“What would you like this time, Sire?” Etienne whispered from behind the King’s seat, half hidden in the shadows.
Without turning, the King murmured, “Something interesting. Give us something unexpected.” The firelight glinting from his bull horns atop his scalp.
“I like girls but they die too quickly.”
Rolling his eyes, Etienne sighed. If it was anyone else, the King would’ve struck them down for disrespect. Instead, he chuckled.
“Humans in general die too quickly.”
The King ignored the comment. Etienne slipped unnoticed from the feast by everyone but his King. The King trusted his advisor. He would choose well.
The feast room wasn’t built of four walls. It had grown in a circle of trees, the branches reaching out and grasping each other to create a ceiling. Stars floated freely near the top, trapped from the night sky. Bumping into each other, they would cause an explosion of light. The one peculiar thing about this circle of trees was the buried iron that wound around the room in a continuous loop and emitted an odourless but deadly poison to the fey. Slowly, the feasters were making themselves ill,at a high concentration the iron could kill. Only the strongest could withstand it. Those like the King could thrive on the pain, the hot flushes, light headaches, and the need to scrape every inch of skin off the body.
The Queen ignored the pain the poisonous iron caused. She had an image to uphold as the Queen of Elysium.
In the great hearth in the centre of the room, a fire burned. It leapt unexpectedly and burned brightly, matching the mood of the King. He brought forth the darker emotions of creatures…like lust, gluttony, and anger. His very presence turned the crowd boisterous. Loud laughter, screeches of pain and ecstasy, and the sloppy sounds of mouths opening and food being shoved in filled her ears.
Spit shot from the King’s engorged mouth and slapped her face as he cackled. If it were any other fey, she would have enjoyed watching him choke on his tongue. Unfortunately, this particular fey needed his tongue.
“I summon then, the daring volunteers to step forward and challenge all others.” Even though he swayed slightly on his feet, he still held their undivided attention, respect from his court, and fear and loathing from hers. The King stood tall in his tight leather pants and bare thickly muscled chest, a top his head sprouted a pair of bull horns. He turned a lop-sided grin to her, his Queen. She looked beautiful wrapped in a silk kimono and hair pulled back from her full moon features.
She didn’t return the smile. Matching the Queen’s sullen mood, a fine mist filled the room and dampened his lungs.
The King turned back to the feast. Only a handful had risen from their chairs and stepped forward. Five. He frowned.
Everything in the room shifted, darkness pulsed, and the stench of anger filled it. The King tightened his jaw. “This will not do. Who else is there? Who?” he thundered, the words echoing throughout the hushed feasting hall.
Right away, another three stood. They were good fey, strong, but not the prospects he’dhoped for.
The King’s eyes searched along the tables. “Nial.”
Nial turned his eyes towards his monarch. The King observed him as he shook his head, with a bored roll of the eyes. “I have no desire to participate, especially after the last time,” Nial answered.
The feasters fell silent.
The King strode down the aisle, emotions dragging along those he passed. Moans, groans and mutterings of utter joy or pure contempt. He stopped at Nial.
Nial felt the waves hit. Anger sizzled inside, his adrenaline peaked but still he fought. “No, your Highness.”
The Queen watched on silently, shifting in her seat. This needed to end quickly. Being near the King of the Dark Court was not most unpleasant. The pleasurable and uncontrollable emotions he withdrew from her...well she would soon have to leave. There was no way she would end up like her predecessor.
The King bent down and brushed his lips against Nial’s cheek.
Nial sighed in defeat and turned his head into the kiss. Contact, gulping fast at their shared, greedy, gasps of enjoyment.
He hated it. After all the centuries at the King’s command, he was still not strong enough to resist. He always returned to his monarch. The King broke away from the kiss.
Nial stood and forced the King to straighten up.
He strode back to the head table. “Nine.” His voice boomed. “Nine volunteers for this year’s Wild Hunt.”
The Queen rose. She looked at each volunteer, smiling fondly at Bellatrix and refused to be frightened by Drust’s steady gaze.She held it as long as she had the others. He was unwillingly the King’s own, and completely psychotic.
Too dark for even the Dark court.
Four were from her court, the best of her hunters and the strongest.
Finally she looked at Nial. He was different…an anomaly. Unlike the animals of the Dark court, he had a strange restraint. Nial was older than her, but he was never ambitious…a peculiar trait for a fey.
She lifted her hand to her hair and withdrew a long thin hair pin. Her hair tumbled down over her shoulders. The pin didn’t stay in her hands for long. She threw it at Nial.
As soon as the pin appeared, Drust hurled himself at Malak aiming for his throat with clawed like fingers.
Everyone inside the room fought. The volunteers brawled with each other, testing strength and ability. If they survived this they would have the great honour of joining the Wild Hunt. The rest of the feast, those who were strong but had no real desire to hunt, only to watch, fought each other and attempted to take on the volunteers laughing as they did and enjoying the celebration of the selection of hunters.
Drust threw a petite nymph girl with a shimmering gold body into the fire. He laughed as she screeched in pain.
Nial knocked back normal pretty fey, those who took little magic to hide their wings when among humans. Boring fey. A sneering goblin with a grotesque face leapt at him, envy green eyes blazing. Nial hit him from the air with the back of his fist and into a tree trunk. The trees shook and leaves fell over the crowd. Nial directed his gaze to his King.
The King stepped forward. Nial bowed mockingly. As his body folded over, he picked up from the broken remains of a table a length of wood with the end shattered to a point and straightened. Using this as his spear he hurled his weapon. The King caught it and used it to skewer a couple of fey trying to escape between the trees.
Bellatrix moved to her Queen’s side and proceeded to sweep from side to side, knocking back fey, tossing them into other groups and breaking bones. All with a smile.
The Queen stepped away from Bella. She nodded to her and watched as she dove into the fray.
Bottles flew and glass shattered. The tables and chairs were broken into pieces and swung like swords at each other.
Malak impaled the hand of Kerrin into the ground with a wooden stake.
Fey sailed through the air, either thrown by someone stronger or making a running leap into the middle of a fight. One leapt high enough to knock into a star and drag it back to the floor. It burned her hands. She pitched it at Drust. He back handed it towards the Queen.
She watched as it approached, a ball with a fiery tail hurtling towards her. At the last possible moment, she stepped to the side and allowed it to crash into a small fight behind her.
Drust snarled at the elegant Queen.
The Queen, immune to fire, grabbed a screaming fey girl from the blaze. Flames burnt the vines wrapped around the fey girl’s small frame. The Queen lobbed her.
Cleverly, Drust side-stepped and watched the girl hurtle past.
The Queen was behind him in an instant, taking advantage of his distraction. She barely resisted the urge to rip his head from his neck. Instead she plunged her hand deep into his side, pushing past organs to the centre of his belly. There she opened her fist and allowed it to drop.
She pulled out her blood-bathed hand, and stepped back. Her hand swung down to her side and smeared the blood over the long skirt.
Drust spun round and reached for her. “What have you done?” He let go of any control and went for her.
The King popped up and pinned his citizen to the floor. Broken glass punctured Drust’s skin and he screamed, kicking and bucking wildly.
The King looked up the Queen. “Having a nice time?”
She allowed herself to grin. “It is a very pleasant feast.” She looked down at Drust. “It’s only a little bit of iron inside of you now. Not enough to kill you.”
Drust bellowed profanities.
“My Queen, please refrain from poisoning my own.” The King reached a hand into the gaping hole of Drust’s side and wriggled his fingers till he found it. The small chunk of iron. “That is not a small piece.” He pulled it out and wiped his hand on the back of Drust’s skin. “In fact, it is easily six inches.”
“Nonsense. What is it with men and exaggeration?” She cleared her face of the humoured smile and spun on her heel. “Enough!”
She raised arms. The stars hissed and the fire flared in response.The King lifted a hand to cover his eyes from the sudden light.
The fey stopped, some in the middle of an attack, and turned to the Queen.
“Volunteers step forward,” she kicked at Drust as he crawled past. He snarled but continued, clutching his side. The Queen tried to ignore the act, but it was always hard to hold back when the King stood right beside her, his arm brushing her back slowly and rhythmically. “I declare you as the new hunters of the Wild Hunt. Do you accept?”
The nine hunters thumped a fist against their hearts and knelt down on one knee. Together they vowed, “We honour our monarchs and the laws of the Wild Hunt. The hunted will die with dignity. Their loved ones will be free of revenge and the fey world. We salute our Lord and Lady.”
The Queen closed her eyes and concentrated on the earth pushing out the bone blades. Fashioned from the bones of the last dragon, the knives were flawless and stronger than any metal. They forced their way through the surface and stood half buried like a plant.
“Take the blade.”
Drust glared at the monarchs as he snatched the blade from the ground. Bellatrix pulled her blade free and cradled it in her hands. Maedoc, Areil and Malak withdrew the blades quietly without a show of real emotion. Kerrin, Donahue and Dorcey hesitated, their nervousness clear as they took the blades. Nial was the last to pull his out.
The rest of the fey clapped and cheered as heartily as they could manage. Some drooped wearily against the trees or just lay on the ground.
The Queen turned away.
As the crowd started to leave, the new hunters stood and gradually made their way out, crossing the iron with a grimace.
Soon the strange room was empty, leaving only the monarchs. They silently moved to opposite sides of the room.
“Drust is a problem,” the Queen whispered.
The King nodded, hearing every word clearly as if they were yelling them at each other.
“Every day he is allowed to live, war moves from a possibility to a reality.” She paused. “He has a following, and you are losing your court’s confidence.”
The King charged across the room. “Stop it! What are you up to now? Spying on my court? How would you know he has a following?”
She smiled sweetly. “Word travels. Now, what are you going to do about it?”
“I cannot kill Drust. As you say he has a following and anything will topple us into a war with him.”
“Sitting on your hands is not a solution.”
“And neither is assassination.”
She paused for a second. “Perhaps a war in the Dark Court will be fine. Just as long Drust doesn’t win but you do.” She walked away slipping between the trees and over the iron circle.
The King nodded to her. “Whatever you say, my Lady.”
Etienne slipped on a basic attractive human male glamour, hiding the sharp angled features similar to a fox and the burnished flesh. He glided through the doors of the pub and began to circulate, opening himself up to the mortals.
He smiled at the girls revealing their thighs and rounded high cleavage, all of them staring indulgently at the man who moved past. Etienne tried to focus on his task but enjoyed the attention. Perhaps he would come back to some of the girls once he was finished and have some fun. Too bad he would have to go easy on them and erase their memories.
It was still early and many were only just starting to drink their pay away. Only a handful were on the dance floor, clinging to the edges and just generally shuffling.
None of them were daring enough to call out to him and invite him over. He felt a general hum of emotion, just the regular things; embarrassment, giddiness, jealousy, happiness and boredom…until an unusually strong sense of ire filled him.
He turned and stared at the small group of three off to the side of the dance floor, one boy and two girls.
Etienne watched the girl.
She turned away from the boy, shaking her head and ignoring him.
Etienne had no idea about their connections, couldn’t say anything about the girl, except she disliked the boy.
The other girl beside her shifted closer to the boy; and stared adoringly. He returned the look.
‘Ah, the couple,’ Etienne realised.
The boy pulled some dance move and spun about, showing off for his girlfriend. She beamed at him.
He paused and stared at the third wheel. She stood still with a drink in hand and stared off across the room, ignoring the couple, looking for someone else to talk to.
The boy swung his foot and landed a solid kick across the girl’s rump.
Etienne gasped as he felt her shock, and quickly followed by the sharp sour taste of her pissed off mood. She spun around and saw the grin on the boy’s face.
Without pausing, she threw her drink at his chest.
A slight lull of shock followed as she realised what she had done, then came the sweet taste of satisfaction.
Etienne watched as the boy grabbed her arm, squeezing it hard and yanking her about the place.
The girlfriend stood back.
Now all Etienne could feel was her fear. That hurts. Oh God, what is he going to do? If he hits me, I’m not going to be able to stop him.
The boy got in her face and snarled.
Etienne moved closer and watched as she straightened her back and shoved at him. He didn’t let go but tightened his grip instead. She went physically limp from the pain and fear of the hit she thought would follow and gasped.
“If you do that shit again, I’ll smash ya face!” Roughly, he shoved her away, releasing her and watched as she stumbled.
She was filled with hatred, positively bubbling with it. “Fuck you!” She hurled the empty plastic cup at him. It bounced lightly off his chest and fell to the dance floor.
The girl stormed off.
Etienne could feel the anger fading quickly as her body went into shock.
The boy stopped his girlfriend from following and right away informed her, “Grace is a fucking childish little slut. She deserves what she gets.” He inhaled sharply. “I need air,” and taking the girlfriend’s hand he headed to the exit. She followed meekly.
Etienne saw the girl had left her bag under one of the tables that surrounded the dance floor.
He kept to the shadows as he moved towards it.
Picking it up, he opened it and searched through her personal effects. Lipstick, wallet, phone, pair of flat shoes, keys, scrunched up receipts, and other things. Womanly things.
He flipped open her wallet.
“Grace Logan.” Twenty-two years old. Donor. Terrible photo. He paused. “You would be interesting to watch die.”