course, except for the fact that Korvo knew how to make it.
The Glamour was almost gone now. He could feel the tingling leaving the crown of his head. He had spent so much of his life hoping to return to who he was, but he knew that man was gone. Korvo was relieved to be himself again, even if it was all just skin deep. His hair still framed his face, but now there was more. The feathers were back. The cloak, the daggers on his back, and that one all-black raven eye. It glinted in the darkness as he looked at Jane.
He took a step closer. He tried to read the expression in her eyes. “I am terribly sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry at all and knowing full well she was unable to respond. He took one loop around his prey, still stooped over as she had been when looking at the stone powder. When he made it back to her front, he leaned down so his face was directly in front of hers. He wanted to see her drink in his face and realize that this really was the man she had been talking to all night. “You were right,” he said. “I’m not from here.”
With that he took a step back and started to remove the clothes that would be affected. He could not waste time patching things this trip. He put his cloak, tunic, and boots in his satchel and turned away from her. This is the part he hated. He stretched. Breathed deep. Then let the change take over slowly. So slow it was painful. His right arm, the one covered in feathers, stretched out and clawed at the air before it became the wing it wanted so badly to be. His other would remain human and his other wing grew painfully right over the shoulder blade there. In this form he was hardly as skilled a flier as when he was a raven, but it would have to do. The sounds that accompanied the changes were something he forced himself to tune out because the pain of it was already hard enough. The skin of his legs hardened and he grew black raven-like feet that forced him to carry himself in a new, hunched over way.
There were legends of harpys, but the fae had never seen them. They were an old species. Giant birds with women’s faces and torsos. If they had ever had a male harpy, he might have been one in this form, but even more grotesque with his one arm and face crowned with black feathers.
He turned, facing Jane. He was done playing games, now. He wanted to be out of this form as quickly as possible. He wrapped his one arm around her, carrying her under it as he slapped the air with mighty wings. He felt her melt into whatever position the air would have her in as he gained altitude. He heard someone shout from below, but by the time they managed to get a picture he was long gone. Into the clouds, higher and higher. Just as before, he found a place where the veil between worlds was thin. He spun into it.
Something was different this time. Instead of a white light, there was a cracking thunder. He fell through the portal with weight instead of grace and was blind to everything until he felt the branches of a tree break his fall. He pulled Jane closer, her back to his front, as he spread his wings to protect them from the worst of it, but they were falling too hard and too fast. The trees in the fae world were ancient and tall.
He grunted with every other break of a branch. He tried a different tactic, wrapping his wings around the little human and reaching out with his arm for the next branch. He let out a cry of pain as he felt his shoulder give, but it had stopped the falling at least. He hung here with his wings wrapped around Jane looking like some strange bat. He felt her start to stir in the confines of his wings as the stone powder began to wear off.
They were about halfway down the tree at least and still had a long way to go. She couldn’t very easily walk off in anger. It was too bad the old woman wanted her alive. This would have all been so much easier if this had been an assassination…
When Korvo touched her, Jane felt a shiver run along the length of her spine. It felt weirdly familiar. Taking comfort in this, she allowed him to lead her into one of the nearby alleyways. They were still near enough to the street that she could make a break for it if the occasion called. She didn’t think that it would. Knowing that he felt better about the location made her feel the same.
Jane watched with growing curiosity as the man reached into his pocket then held a cupped hand in front of her. She leaned forward to inspect the substance. It was a fine powder that gently reflected what little light managed to infiltrate the alley. When Korvo said that it was ‘pixie dust,’ Jane nearly smiled. Perhaps he [i was] Peter Pan after all. The only thing that stopped her smirk was the sudden action of the powder being blown in her face.
It felt like ice. Not the kind that one keeps in the freezer, but rather the kind that sank the Titanic. Jane felt as if she herself was fully submerged in the same water. The cold seeped past skin, muscle, and bone straight through to her nervous system. It pierced her with an unrelenting sharpness, making her seize up completely. Try as her brain might to communicate to her limbs, they were completely unresponsive. She was frozen.
Jane’s eyes darted around wildly, trying to make sense of the situation. There wasn’t any type of drug that she knew of that would’ve been capable of similar effects. Maybe she was simply having a terrible reaction. Though she wasn’t entirely pleased that Korvo had drugged her without consent, she did still look to him for help. Trying desperately to communicate with her eyes that something was wrong.
And something [i was] wrong indeed.
Instead of the ruggedly handsome man she had been talking to all night, there was a creature in his place. A cross between a man and a beast. Jane blinked in astonishment several times. Apparently, the drug had not only made her immobile, but hallucinatory as well. For surely there was no possible way that a man could sport feathers, talons, and the beady black eye of a bird. [i Snap out of it!] Her voice rang out in her head. [i This isn’t real!]
As the thing began to speak with Korvo’s voice, however, she came to the realization that it was very real. And as the thing began to circle her, she came to the realization that she was in very real danger.
The shiver she felt when it touched her wasn’t familiar because of comfort. It was familiar because of warning. She felt the same chill when she had spotted the stranger staring at her from across the street. Two and two finally clicked together. It wasn’t by happy happenstance that she met Korvo. She’d been targeted. The thing – whatever it was – had stalked and hunted her. It had been a ruse the entire time. The dawning of this knowledge brought a fresh set of tears to her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. Jane couldn’t afford to cry. She had to [i think], had to [i fight.] Before the predator had the chance to consume its prey.
Jane struggled with all her might to force her extremities to obey her. The cold had subsided, but motor function did not return in its absence. She recognized in that moment that she would almost rather have the pain still. At least the pain forced her mind to focus on something else other than the panic. The mounting horror that arose to quicken her breath. It oversaturated her mind, making focused thinking all but impossible. Rather than coming up with an escape, it only offered the most awful answers to the singular question ringing throughout her head: [i What will this thing do to me?]
The beast began to remove its clothes, confirming one of the worst answers her panic provided. Jane’s flesh began to crawl at the mere thought. And what was worse was that she wouldn’t be able to do anything to resist it. The best defense she had at her disposal would be to close her eyes and count for as long as she could until it stopped. That was what she did with her former landlord.
Somehow, something much worse than sexual assault began to take place.
It turned away from her. It stretched. Then, it changed. A horrible, unnerving transformation. Large, inky black wings began to materialize. First from arm, then from shoulder blade. Feathers erupted from the exposed skin like needles through cloth. As joints and bones moved to compensate for the change, the sickening sound of their maneuvering tore through the night. It was a wonder no one came to investigate that alone.
Jane looked on in fear and disgust. The many drinks she consumed were beginning to rise from her stomach to her throat. It burned just as much coming up as it did going down. Unfortunately, she was not in a position to expel it from her system. She swallowed the bile back down. When the monstrosity turned to face her, Jane wanted the ability to open her mouth even more desperately. Not for the purpose of vomiting (though that wasn’t off the table), but rather for screaming. It was like looking at a walking nightmare.
As it took her in its arm, automatically Jane tried to shrink away. Nothing happened. Then suddenly everything was happening all at once.
With a powerful downstroke, they were rising quickly into the air. This would’ve been another moment where Jane would have chosen to scream. Someone from far below chose to in her stead. But she knew she was far past the point of rescue even if someone else had seen. This was [i nothing] like Peter Pan.
As the two climbed higher into the sky, the cold began to return to Jane’s body. It wasn’t from the drug, but rather the sheer height of the flight. The air was sparse atop the clouds. Jane found that she had trouble breathing. A dizziness began to overtake her. Her head felt too light, and the edges of her vision were beginning to darken. She willed herself to stay awake, far too scared to imagine what might happen if she was unaware of her surroundings. But just before they crossed the threshold into the next world, Jane succumbed and fainted.
When she came to again, she was engulfed in darkness. For a moment, she thought she’d gone blind. She blinked several times. Soon enough the image around her settled and the darkness became textured. Feathers. Jane cringed when the memory of her predicament exploded in her mind, bringing all the fear and panic back too. Her helplessness, her vulnerability, her uncertainty, her – [i wait]…cringe. Jane had been able to [i cringe!]
Warmth began to flood back into her joints, and with it, mobility. The effects of the drug had finally worn off. Relief surged through her, but she stifled it. Jane still needed to escape. Judging by the grunts overhead, her captor was preoccupied with something else. Now was the time. Thinking quickly, Jane seized two fistfuls of feathers. With a mighty tug, knowing how much it would likely hurt, she yanked the plumes out. The darkness around her shuddered violently before releasing her. And finally, she screamed. Because she was falling.
The wings’ embrace was instantaneously replaced with whiplike strikes from branches as she tumbled downward. They grabbed greedily at her exposed skin, slashing, cutting, and bruising. Wind rushed upward as she dropped. The insolent air immediately invaded her body as she moved past it, coming up through her clothes, and stealing her voice away as it escaped. This was it. She was going to hit the bottom and die. Jane had the fleeting thought that at least, at last, the torment would be over. With the ground fast approaching, the young woman instinctively brought her arms up in front of her face as a meager protective barrier.
Then, she stopped.
Jane, recognizing that she wasn’t dead, slowly moved her arms and looked down. She was three inches from the ground, inexplicably [i levitating] over it. Before she had an opportunity to wonder how or why, she unceremoniously fell onto her face. With a groan, Jane gingerly pushed herself up into a seated position. Soreness racked her body, so she took a moment to assess the damage. There were some open cuts here and there, particularly on her arms and legs. Beat up skin was already beginning to blacken too. Luckily, it didn’t feel like anything was broken or internally bleeding. Her phone was definitely fucked though.
She raised her face to the sky. It was almost as if it wasn’t there. The trees surrounding her stretched hundreds of feet into the air. They must’ve been extremely old, judging only by their height and diameter. Possibly even older and larger than redwoods. As they climbed ever upward, their canopy became so dense that it nearly blocked out the entirety of the sun. There were some patches of blue above her, but they were few and far between. By all accounts it didn’t make any sense; she should’ve been dead.
Rather than wonder how on earth she was still alive, Jane tried to focus on staying that way. She kept her gaze skyward, searching for the winged creature that had kidnapped her. When she didn’t immediately see it, she reached for the nearest fallen branch. It had some heft to it and was about a foot longer than her own torso. She used it to help her stand before hoisting it up like a baseball bat. It was a measly excuse for a weapon, but it was better than nothing. Back in New York, Jane had taken a self-defense class once. Somehow, she figured that would do her little good when fighting a demon.
Jane took a hesitant step back. She nearly jumped out of her skin at the crunching of a leaf underfoot. Whatever drunkenness she felt before had at least dissipated. The adrenaline of an abduction seemed to work wonders.
After scanning overhead once more, Jane took off at a limping run through the woods. She tripped over many an exposed root nearly as big as a man’s thigh, but she did not stop. Although her lungs burned with the effort, she continued to crash through the trees. As she went, she tried to get her bearings. It was in vain. She’d never been anywhere like this in her life. At least, not physically. Strangely enough, the forest although dark and foreign, vaguely seemed like a place she envisioned in one of her dreams. If she remembered correctly, potentially, there was a village to the northeast of the woods. Since she had nothing else to go off, it seemed the best bet. There, she could at least enlist help in warding off whatever pursued her.
As Jane continued, more beams of sun began to stream through the canopy. She hoped that this was a good sign. It certainly seemed that way because she soon saw a figure of a person in the distance. Her run became a sprint. As she neared, a smile broke across her face. The figure was built exactly like Adam. How he managed to come to this place and find her, she didn’t know. But she didn’t care. Not about that, not about his scathing nickname, not about anything except getting home safely. If Adam was the key to helping her do just that, fine. Jane frantically waved her branch in the air to get his attention.
“[i Adam!] Adam, I’m here!” she cried out. “Adam, you’ve got to help me! I –” Jane slowed her pace as she neared the figure. It wasn’t Adam.
Although the creature was built nearly the same as Adam, as it turned, there were more than a few glaring differences. For starters, it had a large oval nose taking up more than half its face. And when it bared its teeth, Jane saw that they were all sharpened to deadly points. Most strange of all was the fact that its skin was not made of flesh, but rather a hardened gray substance that looked as rough as stone. There was even moss growing on it. Jane’s eyes widened in equal parts dread and incredulity. She was standing face to face with a troll.
[i What the] fuck [i is happening?] she thought.
The brute lifted its head and sniffed the air, a low rumbling growl emitting from deep in its throat. It took a slow lumbering step toward her. Then another. And another. It began to pick up speed as it thundered across the forest at her. Jane stood frozen to the spot, still in debilitating shock. It was almost upon her by the time she came to her senses enough to move out of its way. As it stampeded past her, she took aim with her branch to whack it on the back of its leg. The branch broke in two.
The troll turned around sharply when it realized it had missed its target and course corrected. Once again Jane had to dive out of its way to avoid being trampled. She tripped over another exposed root and faceplanted into the ground. Her heart was pounding in her ears loudly. She couldn’t outrun the thing, and she damn well couldn’t fight it. Jane was trying to scramble to her feet when she could hear it coming at her again. In her distressed panic, she kept slipping and stumbling, only managing to crawl a few feet away. She curled into a ball, knowing that this time she’d surely die. But again, she did not.
The troll had stopped just inches from where she lay. Quivering with fear, Jane slowly uneased her tensed body and sat up. It fixed her with a deadly glare, panting through its large nose. She looked around her, wondering what had changed. Jane found herself in the middle of a slender sunbeam. It was barely big enough to contain her. Just then it clicked why the troll had kept its distance. Contact with the sun caused the creature to solidify into a stony statue.
Jane heaved a sigh of momentary relief, gazing upwards towards the daylight. It wouldn’t stay in the same spot forever. She’d have to inch with it in order to stay safe within its rays. But night would eventually come too and by that time, Jane would really be as good as dead.
Just as he was formulating a plan to get out of the tree he felt two sharp tugs on his wings. He could hear the rip of the feathers as they tore away from their places. He let out a strangled cry, more out of shock that it had happened than out of pain. But the pain [i was] enough for his body to betray him. He felt the girl slip through the folds of his wings and out into the air just as he jerked back and away from the injuries.
This caused his hand to slip momentarily from the branch, but he caught the next one with a grunt. He would have to nurse his arm for a while after this. He knew Jane was falling and he would have to catch her if he did not want to deliver a tangled mess of broken bones to the woman, so he urged the shift. His body ached. Coming into or exiting this form was never easy, but he rushed it anyway. And then he feared he was too late.
By the time he had taken his usual fae form again, the sounds of branches snapping had come to an end. He looked down through the trail of destruction she had left, but there was no sign of her. He furrowed his brow.
Shifting once more into his raven form, he flew down to investigate which was no simple feat. His aching arm translated into aching wing. When he eventually made it, he popped back into his normal body in a flurry of black magic smoke. Shifting like this was easy compared to the monstrosity he had been before. Before he had much longer to question how it was the girl was not lying there dead, he heard the shuffling of feet through the woods. He narrowed his eyes and began to stalk after the sounds. She would not get very far in a world she knew nothing about, he was certain of that.
When he could no longer hear her lumbering through the woods, he followed after the obvious trail she left in her wake. Trampled mud and leaves and broken branches guided him, like a beacon, straight to her. It was only when he heard the angry grumblings of a forest troll that he picked up his pace. Surely she managed to piss it off somehow.
He held his injured arm close as he jogged into the scene. Jane had only just found herself in the safety of the sunlight and he let out a relieved sigh and a mocking laugh. The chuckle was quiet, but it somehow also managed to fill the entire small clearing. The troll turned to glare at the newcomer. Korvo reached up with his good arm and pulled himself into a nearby tree, perching there skillfully for someone of his size.
“You seem to be in quite the predicament,” he said to Jane with an amused grin. “I should just leave you there after what you did to my wings, but I’m willing to let it go.” He sat himself down on the large branch, letting his leg swing off. Back and forth it swayed and the troll watched it, his head moving to and fro before growing bored and returning his attention back to Jane. “For a price, of course.” He tried to ignore the pain in his arm as he started digging his leather armor and tunic back out of his satchel and pulled them on. His boots went on next. When he was finished he looked back down at her and as if only just then realizing how ominous his statement was he said, “Oh, nothing like [i that], little human. You’re not my type.”
He left it at that, knowing she would have to give in sooner or later. Trolls rarely got bored of waiting. They were rocks, afterall, and rocks couldn’t be bored, even sentient ones. Korvo on the other hand…
Jane’s head whipped around toward the sound of echoing laughter that pervaded the clearing. Again, she felt a chill. The malformed monster had reverted into its human state. Well, closer to the appearance of a human than the form it had taken before. Protruding feathers and an unsettling eye still betrayed its horrible true nature. But Jane refused to be taken in a third time.
As Korvo teased her, she simply scowled and turned her back on the thing. There wasn’t much room to move in her slim sanctuary, but she managed. And if she could do that much, surely, she could come up with a way to escape her situation without the liar’s help too. Try as she might to ignore it, however, she couldn’t help but shoot the demon an aggrieved glare when it offered assistance at a price.
Revulsion boiled within her. She had been distressed enough with the thought of the beast taking advantage of her by way of force. Going into something like that [i willingly] – even when death was on the line – was a hard boundary Jane was sure she’d never cross. After a momentary lapse of silence, Korvo assuaged her concern, but the disgust sat with her still. Gritting her teeth together, Jane fixed her gaze in the opposite direction and only replied with a mumbled, “Fuck off.”
The next few hours were seemingly endless. All parties were locked in a stalemate. Korvo insisted on withholding help. Jane was determined to resist asking for it. The troll, meanwhile, simply patiently awaited the circumstances’ inevitable end. Despite the trio’s stillness, the sun continued to march ever onward across the sky. Jane followed its trajectory. She slowly inched her way across the forest floor as her precious sunbeam shifted positions.
Sometime around the first hour and a half Jane could feel her muscles beginning to cramp. Within such small confines, she was forced to sit with her knees hunched up close to her chest and her arms resting either around or on top of them. It was uncomfortable to say the least. Particularly for such a prolonged period.
When the third hour came, exhaustion followed in its wake. While the sun was up in this new world, back in New York it must’ve been well past 4am. Jane was long overdue for bedtime. Unfortunately, her fainting spell earlier had been far from restful. In any case, she went through an entire day’s work prior to her night taking a turn so she would’ve been worn out even if she hadn’t been kidnapped. As a result, every once in a while, her head would begin to droop, and her eyes would slowly shut. The longest she stayed that way was fifteen minutes. The tip of her Converse strayed outside of the sun’s rays during that time, and the troll acted with a terrifying quickness. It lunged after the exposed shoe and Jane only just managed to yank it back into her safety circle before the brute was able to grab hold. After that jolt of adrenaline, she remained wide awake.
Upon the fourth hour, the troll made something of a game for itself. Sometimes it would saunter around and pick up whatever was nearest – a rock, a branch, a handful of mud, etc. – then it would chuck the stuff at Jane with all its might. Oftentimes the things missed her by a wide margin. They would land either directly in front or to the side of her. This was likely a tactic to scare her into moving, but by the third attempt she caught on and remained immoveable. Even when a few objects went awry and pelted her painfully. At least the thing didn’t have the sense to simply beat her into a bloody pulp with the objects. Trolls were very dim-witted.
By hour five and a half, there was a palpable tension in the air. The sun’s beams were finally being swallowed whole by the forest’s shadows. There was still a good two hours left until true sunset, but with the height of the trees the days were cut short in the wooded area. Jane rubbed her temples agitatedly, desperate for a good idea to strike her. She already had a few on the brain, but none of them met the qualifications of being ‘good.’ Although, there was one plan she often revisited that involved pushing Korvo into the troll’s path in her place. Again, it wasn’t necessarily [i good] considering Korvo could easily fly away, but the thought did bring some levity to her racing mind.
Jane stood, stretching out her stiff joints. The circle of light was even smaller now, forcing her to stand and hug her arms close to her chest. She surveyed the clearing, trying to judge which trees were closest with the lowest branches. If she could get a running start, she figured she could simply climb up to get out of the troll’s reach. After all, Korvo had done just that and remained safe. The only issue was that the closest tree with the lowest branch happened to be the same one that Korvo occupied. The thing got up with ease because of its height, but the branch remained several feet out of reach for Jane. If she wanted to share its perch, she’d have to jump for it.
As determined as ever to solve this herself, Jane crouched down. The edge of darkness brushed the surface of her skin. The troll stood, watching her hungrily. She took in a deep breath and closed her eyes. [i Three… two… one… go!] At the end of her mental countdown, Jane sprinted toward Korvo’s tree. With a mighty roar, the forest troll was charging after her. She willed her legs to move faster, but three of her strides were the equivalent to one of the troll’s. It was beginning to gain on her. Jane panted as she went, trying to ignore the fear electrifying her nerves. But the tree was within reach. She was going to make it.
The young woman planted both feet firmly on the ground before bending at the knee to spring upward. It felt like she was soaring through the air in slow motion before her hands contacted the rough bark. She winced at the sensation but was relieved to be out of reach of the monster below. At least the monster above didn’t seem to want to kill her. Yet. Jane grunted as she tried to pull herself up onto the branch. Although her muscles strained with the effort, she remained merely dangling off the limb. She tried again to no avail. Jane mentally cursed every upper body workout she ever missed.
The struggle to hang on was beginning to slicken the palms of her hands. She could feel herself slipping off. Jane gritted her teeth and started kicking the air helplessly as her grip weakened. She looked down into the ugly face of the circling troll below. It growled as it stood directly under the spot where it knew she would fall. Panic seeped into her voice as she finally spit out, “[i Fine!] Fine – whatever your price is, I’ll pay it! Please, please just help me!”
And then, for the second time that day, Jane fell.
One of the many skills Korvo excelled in was patience. However long this girl wanted to drag this out for he would be willing to watch, even for pure entertainment. If boredom struck he could easily grab her and deal with the troll, but he wanted her to come to him. It would make this all so much easier than this cat and mouse game they had been playing.
So he waited. And he watched. And each time he thought he might have to intervene because she drifted off and the troll got too close to snatching her out of the sunlight, she managed to deal with it herself. She was quick, he had to hand it to her.
As the hours passed, Jane was slowly forced to work her way over to him. It was ironic in a way. Even if she did find a way to escape, and he knew she was racking her brain for some way to be rid of both the troll and himself, she would still have to climb the very tree he was in. Back into the raven’s beak. As the circle of sun became smaller, he found more ways to torture her. He pulled an apple from his satchel, dusted it off, and bit into it. His leg swung to-and-fro like he didn’t have a care in the world. He washed it down with water, dribbling from his chin. By now she had to be hungry again. And she had only had alcohol before they came to the Otherworld, so she must have been in need of some water.
It was just when his patience was- surprisingly- running thin, that she decided to make her leap to safety. His brows rose, one eye on her, one on the troll. He was genuinely surprised when she managed to grab ahold of the branch. The troll just barely missed her and was now making angry noises. It seemed to be growing tired of the game.
Korvo looked down at the branch below him, watching her struggle. She still hadn’t agreed to his help. He raised a brow, waiting.
“There you go, was that so hard?” he asked when she finally pleaded for help. He was just hopping down to her branch as her grip came loose. Korvo reached out with his good arm just as the troll did. If he didn’t want this to be a tug of war, he had to do something.
Simultaneously, he pulled her up towards the branch while drawing one of the long blades on his back with his other hand. His shoulder protested, but he gritted his teeth through the pain and brought the blade down on the troll’s outstretched wrist. Many would not think a blade could slice living rock, but the troll recoiled with a sound of anguish as its hand fell completely off. Korvo straightened on his perch, Jane now behind him, and watched the troll hold the stump of his wrist, groaning and stumbling about. The hand that had fallen to the ground crumbled into dust. The creature looked up at Korvo and seemed to pout. Then slowly backed away into the woods.
“It’ll grow back!” Korvo shouted at the retreating shadow, as if that made it any better.
Then he turned both eyes to Jane. “You are full of surprises, aren’t you?” She looked rather winded so he offered her his water skin. “Then again, I’m sure you’ve seen just about as many surprises as you’d like for a lifetime. Unfortunately, they’re not over.” Korvo plucked Jane up and lowered her out of the tree. It would have seemed like she weighed nothing save for the fact Korvo was left massaging his dislocated shoulder. Korvo followed after, leaping gracefully and landing right next to her. “The question is: would you rather face them with an escort? Or die in the mouth of a troll?”
He didn’t wait for her to answer and he looked at her as if remembering something. “Oh, right. Yes, my favor. So we can start fresh, let’s get that out of the way.” He held his hand out. “Don’t worry, you’ll like this. I’m sure you’re desperately wanting to cause me pain. Take my arm with both hands, yes like that. Pull as hard as you can.” He grimaced as he, in turn, pulled against her. With one swift motion as if he had done this several times in his life he yanked his arm between them and reached over with his good one to pop his shoulder back into place. He groaned.
“There… See? Don’t you feel better now?” he asked with a smirk, panting slightly. “There’s a small village northeast of here and we need to get you some proper clothes. The damn portal spit me out farther than I’d hoped. Thanks to your presence no doubt.” He paused for a moment, hands on his hips. Then he turned and looked at her. “You’re not planning on running off again, are you? I have rope.”
When Korvo’s hand latched onto hers, Jane gripped it for dear life. Her eyes were wide with fear and her palms slick with sweat as she scrambled onto the tree branch. When she made it to relative safety, she turned back just in time to watch Korvo dismember the troll with a blade. Repulsed horror caused goosebumps to rise all over her skin despite the forest’s warm temperature. Color drained from her face completely. Even if the troll had been trying to attack her, was she in any better shape in the company of something that could resort to such violence so easily?
Jane shrank back when Korvo turned to her, her eyes darting downward. She couldn’t stand the uncanny gaze of the raven eye embedded in a human head. Despite her unease, she took the offered water skin. It probably wasn’t poisoned since she’d seen him drinking from it earlier. In any case, she was in desperate need of hydration. With the extreme exertion of the day, she’d all but worn herself out. Her throat was scratchy, and her tongue was dangerously dry. It was all she could do not to moan aloud when the cool water finally revived her. Jane was so preoccupied with guzzling down as much as she could that she barely noticed Korvo was reaching for her until it was too late. She nearly spit the precious water out when he grabbed her to lower her to the ground. The contact was more than unwelcome. It was nauseating.
She stumbled back as Korvo landed lightly next to her. Despite his stature, he was surprisingly quiet as well as graceful. Jane eyed him with a wary frown when he held out his hand. Contrary to his assumptions, Jane didn’t want to cause him pain. She didn’t want anything to do with him ever again. What she wanted was to put as much distance between herself and whatever he was as quickly as possible. Instead, she was forced to touch him. Again.
Jane gripped his arm with as much hesitation and caution as one uses when approaching a diseased thing. As though mere proximity risked exposure to whatever ailment plagued the victim. The soft [i pop!] that resulted afterward was enough to make Jane let go with an acute quickness. A free hand flew to her mouth to mask her gasp. His pained groan triggered the words to tumble out of her mouth before she could stop herself, “Are you o –"
She covered it with a pathetic cough. But there was no hiding the genuine concern that had colored her voice. Jane reminded herself to bury those kinds of feelings, even if it was kneejerk. What she was dealing with wasn’t human, so there was little reason to extend human decency to it. After all, what did it matter whether [i he] was okay – [i she] was the one who was kidnapped!
Her brow furrowed at the mention of the northeast village. Jane was right in her assumption that this strange place mirrored those in her dreams. Briefly, she wondered if she was still in one. The pain in her arms and legs answered with a resounding ‘no’ however. But if that was the case, she wondered, then how could she have envisioned a realistic place she’d never been? Korvo’s question about running off snapped her from her queries. Jane looked bitter but shook her head almost imperceptibly.
No, she wouldn’t run off. At least not without a better plan of action first. Clearly the land was dangerous. Korvo was right in saying that she’d need an escort to face it all. So, for now, she’d stay by his side. Perhaps along the way she could pick up a thing or two on how to navigate this world, and then escape to find a way to get back to her own.
“Northeast you said?” She stoppered his water skin before tossing it back to him. Then, with her arms folded firmly across her chest, she pushed past him in that direction. “Fine, let’s go.”
For the first few minutes of walking in silence, Jane spent the time untangling leaves and twigs from her long hair. It was an arduous task. Every time she thought she freed something it just became ensnared in more strands. When it seemed like she rid herself of most of the debris, she began to comb through the unruly mess with her fingers. She winced when her fingers snagged on knotted clumps but continued to rake through the wavy tresses until she could do so uninterrupted. Although she was exhausted, confused, and frightened, she at least felt a smidgen more like her normal self with her hair restored to its prior state.
With that finished, she tried to keep her gaze glued to the ground. While this was mostly to refrain from tripping over protruding roots, she also didn’t want to look at Korvo. He had saved her life, sure, but one couldn’t forget that he was the reason it was in danger in the first place. What’s more was the fact that he had lured her into the trap in such a personal, intimate way. One where she thought he could be trusted with all the pain and the loneliness she had experienced throughout her life. But, like his initial disguise, it was nothing more than an illusion. Jane decided that above all else she hated him for that.
For all her resolve to pay him no mind, she kept casting him sidelong glances. It stemmed from morbid curiosity more than anything. It was like looking at a car crash; terrible to witness, but impossible to look away. When she thought he caught her staring, a bright red flush rose to her cheeks. But she did not avert her eyes. Instead, she asked, almost rudely, “So, what [i are] you, anyways?” [i Not human,] she reminded herself. [i No human decency.] “And what the hell do you want with me? Especially if I’m ‘not your type.’”
“Mhm,” Korvo muttered, catching the water skin deftly. He couldn’t stop the small grin from coming to his face at her defiance. The way she crossed her arms and brushed past him was just what he wanted to see. It was worth it: wasting almost an entire day toying with the troll. Now she was too tired to fight him too much. Night had settled easily over the forest, but he must have made it clear that they were not going to rest any time soon. He watched her trudge on ahead, growing frustrated with the debris in her hair. As he did so, he kept his other more watchful eye on the surrounding forest. He couldn’t imagine any creature worse than a troll stumbling upon them, but he still didn’t know Jane’s story and who else might be looking for her.
They continued on in silence. Korvo keeping close in case she decided to foolishly run and Jane, somehow unable to look and unable to stop looking at him. He knew he disgusted her and most of him found pleasure in that. Knowing that she could not touch him or look at him for more than a second without squirming was just the kind of power he had grown to love from this body. He felt every one of her glances and he let her look. He couldn’t imagine what he must have looked like to a human. At least to the fae he looked like a spell gone wrong. To her, he must have looked like a painting by- who was that human artist again?- oh yes, Picasso. No part of him faded easily into another.
Simply because he could and he wanted to unnerve her, he moved his raven eye to meet hers. A pink rose to her cheeks and he turned his head, letting his human eye join his other one to take in the full sight of her. He did not bend his neck, he merely cast his gaze down like she was too lowly even for him to be bothered, which really said something.
He barked out a laugh at her brave question. No, not barked- [i cawed] . “No, little human. I would not waste my time with you, appealing as you are,” he said with a rather insolent smirk in her direction, his raven eye roaming the length of her torso and legs before turning back towards the direction they were headed. “I suppose there is much you need to learn about this world and its people, but frankly I’m not sure how long you’ll be here and I don’t know how much effort I should put into educating you. So I’ll simply tell you this: I’m one of a kind, darling.”
He wasn’t about to tell her he used to be one of the lesser fae. That he was [i still] lesser fae under it all. She wouldn’t know what that meant and he didn’t want to relive his tale of woe, especially not to her.
“There are all manner of creatures in this world and it’s best you’ve started your journey with me and that fool troll because we’re the scariest things you’re probably going to see. In fact, most of the fae are quite beautiful,” he said, ignoring the twinge of loss he had for his old face. “As for what I want with you? Absolutely nothing. I don’t want a thing from you. I’m just the carrier pigeon. Er- crow.” He chuckled, whether she thought it was funny or not. “Some high fae asked me to snatch you from the human world for more money than I rightly know what to do with. So I wasn’t exactly about to start asking questions. You know: gift horse- mouth- all that.”
They continued on for some time as he let her process this new information. Sure, he could give her a rundown on all fae lore and tell her everything about his visit with the woman who hired him, but it would be pointless in the long run and he didn’t want to risk turning her fragile human brain to mush.
“We’re close,” he said after some time. His voice had dropped his playfulness as he maneuvered through the trees. He stopped her with a hand on her arm when the trees started to thin and they could just make out the lantern in the houses and shops tucked into the hills in front of them.
He ignored her goosebumps, but pulled his clawed hand away from her to pull off his cloak. “Your looks could pass for fae easily enough, but… put this on,” he demanded. “No one can know you’re human and your clothes are like a beacon of the fact.” He didn’t so much as help her put on the cloak as force it on her. He clasped it closed at her neck. It hung heavy all the way down to the ground, covering her shoes, whereas on him it hung a little below the knee. He tried not to laugh and cleared his throat. “It will also mask your scent with my own,” he said, turning once more towards the small village and making his way out of the woods. He smirked, even thought she couldn’t see him. “Please, don’t trip,” he said.
His feet found the dirt path into town. It had been some time since he had been to Dalry, but the many, many years did not seem to have changed it. Everything was where it had been the last time he had passed through. The smithy, the tavern, the tailor, and the inn. It was a small village, but everyone needed work and everyone needed supplies. Despite the late hour, fae were still up and around as usual, mostly around the tavern. As soon as people started to notice his presence, they began to shrink away. Whispers of “The Crow” and “Korvo” were echoed, voices seemingly without owners, but Korvo didn’t care. He was used to this.
He approached the tailor just as the shop owner, a small pixie, was locking up. She turned and nearly walked right into his hard chest before gasping and stepping back against the door.
“Surely you’re not closing up the shop so soon?” Korvo asked her with a false sense of politeness. “You have one last eager customer.” He gestured with his talons over to the cloaked Jane. The pixie glanced between them nervously and Korvo knew the rest of the street was staring. Eventually she nodded, turned, unlocked the door again, and let them inside.
It took Korvo five minutes to find practical items for Jane. Some leather breeches and tunic with no embellishments. Her own cloak for the road that wouldn’t drag on the ground. And boots, she needed real leather boots, not the strange rubber things she was wearing on her feet.
“Don’t you want me to alter them, my lo- sir?” the pixie was asking when he had tossed her several silver pieces and he had thrown the pieces over his shoulder. The look he gave her told her he didn’t much like being called “sir”, either.
“No need,” he told her and gripped the front of Jane’s cloak to pull her from the building. Down two more stone buildings and they were at the inn. He tossed a coin to the shocked barkeep. “I don’t want no trouble, now!” the dwarf said, tossing back a key.
“And there won’t be any if you keep your nose out of my business,” Korvo warned, heading down the hall and towards the room number that matched his key.
He knew he could have taken all of this for free… the clothes, the room… He could have threatened anyone and they would have stayed out of his way. But he always paid and he never knew why. And if he spent any time thinking about it he might have realized it was because he used to be one of these lesser fae, just scraping to get by.
He closed the door and locked it behind them before tossing her new clothes onto the bed and crossing over to the small fireplace across from the bed. “Try those on,” he told her as he lit the provided wood. “If you need them altered, I can do that, but we have to burn your human clothes.”
He stood up and looked at her once the fire was roaring. Misinterpreting her look, he held his hands out. “What? Of course I know how to alter clothing, look at me! You try putting a normal sleeve over this arm.”
A chill slithered up Jane’s body as Korvo’s unnerving eyes roamed down it. Subconsciously, she angled herself away from him, trying to cover up her more intimate areas. It felt as if his gaze could see directly past her clothes and into what was beneath. It was a silly concept – this [i thing] having x-ray vision – but then again so were trolls up until today. Better safe than sorry.
Jane was surprised when Korvo revealed that he didn’t want her for anything. Instead, he was paid to kidnap her on behalf of someone else. Her brow furrowed. There were plenty of people Korvo must’ve come across before he found her. If it was simply an act of finding a human, he could’ve easily snatched anyone else. But no. Whoever paid him off, explicitly told him to seek out Jane. This troubling information left her with more questions than answers. What could someone in this world want with her? And why her specifically? How did they even know who she was?
She remained silent as they continued toward town, her queries too muddled in her mind to make any sense of them, let alone make an attempt at voicing them. Jane was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she nearly walked past Korvo after he had stopped. Talons soon scraped along the skin of her upper arm quickly halting her in her tracks. Another chill. Jane yanked herself from Korvo’s grasp as he simultaneously let go of her, the momentum causing her to stumble sideways a bit. She scowled, intending to shoot him a dirty look, but dark, heavy fabric immediately blocked her stare as Korvo wrestled her into his cloak. The thing not only weighed her down, but it was also extremely coarse and itchy on her bare arms and shoulders. As it enveloped the entirety of her tiny frame, Jane couldn’t help but feel like she looked ridiculous in the giant thing, like something akin to a kid who snuck into their parent’s wardrobe to try on clothes that were three sizes too big. And indeed, as she moved to follow Korvo into the village, the cloak caught annoyingly underfoot with every step.
Immediately Jane felt a sense of familiarity in the small village. Although she’d never been to the place before, nothing felt new. Wherever she looked, everything was exactly where she expected it to be, the smithy, the tavern, the tailor, the inn. Even some of the denizens had similar faces to those she felt she’d seen before just along the hazy blurred edges of her memory. In her dreams. Jane wasn’t sure how or why her nightly visions mimicked this world so closely, but the thought gave her some smidgen of hope. If she’d seen these things before, then she stood a chance at making an escape and navigating them better on her own in order to find her way back home.
As the two walked together – Jane more stumbling than walking even though she held the cloak up and out in front of her like a ball gown – hushed voices and whispered words followed in their wake. Apparently, her captor had quite the reputation. Judging by the way people parted like the Red Sea to hastily move out of their way, it wasn’t a favorable one. Jane wasn’t surprised by this given her own inimical feelings toward him, but it did make staying in his company all the more concerning. What had Korvo done to gain such disdain on a larger scale?
Jane didn’t have to wonder this for long as she watched Korvo intimidate a tiny shop owner into staying open later. As he shopped around for suitable attire, she made eye contact with the pixie once or twice. She didn’t want to openly say anything with him so nearby, but Jane hoped that she could correctly interpret her apologetic looks. Their exchange didn’t last long before Korvo was dragging her from the shop again.
Like an affronted cat, Jane swatted angrily at Korvo’s hand several times until he let her go. “[i Stop that!]” she hissed indignantly. But he was already moving into the next building. Again, he led with ill manners. Again, Jane tossed the barkeep an apologetic glance on his behalf.
Once in the room, Jane immediately unclasped the heavy cloak from her neck and let it fall to the floor. It was a huge weight off her shoulders – literally. As Korvo set to starting the fire, she drifted to the bed. It took everything in her to refrain from collapsing into it. Instead, she examined the clothes that he’d chosen for her. They were plain and simple but looked like they would fit fine. Her head snapped up when Korvo said that they’d have to burn her human clothes though. She wasn’t overly attached to what she was wearing but burning them seemed dramatic. She was about to ask if that was actually necessary, but Korvo spoke first. And surprised a laugh out of her.
With life in the human world oftentimes being less than sunshine and lollipops for the young woman, she was no stranger to self-deprecating humor. In fact, she greatly enjoyed it. But this situation would’ve been the last place she expected to encounter it. Especially from Korvo. “Yeah, I bet that’s difficult,” she said, still smiling as her laugh dissipated. Jane glanced at his outstretched clawed hand and once more felt disgust arise. Catching herself, with smile now shifting into a frown, she took a step back from him, returning her attention to the clothes.
Jane suddenly became painfully aware of the fact that there was no separate restroom, only a small chamber pot in one of the corners. “You… you need to turn around and close your eyes before I try these on.” She didn’t look at him, but she could almost feel his irritating smirk. “Turn. Around.” When she sensed movement coming from his direction, she too turned in the opposite direction to face the wall. Jane slipped out of her clothes gingerly, trying not to agitate some of the cuts and bruises she sustained from earlier. Even at her distance, she could feel the warmth of the roaring fire heating her injured skin. She’d have given anything to sink into a hot bath in that moment. Instead, she put on the new breeches, tunic, cloak, and boots. None of the materials were particularly breathable, but altogether they were still a great deal lighter than Korvo’s dreadful cloak. The breeches were the only thing the seemed oversized for her shorter legs, but Jane found that if she tucked the hem into her boots, it was negligible.
“Okay,” she said, giving the all-clear for Korvo to turn back around as she did the same. She took a seat at the edge of the bed, fiddling with adjusting the bunched-up leather in her boots. “Everything seems to fit well enough. These things are a bit long, I think, but it’s not a big deal.” She straightened and sat back with a tired sigh, running her over hand her face. Finally in a seated position on a semi-comfortable bed, exhaustion was beginning to cause her to crash. She could’ve slept soundly on a bed of needles at that point. The heavy warmth that now hung in the room wasn’t helping either. Jane kicked off her boots and was about to fully curl into the bed, when a sudden thought had her sitting up alert and awake again.
“Wait, where exactly were you planning on sleeping?” she demanded urgently. She’d be damned before sharing a bed with Korvo.
Jane’s little laugh was- he hated to admit it- rather enjoyable. Like a bell that refused to ring until you said the magic words. He was surprised he had managed to pull a giggle out of her at all, especially when he hadn’t exactly meant to. And after she had been so frustrated with him pulling her around town, too. But her laughing was quick to fade and he watched her retreat from the sight of his arm and hand. It didn’t sting so much as it felt like an old bruise.
He watched her gather up her new clothes in an attempt to step away from him. He watched her nervously glance about for a moment and another wicked smirk came to his face. The feathers above his brow ruffled in amusement.
“You humans and your propriety,” he mused, but rolled his eyes and turned away when it seemed that she would not even allow him to go about his business nearby. He folded his arms. The fire cast several of her blurry shadows on the wall. He shook his head and sighed.
When she announced that she was finished, he turned around and began to grab all of her human clothes while she fiddled with her boots. It sounded like he had done a decent job of sizing her up. He took the clothes to the fireplace and knelt before dropping them in. They caught fire and he watched for a moment to make sure there would be nothing major left of them. He poked at a hem with a stick when it tried to escape the flames.
Behind him, he heard Jane shuffling around and making herself comfortable. Then the noise stopped and her voice filled the room again.
“I’m not,” he answered, still facing the flames. “I can’t have you running off in the night and I need to make sure we haven’t sparked anyone’s interest.”
Korvo finally stood up and he turned towards the girl with a smirk. “So, no, I’m sorry, darling. No cuddles tonight.” He crossed over to the bedside table to turn down the oil lamp to a soft glow. His grin was gone now. “Get some sleep. We have a long day ahead of us.” He let the fire burn and placed himself in the seat by the window. Normally he could go several nights without sleep, but with how tired he was from crossing through the barrier between worlds twice in a day, following Jane’s aura, then getting injured, Korvo wanted nothing more than to drift off, even for an hour. But he didn’t trust Jane not to run off and get eaten by a troll.
A little angel on his shoulder made him wonder if perhaps a little kindness might help. He hadn’t exactly been the most hospitable captor. The thought made him smirk in amusement.
The next morning, Korvo risked leaving Jane for several minutes to bring up a warm meal. Eggs, sausage, and a hard bread that was nothing like human toast, but he wondered if she might enjoy it, anyway. The innkeep didn’t even make him pay for the meal. He just wanted him gone. Korvo wasn’t about to argue.
He set Jane’s plate down on the bedside table. The sun was only just starting to rise and he went to open the curtains. “Rise and shine.” He found his plate and ate his meal standing up, looking out at the town that was slowly waking up. All manner of fae were yawning and walking to their trades. He finished his meal before Jane had even sat up.
“I’m feeling generous this morning,” he told her, setting his plate on the mantle. The fire had died in the night. “I will answer three questions. But I can’t promise I will know the answers.”
Jane blinked. It hadn’t occurred to her to run off in the middle of the night, but now that the seed was planted in her head…not a bad idea. Just not this night. The hesitation toward executing such a plan wasn’t even contingent on Korvo’s watchful eye; she was simply too damn tired. The smirk he gave her coupled with the words ‘darling’ and ‘cuddles’ however was almost enough to ensure she wouldn’t sleep a wink. At least not soundly.
Warily she watched as he crossed from the fireplace to the bedside. For one horrifying moment, she feared that he might climb into bed with her, despite what he had said. Instead, he merely turned down the oil lamp and situated himself in a seat by the window.
Jane didn’t immediately attempt to sleep at his behest despite her previous fatigue. Korvo’s supposedly innocuous remarks put her far too on edge for that. But she did, at least, bury herself beneath the covers. She made a point to keep a careful eye on him for a while. The dancing shadows across his feathered face made for an unsettling sight, but she trusted him just as little as he did her. Within less than fifteen minutes, however, sleep finally won out. As she turned to the side, pulling the blankets close to her chin, she had a single fleeting hope that perhaps all that had transpired was nothing more than a bad dream.
Unfortunately, the nightmares only festered more in Jane’s actual sleep. Normally her dreams consisted of hazy images of rolling landscapes, comforting cottages, and impressive palaces inhabited by ethereal fae folk. Now those cloudy conceptions were warped into crystal clear flashes of monstrous beasts, grotesque transformations, and the mocking faces of former friends or strangers in disguise who were never meant to be trusted. The more she tried to shake the images imprinted on her subconscious, the tighter their hold on her became.
At one point, the same inky blackness that coated Korvo’s wings dripped off them like melting candy that sat too long in the sun. In its place it left only skeletal remains. Then suddenly, the darkness took on a life of its own and coated her entirely, burning her as it turned into tar. Jane couldn’t even let out a scream as the stuff suffocated her, igniting her from the inside out.
Needless to say, it was a long night full of tossing and turning.
Korvo’s voice roused her with a jolt. With accelerated breaths, her eyes darted around frantically trying to place where she was. The events of the past twenty-four hours were still in that place between sleep and awake, not yet caught up. Though the fire had long since died and she’d somehow kicked the covers off her during the night, beads of sweat still blossomed on her forehead. The last dregs of her dreams lingered. Jane had never experienced it before, but this, she imagined, was how sleep paralysis must’ve felt. Lead remained heavy in her joints as waves of reality came washing back over her, reminding her of all that had happened.
Her anxious breaths began to dissipate. The anxiety itself did not.
Finally, Jane pushed herself into a seated position, hugging her knees to her chest as some meager form of self-comfort. She barely registered Korvo’s offer to answer her questions, but she nodded all the same. He seemed so far away from her now. Even though it was he who took center stage in most of the hellish visions of her nightmares. In an attempt to not look as deeply disturbed as she felt Jane reached for the plate of food on the bedside table. She mumbled her thanks and prodded at the meal with her wooden spoon, appetite next to nonexistent.
Because she could feel both of his expectant eyes on her, Jane gave her head a little shake and let her long hair fall forward past her shoulders, effectively creating a little curtain between them. She expelled a shaky breath, trying to focus on his question. Or, rather, come up with some questions of her own. The thought exercise could do her some good, after all. Anything to take her mind off her own night terrors. Yesterday she’d had so many questions! But now, as she racked her brain for something, [i anything], each thought quickly slipped away from her search. It was like trying to grab smoke.
Initial instincts told her to ask something about the – what did he call it? – ‘high fae’ that had sent him after her. Who were they, how did they know her, what did they want with her, etc.? But she recalled that since Korvo’s motivation for the job was purely fueled by greed, he didn’t think to ask questions. Therefore, he wouldn’t have answers. She’d have to go with something more general rather than specific.
“Three questions…” she mused thoughtfully. Though Jane still played with the contents of her plate, she seemed slightly less despondent. After a few more minutes in silent contemplation, she felt she had her questions. She lifted her head and swiped her hair back behind her ears, a sign that she was ready to talk again. Yet she still was keen to avoid direct eye contact.
“Alright, then. First, what is this place?” Jane gave a sweeping hand motion to gesture around the room. “Not just the inn, but this world. I – hm, it’s weird. I’ve never been here before, but sometimes I feel like I’ve seen it. It’s exactly like in my stories, the ones I like to write back home.” Jane decided to omit the fact that the ideas for said stories came to her in dreams if only for fear of sounding completely insane.
“Second, I noticed that the people in this world, like the ones yesterday…” she trailed off momentarily to recount them. “The tailor, the innkeeper, even just the ones we bypassed. They all seemed to know you. And you scared them. Intimidated them. Why?” The avoidance of eye contact was deliberate now as Jane’s gaze remained fixed squarely on her food.
“And third, well. I must imagine that the answer to the second question isn’t good. It’s probably something horrible, something violent even. I mean,” Jane let out another laugh, but this one was without mirth. “You’ve tricked me, kidnapped me, threatened me, and pushed me around, so.” As her list grew, each item she checked off became more accusatory than the last. She let the tallies hang in the air for a moment. Briefly, she wondered whether a creature of his kind could feel remorse. “You claim to have done all this for money. But I wonder if you actually enjoy it too. Hurting others.”
It was less a question, and more of a statement. A bitter one. With that off her chest, Jane began to eat.
Jane’s disheveled appearance did not go unnoticed by Korvo. He was just unwilling to disgrace her more by bringing up the fact that she had been wrestling with the blankets all night. He was trying to play nice this morning. Besides, the wall she put between them with her hair told him he wasn’t going to get anywhere by teasing her further. The way she was pushing her food around her plate was pathetic enough. She should be starving. And who knew when they might get a meal like this again? Ungrateful little-
Korvo stilled his mind and waited for her questions. He couldn’t be sure if her mind was suddenly free of curiosity or if she was choosing which three of a million questions to ask him. Like a watchful bird of prey, he did not move from his spot, only leaned against the mantle.
After what seemed like an eternity, she spoke. The planes of her face were visible again after she moved her hair behind her slightly pointed ears. Once more he was reminded just how fae-like she was. If she asked him why she was wanted, he wouldn’t be able to tell her. But he might have some speculations.
But she did not ask him. She seemed to sense that he would avoid answering anything to do with his job. She was more clever than he gave her credit for, knowing not to waste her questions on empty answers.
He let her ask all three questions at once so that he could plan his responses. After her first one was over, long winded as it was, he said, “Ask them all, then I will answer,” mostly because he had no idea how to process the fact that she perhaps had been here before. He could tell her where she was, but not why it was familiar to her at all. Once again he was struck with the thought that she was far more than just a simple human.
Her next question hit far closer to home. She could ask anything about this realm and she chose to ask about him. He supposed it made sense, he [i was] her captor and she knew nothing about him. But out of [i everything] she could have asked? He was starting to regret this. He was not about to give her a history lesson on the King’s Crow, was he?
It seemed he might have to. Or at least some vague, short, retelling. Her third and final question brought the pain and the memories back. His eyes did not leave hers and his expression was unreadable. He felt that familiar tear inside him. The ache for his innocence back and the thrill that came with knowing he was more powerful than anyone he saw. Well- [i most].
Korvo regretted this now. He had been expecting simple questions. “What is this world?” and “What are the fae?” But this little Jane had him facing things he never faced sober. And as if she knew it, she finally began to eat.
He felt his feathers ruffle under his shirt. He wanted nothing more than to use the blankets like a sack, hoist her over his shoulder, and carry her all the way to Three Star Lake like she was nothing more than luggage. Then he remembered his promise to be kind this morning. It’s why she was asking his questions in the first place.
Calming himself, dropped himself back into the chair by the window. He splayed his hands out. “This is the Otherworld. The Fae Realm. Avalon. Tir na NOg. It’s known by many names in your people’s world. Perhaps it seems familiar to you because you’ve heard stories of it. Passed down from your elders or captured in books and art from those who once played with the fae when they were young… before the portals between worlds were closed.” He was still bristling over Jane’s final assumption about him, but speaking facts about the place he called home was helping to ground him and close him off from his anger. “Often, these stories get handed down and distorted by new people writing them. Changing them. Perhaps you are the exception and your stories are still faithful.”
Korvo stood, ready to broach her more accusatory questions. He paced, his boots landing softly on the hardwood floor. “I will answer your second and third questions together,” he said, his raven eye on her. He found her far too beautiful to look at while speaking about the ugliness of his nature, so he turned to the window again. “Even if I did not kidnap you or threaten you,” he started,” his voice uncharacteristically soft, “would you not still be afraid of me? Don’t deny it. I have seen the way you cringe away from even the mere sight of me. Would it come as a surprise to learn that I have not done a single thing to hurt the people of this town?” He gave a pause, letting the words sink in, more for himself than for her.
“I had the misfortune of trying to do the right thing at the wrong time. It was the last time I would ever make that mistake. Whether or not I enjoy the hurt I cause makes no difference. When you look like this, even when you try to do good, no one trusts you.”
Korvo had no idea he felt this way. He would never let himself think about it, no less talk to someone else about it. Jane seemed to pull the words from his lips and while he sounded angry, he was quiet. Subdued. There was no hint of his usual rage or sarcastic nature. The last persona he felt like this around was the king. Some high fae had the ability to pull the truth from you just because their presence was so calming. But Jane was simply Jane. And Korvo must have just been tired from the day before.
He picked up his cloak and wrapped it around his shoulders. “Be ready to move in five minutes. I’ll fill up our water skins.” He stalked to the door and turned to her before leaving. Their eyes met briefly. “And [i don’t] run away.”
Jane ate her meal quietly as Korvo took the time to come up with responses for her questions. It had cooled somewhat since he’d given it to her, but all in all, it was a hearty breakfast. It was only after the first few bites that she came to realize how hungry she’d been. She restrained herself from scarfing it down, though. Doing so would’ve likely made her sick since she hadn’t had much in her system for the past – how long was it? Twenty-four, thirty-six hours? Give or take.
According to Korvo, the place was known as the Otherworld. And that was only one name of many. As it happened, Jane suddenly remembered that she [i had] heard of such a place before. Long forgotten memories of porch rocking chairs and the faint smell of butterscotch crossed her mind. Hands withered by the winter cycle of life combed through her hair. They touched the tips of her ears as they brushed through, accompanied by wistful sighs for times long since passed. A gaggle of older women providing the care Jane so desperately craved when they could. She remembered them all now fondly: Ms. Deborah, Ms. Mary-Ann, Ms. Beatrice, and Ms. Evelyn. And she remembered their stories.
One of their favorite pastimes was filling her head tales of the Otherworld. The talked about the places where the two worlds collided and brought in all sorts of fae folk. How they, as much younger girls, would often play with the fairies in the forest for hours on end. Jane had delighted in such tales when she was experiencing them for the first time. But soon, the stories grew as old as the women who told them. Although they insisted that the things they said were true, Jane’s harsh upbringing left no room for belief in fancible fables. She, like many other people in her town, chocked it up to make-believe.
Oh, how those women would chide her with ‘I told you so’s’ if they could’ve seen where she’d ended up!
Maybe Korvo was right. Maybe Jane’s stories, and dreams by extension, were greatly influenced by her elder’s tales more so than she’d led herself to believe. Maybe their story-telling skills were so honed that they gave Jane her nightly visions. But that still didn’t sit quite right with her…
Jane didn’t have the chance to dwell on it further because just then her captor stood and began to pace. Interested in the answers to her final two questions more than her first, Jane finished eating and set the plate back on the bedside table. Waiting. Korvo turned to the window and spoke with a voice that was surprisingly soft. With his back turned to her, she was hard-pressed to believe that the voice was even coming from him. Given his large stature, she would’ve never guessed he’d be capable of something like that.
When asked whether she’d still be afraid of Korvo even if he hadn’t kidnapped her, Jane was inclined to deny it. Years of Disney peddling their feel-good-beautiful-on-the-inside messaging had taken its toll. But Korvo was right to call bullshit on that. At worst, even with no destructive deeds to sully his name, he was a thing of nightmares. And at best, still unsettling to behold. So, no, it didn’t surprise Jane that the inhabitants of this world thought it best to keep their distance.
What did surprise her was the sharp pang of pity she suddenly felt for the creature. No doubt he was forced into living a very lonely life. And it struck her that maybe everything he’d said at the bar hadn’t all been just a ruse. The best lies always held a bit of truth.
It was, of course, entirely possible that he was simply lying to her again. Manipulating her feelings so that she’d be more compliant. However, a nagging feeling told her that he was being truthful. Maybe it because of the gentleness in his voice. Maybe it was because it was he who now avoided her gaze. Either way, Jane felt that the man who admitted these things openly was different than the one she’d been forced to endure the last few hours.
Jane let his answer hang in the air between them as Korvo put on his cloak. Her eyes followed him to the door, soon enough meeting his. The corner of her lip pulled up slightly after his final statement. No, she wouldn’t run away. Yet.
Still considering Korvo’s words, Jane swung her legs off the bed and grabbed her boots. She slipped them on once again tucking the hem of her breeches within. Standing, she grabbed her own cloak and swung it around her shoulders as she walked over to the window. There were no mirrors in the room, but there was still just enough darkness surrounding the rising sun that she could see her own reflection in the glass. A part of her couldn’t help but titter at her new attire. She looked like she might’ve fit right in at a New York City Comic Con or something.
As she admired herself, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye from the street below. One of the fae folk milling about had stopped and turned their head upwards to look at her. Squinting at the figure, Jane realized that it was the pixie from the tailor shop. With half a polite smile, Jane raised her hand in friendly greeting. The pixie did not return the gesture. Instead, she quickly hurried off down the street. Simply figuring that the pixie needed to open her business, Jane thought nothing of it and returned to sitting on the bed.
When Korvo came back, she rose to her feet again. “Look,” she said flippantly. “Ready to move [i and] didn’t run away.” She took her water skin when he offered it to her. And, despite what he’d said before, still took great care to avoid touching him in the process. It was instinctual, but she clocked what she’d done half a second after it happened. And she felt bad. Not enough to apologize or comment on the interaction, but the sensation didn’t sit well with her either.
Once they were outside, with the sun now fully visible above the horizon, Jane did feel compelled to say, “Thanks, for… uh,” She shifted her weight awkwardly from one leg to the other. “You know. Telling me about all that… stuff.” Desperate to be done with the moment she quickly pivoted conversation. “So. Where are we going and how do we intend to get there? I’m guessing you guys don’t have Uber or anything here.”
Korvo could have filled up their water on their way out, but after being so unexpectedly vulnerable, he needed a moment to regain his composure. He pulled his hood up, which didn’t exactly prevent him from being noticed now that everyone in town knew he was there, but it still helped him feel like there was a barrier between him and all the looks.
He still couldn’t get over how she managed to get him to open up like that. He had been seconds away from giving up his history with the king freely. He felt exposed. Raw. He wanted to scrub away the feeling.
When he returned to the room he found Jane waiting patiently for him. His brows rose in surprise. He half thought she’d be crawling out the window or at least pacing. Perhaps she was finally coming to terms with her predicament. He couldn’t help the sharp laugh escape him at her words. “I should have brought you a treat for being so good,” he said, and handed over his extra water skin. Despite their conversation, she still took it from him like he was diseased. He pretended not to notice. She would be out of his hair in a few days, anyway.
“Come along, then,” he said and led the way back outside. Eyes seemed to follow them, but none remained looking when their gazes met. They headed down the street towards the end of the lane. Jane spoke softly. Once again, he felt that strange pull in his chest. Like she could get him to say [i anything] if she just asked him right. He wasn’t sure what to say in response to her thanks. He hadn’t given her much information after all, but he supposed he should take the boon, so he let out a simple grunt to tell her he heard her. As if she could tell he’d rather they not talk about their conversation, she moved on.
“We’re going to- what?” He stopped and turned to face her, brows drawn together in confusion. “Uber? I don’t…” he trailed off, shaking his head, deciding it must be some human thing. “Forget it. We need to get to Three Star Lake. It should be about three days ride on horseback. About five if we avoid the main roads, which we should.” He turned away from her, the winged ends of his cloak billowing out as he revealed behind him a small stable.
A small stableboy looked up at him and his eyes grew. “Master!” He turned and ran indoors. Korvo did not try to hide his sigh of exasperation.
The stableboy’s master stepped out a moment later and looked Korvo up and down. For a long moment he didn’t say a thing. “Surprised you didn’t steal one of me ‘orses while me back was turned,” he said.
“Surprised you have the gall to speak to me like that,” Korvo replied, his patience wearing thin. “I can steal one with you facing me if that pleases you more.” The stablemaster seemed to remember just who he was speaking to when he heard the low rumblings of Korvo’s voice and he swallowed. When he was sure he wouldn’t be swindled, Korvo continued. “What are my options?”
“Well, we ain’t got much, being such a small town. But that chestnut there is by far the strongest, unless you’re lookin’ for speed, then I’d go for the white.” Korvo eyed the horses. They were much like human horses except their their eyes were large and shone brightly. The creatures could sense far more than any fae could, but they were nowhere near as smart as their siblings the kelpies or the fire horses who could rarely be tamed.
“I’m looking for endurance. Distance. I’ll take the chestnut.”
As usual, Korvo paid the man even when he could have easily stolen what he needed. The stableboy came out and saddled up the steed, stealing glances over at the pair of them every once in a while. Not long after, Korvo was leading the horse away by its reins.
“Have you ever ridden a horse before?” he asked Jane when they reached the edge of town. The horse, unlike the people of the town, did not find Korvo a threat. Instead, it sniffed at his head until his hood fell back. Its wise eyes did not think anything of his feathers or raven eye. If anything, it probably thought it made them more similar: two beasts to be used by their masters. Korvo pulled out a sugar cube from the care pack he had bought and brought it to the horse's lips. He ate it happily.
“Either way, fae equines are far different from your human counterparts. I couldn’t risk letting you have you own mount, not because you might run off. I have no doubt I can catch you,” he said with a smirk, “But because no human’s will is strong enough to control one.”
Korvo put his foot in the stirrup and lifted himself easily into the saddle. Then he held out a hand for Jane. At least it was his human hand. “Come on then, darling,” he said, when he sensed her hesitation, twiddling his fingers. “I know you hate to be near me, but just think. In less than a week you never have to see me again.”
Jane stopped in her tracks as Korvo turned to face her. She expected to be met with the same persistent feeling of discomfort she had whenever she looked at him, but instead found herself unable to help the amusement that bubbled up at his clear confusion. It was a welcome change of pace. For the first time since they’d met, there was something she knew that he did not. Granted, the knowledge of a ride-sharing app wouldn’t get her far in this world, but the momentary upper hand still felt nice.
The feeling faded at the mention of traveling for five days on horseback, however. Ball was back in his court. Jane didn’t know a thing about horses. Only that her skinny legs were sure to take a beating in the process of riding one.
She followed him to the stable, noting Korvo’s exasperated sigh as the young boy fled at their approach. Then there was a tense moment between him and the man who replaced the boy moments later. The hardened edge to Korvo’s voice had returned. His imposing stature stayed steadfast as he sized up the stablemaster. The other man who started the exchange so confidently seemed to shrink under his stare. And he seemed far less irreverent. Jane could understand that feeling. But, given their earlier conversation, she could understand Korvo’s as well. She still didn’t approve of his methods, per say, but there was certainly a deeper layer to it now.
At his question, Jane scoffed. “Horse-riding? In the city? Yeah, right.” Sarcasm lined her voice. In fact, she often tried to steer clear of the giant animals. Whether it was the mounted police unit or the carriages in Central Park, it didn’t matter. The things could kill fully grown men on a whim if they so chose, never mind what they’d do to someone of her petite build. Even while Korvo was leading the horse toward the edge of town, she kept well away from it. And, as if she wasn’t feeling apprehensive enough about horses, he also mentioned that no human’s will was strong enough to control it. Great.
Jane fiddled with the clasp of her cloak uncertainly as Korvo climbed into the saddle. She hesitated as he extended a hand down to help her up. Though she still had enough of her wits about her to shoot him a look after he called her ‘darling.’
“Sure,” she muttered as she took his hand and hoist herself onto the back. “Maybe because the person you hand me over to kills me after that.” Jane said it with casual irony, but in the pit of her stomach knew that it was a very real fear. Just not more so than the immediate issue of what the fuck she was supposed to do with her hands. With no reins of her own to hold onto, keeping her seat felt like it was going to be next to impossible. Unless, of course, she locked her arms around Korvo’s torso. Something she really, [i really] didn’t want to do. As the animal took off at a gallop, however, she had no other options. Looping her limbs around his middle and hiding her face in the back of his cloak a steady stream of curses escaped her mouth as they began their journey.
[right [pic https://roleplay.cloud/uploads/42_92ddc71ffa99e779b7fa3507610974a2.jpg]] Not five minutes after the pair left, another stranger stepped foot into the small town. Tall and lithe, Nym’s boots barely made a sound as she walked across the dirt and gravel toward the pub. Though the hood of her cloak was drawn over her head she could still feel the eyes of the townspeople following her as she went, and she knew it was no coincidence that no one crossed her path. She was well accustomed to this kind of treatment by now. And she reveled in it.
The local tavern was a small one. It was a run-down shack barely big enough to fit more than a few people. Very little light penetrated the room despite the rising sun, but hanging lanterns gave it a comfortable glow. The space was only occupied by two others: the brownie barkeep, a squat and squalid little man with dirty curls; and a small pixie girl, furiously scribbling away with an ink quill at one of the tables. Both looked up and stared at Nym. Paying the pixie no mind, she made her way to the bar.
“Mead,” she said, rapping a knuckle on the counter twice. Her voice came out as a low and lazy purr. The barkeep eyed her warily but poured a mug and set it in front of her. Knowing better than to ask her for payment, he stalked away grumpily. Nym raised the cup to her lips, but paused halfway, suddenly aware of the soft shuffling behind her. A moment later, the pixie was at her side.
“You… you work for the king, don’t you, miss?” she asked timidly. The taller woman set the mug down slowly. An easy smile spread across her lips.
“Are we not all indebted to His Majesty?” Her face inclined toward the pixie but remained shrouded beneath her hood. Even from there she could see the small thing beginning to tremble. Nym sipped her mead luxuriously, as if she took no notice of the creature’s fear. Or as if she were enjoying it.
“Yes. O-Of course, my lady.” She clutched the parchment she’d been scribbling on close to her chest. “Which is why I’d like to pass on some information. And if you, well, I mean to say, since I hear tell you’re close to him… maybe you could get the message to him?”
Beneath her hood, Nym rose an eyebrow, her interest piqued. “Perhaps.” She wondered what sort of information this pixie had that could possibly be of any value to the king. But, as with all things, she knew it had to come with a price. “And what do you seek in exchange?”
The pixie swallowed hard. “Freedom, miss. For my family. My mother and father. Please.”
“Oh, I see.” Another sip of the drink. “Imprisoned or enslaved? No – wait, let me guess. Hm. Imprisoned?” She nodded. “What for?” The pixie flushed and cast her eyes downward. “Go on.”
“They weren’t doing anything wrong, miss, honestly. The taxes on their business – that tailor shop over there, see? – they were just too much. They had only been talking about how high the taxes seemed, how it was so much more than they could afford. They’d only said that they wished the king would be more lenient, more merciful. And they… well, they might’ve called him greedy at one point but – ”
“But that’s slander.” Nym clicked her tongue disapprovingly as if she were chiding a child. “And slander against our sovereign leader is strictly prohibited. So.” Another sip. “I suppose they were doing something wrong after all.” The pixie continued to shake, but it was difficult to tell whether it was still from fear or now from anger. Nym let her seethe for a moment before prodding further, “And you think you have information valuable enough to skirt around them serving out justice?”
“Six years?! That’s justice?” The pixie flared, her face reddening with her rising ire. She quickly cooled as Nym swiped off her hood and fixed her with a glare. Bright, amber eyes with narrowed slits for pupils gazed out from a sea of wavy pitch-black hair.
“Careful. Or you may find yourself in the same sticky situation as them,” she warned dangerously. But, still curious as to what the potential information might be, she let the insolence slide. Nym downed the rest of her drink and turned to face the pixie fully. She leaned against the counter, drumming sharpened nails on the worn wood. Running her tongue over a set of abnormally long, keen canines she studied the pixie for a moment then said, “Look, I’ll make a deal with you. Give up the information you have now and if it’s interesting enough, I’ll see if I can put in a word to grant your parents amnesty for their crimes against the Crown. Seem fair?” And, because the pixie knew she wouldn’t get a better offer, she nodded.
Sure, it’d be easy enough to threaten or attack the small girl and force her to relinquish the information without making a deal, but Nym didn’t see a need to resort to such extreme measures of motivation when they were already so clearly laid out. She was ever so desperate for a reunification with her family. Whether or not Nym chose to follow through with it was inconsequential because she knew the pixie would cooperate just to have that sliver of a chance.
“Fine.” The girl took a deep breath to steady herself. “A man came into town late last night. A cursed man. Feathered, deformed.”
“Korvo?” Nym blinked. Then, despite herself, she laughed in disbelief. “Really?” It had been years, decades even, since she last recalled seeing the King’s Crow. Ever since Korvo fell out of favor and the king relinquished him from his service their interactions had been few and far between.
Korvo had been the first of the His Majesty’s experiments with cursed spells, but he hadn’t been the last. When it came to light that he could shift between his forms, it was a power no fae had ever encountered before. And the king craved more of it. He sent out a call throughout the land about a fantastic opportunity to overcome one's lot in life as lesser fae. Any lower-class citizen who wanted to fly above their station were invited to the palace on the promise to make something of themselves provided they did so in the name of the king.
That was more or less the truth.
One of the very first steps in pledging fealty to the king’s name was relinquishing one’s own. Most of the fae who had their true names violently ripped from them died immediately. Half of those that survived were then too far gone to be of use to anyone. They were quickly disposed of.
Fae that remained after that were forced to endure being cursed. Again, many died. Some that lived even went so far as to kill themselves after seeing what they’d become. Yet with each iteration of cursed fae, combined with all manner of other creatures, their physical deformities became less pronounced. Nym was one of those lucky few.
Merged with a cat, she possessed all the abilities of her feline counterpart. Enhanced senses, reflexes, agility, and the like. The few physical indicators of her transformation included her cat-like eyes, sharpened nails and teeth, as well as dark stripes along her jawline, arms, and legs. So, when people avoided her, it was more for her reputation under the king’s command rather than her appearance. Nym was as ruthless as she was still eerily stunning. And part of that she owed to Korvo.
Although the crow had been at the game for far longer than she, Nym excelled far quicker. She picked up what she needed from him when the king paired them to work together, and soon surpassed him. The darkness of her deeds soon overcame her, and she felt nothing leaving her partner in the dust to be discarded. Now, there was only power. Especially while living in the lap of luxury as one of the king’s most highly regarded agents.
“Last I heard he was somewhere south, I believe. Yet, I do suppose that information is a bit dated. What was that fiend up to here? No good, I suspect.”
“I… I’m not entirely sure. But he was here with a girl and – ”
“And what does the Crown care for the Crow’s travel companions?”
“But that’s just it, miss. I don’t think she was a companion. Not of her own free will, anyhow. He was dragging her around all over town.” She spoke with more urgency now as she sensed she was losing Nym’s attention.
Nym shrugged. “As I said, up to no good. But that’s par for the course with that one.” While there were strict laws in place to keep from sullying the name of the Crown, there were hardly any laws for anything else. At least, none that were enforced to the same extent. “Well, if that’s it then…” Nym stood and stretched preparing to depart. She jerked back violently as the pixie made a frantic sound and fell to her knees in front of Nym, grabbing for the end of her cloak.
“No! Wait – [i please!] There’s more! The girl… she-she was strange. Her energy was brighter, cheerier than most these days. Scared, and sad, and lonely, yes, but not as much as what we’ve seen here. I could feel it. It was like she hadn’t even been affected by… well, I mean – it felt like she came from the time before the king’s reign.”
Nym remembered that time. All fae did. It was back when the king was but a prince and still got on with his little brother. That was, of course, until he learned of his infertility. Without the means to produce an heir and far too proud to relinquish his throne, he killed that little brother in cold blood. The realm was plunged into darkness by the despicable act. Everyone became weaker for it. Neither the land nor its people had been the same since. So how had this mystery girl managed to avoid those consequences? And what business did Korvo have with her?
“Well now… that’s interesting,” Nym mused softly.
“So… so, my family will be freed?” The pixie’s voice sounded choked with emotion. She released Nym’s cloak and stood, looking up at her hopefully. “You said if I gave you interesting information then – ”
Nym’s raised finger silenced her. “I said if your information was interesting [i enough,]” she clarified. “This is little more than hearsay. I’ll have to investigate the information myself – ensure that it’s something truly substantial – before relaying it to the king. Still,” Nym delivered a low bow. “His Majesty thanks you for your loyalty to the Crown.”
The woman turned on her heel to leave but paused for a moment. A wicked grin crept onto her face. She returned her attention to the deflated pixie. “On second thought, I’ve changed my mind.” The pixie looked alight with promise again. “You are right, this is valuable information. However, its value only extends to purchase the freedom of [i one] of your parents. Who would you choose?”
“W-what?” The pixie sputtered in disbelief.
“Come now, surely you must have a favorite. Is it your mother or your father?”
“That wasn’t the deal! Please, the pair of them together – I’ll do anything!”
“Certainly. The pair of them can rot together in prison, if that’s what you’d prefer.” Nym shrugged. “It makes no difference to me. But I had assumed that the freedom of one would be better than the freedom of none. My mistake.” She turned to go again.
“No, wait!” Nym raised an eyebrow. The pixie girl was shaking again, fists clenched at her sides and tears welling in her eyes. “My… my mother. I choose my mother. Her name is Feya. Please.”
“Hm.” Nym had half a mind to press the pixie why she’d chosen her mother over her father, make her admit why one was worthier of rescuing over the other. Much like a cat, she tended to have a nasty habit of playing with her prey. But judging by the small creature’s distraught demeanor she was already well past her breaking point. There’d be no fun in prodding further. “Very well.”
Nym bent to picked up the pixie’s discarded parchment and quill from the floor. Flipping it over, she scribbled something along the back while stating, “These are official orders for the immediate release and pardon of your mother, Feya.” Nym folded the letter into thirds. She pulled a wax and seal kit from the leather satchel strapped around her right thigh. Heating the wax over one of the lit candles at the bar, the red stick slowly began to soften and melt over the open crease. She pressed her gold stamp firmly on top, sealing the letter shut and marking it with her sigil: an inverted pentagon with three equilateral triangles within it. She handed the letter back to the pixie.
“You can take those to any roost and have the orders flown out, or you can take them to the prison where your mother is being held yourself. Happy reunion to the pair of you either way.” Nym flashed a smile that didn’t quite reach her cold eyes. The pixie shuddered away from it, clutching her mother’s release papers as if they might be snatched away at any moment. “Again, the Crown thanks you for your service.”
Nym stepped back outside into the morning sun with a renewed sense of purpose. It had been some time since she’d been tasked with a good chase. And to be chasing after her old mentor no less? This was going to be fun.
[left [pic https://i.ibb.co/nb8sKF3/fae.jpg]] Jane registered Korvo’s voice telling her to duck a split second too late. With a mighty [i whack!] a low hanging tree branch smacked the poor girl square in the face, broke her hold on Korvo, and sent her flying off the back of the horse. Through the sharp, stinging pain erupting from her nose, Jane braced herself to hit the ground. But the sensation of the wind getting knocked out of her from landing on her back never came. Jane had a brief moment to realize that she had once again stopped falling mere inches from the ground before plopping down onto it like a heavy sack. Grateful though she was for whatever kept breaking her fall, it did nothing for the agony shooting through her face.
She whined as she sat up, cradling her nose tightly in both hands. She stomped her feet into the ground several times, the pain too intense to do much else. When it had eased a bit, she sniffled and pulled her hands away from her face. Both were covered in blood. Tilting her head back, she pinched her nose to try and stop the bleeding. It was a miracle that it wasn’t broken as well. Her pride and dignity on the other hand…
“What the fuck,” she groaned nasally at the approaching footsteps she knew were Korvo’s. “You did that on purpose.” Jane didn’t fully believe that he had but being mad at something else distracted from the throbbing in her head. “Could’ve said something sooner, or maybe fucking avoided it altogether. [i Fuck.]” With her free hand, she scooped up some loose dirt at her side and tossed it lamely in his general direction out of frustration.
They hadn’t been riding for longer than a half hour, but since they’d stopped, she could already feel the muscles in her thighs beginning to tighten and cramp after trying to hold on for dear life. And clearly it put her in a very sour mood. “I’m not getting back on that thing,” she mumbled sullenly. “Five days of [i that?] Nope. Not for me. Goddamn death trap. In fact, if it wasn’t for your weird-ass gravity here, I probably would be dead!”
Korvo directed them off the main road and onto a smaller path that led back towards the woods. Jane’s obvious upset with her predicament would normally amuse him even well into their journey had he not felt a familiar pull from within soon after their departure.
It had been a long time since he felt her presence, but Nym’s closeness was not easily mistaken. The same unique, dark magic that flowed inside his veins was also in her. It often felt like a magnet pulling or repelling and it had a habit of bringing them together violently or causing them to not lay eyes on each other for years at a time. He much preferred the latter. He had the scars to prove how destructive their meetings could be. But the magic could also be unpredictable, as was all experimental magic. Sometimes he couldn’t detect her nearness at all and she stalked him like the damn cat she was from the shadows. He hoped she wouldn’t get any bright ideas about following him now. An interruption caused by her whims was the last thing he needed at the moment. [i Go back to your king,] he told the strange feeling in his chest.
Korvo was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he had nearly forgotten how new his companion was to riding. The path had narrowed and trees hung low overhead. He hadn’t slowed their mount in his haste and lost thoughts and it occurred to him only too late to tell Jane to duck when his reflexes kicked in. He avoided the branch easily enough, but he felt her grip around him come loose and then her weight was gone altogether.
“Dammit,” Korvo muttered, waiting to hear the gasp or the grunt as she hit the ground, which did not come. He quickly turned the horse and caught a glimpse of her body floating not a foot off the ground before the invisible force let her go. He caught only the tail end of the miracle and his brows pulled together, sure he was going mad. He was just tired. He had to be seeing things.
He flung himself off the saddle and found himself at her side, holding his hands up in defense when she began her tantrum as if he might be the target of her next kick. His mouth fell open at her accusation, but he found it more amusing than anything. “I told you to duck,” he replied incredulously.
“Couldn’ve said something sooner, or maybe fucking avoided it altogether.” Well, she wasn’t wrong there. He watched her curse and side-stepped the dirt she tossed at him.
He looked to the heavens at her refusal to move onward, sighing heavily. Hands on his hips, exasperated, he was about to interrupt her and tell her that he would [i tie] her to the damn horse if he had to when he looked at her in surprise. Gravity? So he hadn’t been seeing things.
He pulled a kerchief from his satchel and knelt down beside her, hoping she would take it as a gesture of good faith so he might find out more. He pressed it against her bleeding nose and tilted her head back, keeping her head locked between his hands.
“I knew there was something strange about you,” he said slowly. “You [i would] think it was something wrong with gravity of all things and not your own body trying to protect you.” How blind had he been? The pointed tips of her ears. The way she seemed to know this world without ever having been here. Jane was no human… And now that she was home the magic inside her was working its way out. Still, he had no idea what kind of fae she was or how much fae blood she really had. But to have magic just seeping out of her enough to catch her falls, he was suddenly aware he held gold in his hands.
He pulled the kerchief away from her nose. It had stopped bleeding. Korvo tossed the cloth at her just in case it started up again and pulled her to her feet by her arm. “We have to keep moving.” The feeling in his chest that told him Nym was close was gone, but he had learned never to trust it like a compass. She could be a million miles away or hiding in the next tree. And he suddenly worried she might know a lot more about Jane than he did. If the king wanted her, this just became a helluva lot more fun for him. Any chance he had to stick it to his former master, he took it. But it was also more risky. As much as he despised being cast aside, he really didn’t want to face the man.
“Don’t be such a baby,” he said, guiding Jane back to the horse, her arm in the grip of his human hand.
If Korvo and the Mystery Girl were in town for the night, then it stood to reason that they would’ve procured accommodations. With this logic, Nym decided that the inn ought to be her first place to begin looking for the crow. She’d barely crossed the threshold of the establishment before loudly announcing, “On orders of the King, I’m looking for Korvo, the crow, and his most recent traveling companion.” The color immediately drained from the face of the dwarven owner at the entrance desk.
“I-I’d told ‘em I hadn’t wanted any trouble!” he blubbered pathetically.
“And you’ll find none from me,” Nym purred silkily. Then with an edge continued, “So long as you cooperate.” The dwarf nodded vigorously, clearly wanting to be rid of the unwelcome guest as quickly as possible. “Show me where they stayed.” The miniature man nearly fell off his stool in his scramble to get to the room. Then, when they reached the spot down the hall, he had to dart back up front again to retrieve the keys he’d forgotten. Nym rolled her eyes.
Fear was a powerful tool she enjoyed wielding to persuade and intimidate. But it could also be a great hinderance. Wits often fled the fearful.
Once the dwarf finally returned and allowed her access inside, she waved him away. The last thing she needed was his labored breathing hovering at the entrance while she investigated. Slowly, she circled around the room. Their scents still permeated the air, Korvo’s nearly masking the other occupant’s. Nearly. But Nym could still identify her lingering smell within the covers of the bed. This, unfortunately, offered little to no new information. Nothing else seemed out of the ordinary either.
As Nym turned to leave, a sudden glint in the ashes of the fireplace caught her eye. Sunlight streaming in through the window was reflecting off… what was that? She quickly crouched down beside the hearth, a gentle wind expelling from her pursed lips to displace the dust. Grabbing the dainty trinket between the tips of her nails, she examined the foreign object. It was metal, of that much, she was sure. And, strangely enough, both familiar as well as unknowable. But why?
Then, it came back to her. A buried memory briefly unearthed, and partially deteriorated from so long spent below the surface. White light. Spinning sensations. Another world. A crow and a cat. Strange machines. A barrage of pollution in all forms – light, sound, smell, and air. Pitiful people.
Nym wrinkled her nose at the intrusive recollections. The human realm had never been an ideal place for holiday. Not that that was the reason why the King used to send Korvo and Nym there. When they went between worlds it was to collect small treasures such as the one she held – a zipper, if she recalled correctly – to add to his obsessive collection; although it was an older hobby, it had been a strange one nonetheless, in her opinion. For there was nothing of value that humans possessed nor created. Not when magic existed. But, she supposed, the grass was always greener elsewhere.
So, it appeared that Korvo was once again travelling from one realm into the other, and potentially smuggling in humans along the way. Then again, there was no way Nym could be sure that the Mystery Girl was a human. The pixie had said, after all, that it felt like she’d come from the time before the king’s reign. A human girl wouldn’t have had that kind of energy to begin with seeing as they possessed no magic. She had to be fae then, right? With only one way to find out, Nym pocketed the zipper and continued her search.
After another brief chat with the innkeeper, Nym learned that the next place the pair visited was the stable. She huffed in exasperation. If they’d been on horseback, they were sure to have gained some distance from the small town. She’d need to secure a horse of her own too. As she approached, she saw only a white one remained. “You there,” she snapped at the young stableboy tending to it. “Ready that horse for me.”
“Oi! You don’t go ordering ‘im about!” The gruff voice came from the stablemaster who’d just stepped out and was making a beeline toward her.
“I’m on official royal business,” she said coolly as she turned to face the man. Recognition showed on his face, and he instantly halted in his tracks. “Are you interfering with business? From the King?”
“No, ‘course not,” he mumbled.
“Good,” she said, grinning. “Then perhaps you can be of service instead. The two who came here earlier, Korvo, the crow, and a girl – what can you tell me about them?”
The man shrugged, shaking his head. “Not much. Paid for one of me ‘orses and went on ‘is way.”
Nym raised an eyebrow. Paying. A foreign concept to her these days. Why Korvo would opt to do so was beyond her. “And where exactly did he say he was headed?”
“Well, ‘e didn’t.”
“Yeah, he did,” piped up the small boy who was leading the horse over. “Three Star Lake. I heard him sayin’ so when he was comin’ up.”
“Well, aren’t you a perceptive little one, hm?” Nym tousled the boy’s sandy hair as she took the reins from him. He smiled shyly in response. Reaching into her pocket, she withdrew a few gold coins and placed them in his palm. “Now, this is not payment for the horse, so they’re not for him.” Nym jerked her head to the stablemaster. “They’re all for you. Because of your helpful service to the Crown. You just remember how well His Majesty rewards loyal subjects, yeah?” The boy’s eyes widened. He’d certainly never seen so much money in his life. In this way, it was easy to build allegiance within the impressionable minds of the young.
Indeed, as she mounted the horse and began to ride away, the rumbling of an argument was already beginning to brew between the stablemaster and his mentee. When the boy began parroting the words she’d used as justification for keeping the money to himself, she knew her seed was well planted.
It became clear at once that the steed she’d chosen was a fast one; she was confident she’d catch up to Korvo in no time at all. And she was right. In a little under twenty minutes, Nym felt a familiar stir in her chest indicating that Korvo was nearby. It was strange and unpredictable magic that created this connection, so she knew she couldn’t rely too heavily on it though.
Heeling the horse to a stop once she felt that the pull was stronger than it had been in ages she lightly hopped off and secured the animal to a nearby tree. Closing her eyes for a moment, she reached inside herself and coaxed out her alternate half. Where once stood a woman now slinked a large Maine Coon cat with dark stripes and amber eyes. Though her senses were largely enhanced in her fae form, they couldn’t hold a candle to how keen they were as a cat. Picking up on the nearby scents, Nym took off at a run across the path towards its owners.
And skidded to a stop as she soon found one. Levitating off the ground.
[right [pic https://i.ibb.co/nb8sKF3/fae.jpg]] Jane side eyed Korvo dubiously as he knelt beside her but allowed him to use his kerchief to help staunch the bleeding. The pain even overpowered the kneejerk urge to flinch as his both of his hands cradled her head. If she closed her eyes, the talons were barely even noticeable. But they quickly snapped open again, full of insult, when he said there was something strange about her. She opened her mouth to protest but opted instead for silent confusion as he continued speaking.
Brow furrowed, she momentarily tried to decipher what he meant, but could make no sense of it. “My body trying to… protect me? What do you – wait, wait, wait!” Korvo was pulling her to her feet again and leading her back to the horse, but she dug her heels into the ground. Using the momentary resistance, Jane yanked her arm out of his grip and backed away from him shaking her head. The questions she had a moment ago now replaced with the fear of being thrown again.
“I’m [i serious,] I can’t get back on that thing,” Jane said, almost pleading.
“Hey, you folks okay over here?” The voice came from the nearby trees and suddenly an exceptionally tall woman materialized there. She had dark stripes along her tanned skin and a pair of bright, amber eyes. “Thought I heard a commotion,” she said, her brow furrowing in concern. The stranger looked from Jane, to Korvo, to the bloodied kerchief between them and a hand slowly lifted to the double-bladed staff along her back.
Considering that the woman had more weapons on her belt, some light armor beneath her cloak, and seemed to be the only one unafraid of Korvo, Jane sensed that this was the one and only opportunity she had to get help. She ran to her, the words tumbling out of her mouth in a rush, “Please help me! Someone’s paid him off to kidnap me from my home – I’m not even from here, from this [i world!] He came into the human realm, brought me here, and I don’t know where he’s trying to take me or why!”
The woman looked taken aback by the onslaught of panicked information, but her face hardened as she looked to Korvo. “Get behind me.” She ushered Jane to move to her back and took on a fighting stance, the bladed staff firmly gripped in both of her hands.
If Jane had still been in front of Nym, she might’ve caught the sly smile that she flashed to Korvo. “Leave the girl and walk away.”
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