Chapter 11

Since the signing of the Treaty of Hades Prime, which annexed it into Curator Lucifer’s United Hells, the realm of Fey had been covered by a perpetual ochre-hued mist. Clinging close to the ground, it obscured and diminished the vibrant natural beauty of the land of faeries. Counsel to Grand Lord Arawn, the wizard, Lapinaris, who now made his way through the knee-high mist, hypothesized that it was an ephemeral extension of the living mycelial matrix that intertwined with the sub-quantum fabric of the realm of Fey. He suspected that the matrix, being disgusted and dismayed by Arawn’s subservience to Lucifer, was extending its reach upward and more substantially into the material underpinnings of Fey’s reality — and quite possibly he mused, even beyond it.

“The fog is everywhere now. It seems that as Arawn’s madness grows the fog grows with it. His telepathic communications are becoming unbearable.” Jasco, a banshee, and a Reaper of Soul-Trading House Fey, accompanied Lapinaris.

“Or it grows to counter it!” Lapinaris said bookishly. “My theory is the mycelial soul of the realm is reacting to his madness. Defying it.”

Perhaps that is helpful. His mind is certainly a disturbing mess of late. I cringe to sense its approach in mine.”

“You say this as if it is news to me!” Lapinaris’s exclamation, while mocking, was good-natured. His ears, which shot down and back for emphasis, were long and velvety soft. Jasco resisted the urge to reach over and stroke them. Aside from his humanoid stature, which stood to about a meter-and-a-half, Lapinaris was indistinguishable from an Earth hare.  “I am here with him! ALL THE TIME!”

The banshee dropped her chin to her chest to hide the amusement on her face. To one who’s vocation — collecting the souls of the dying — demanded silence and skulking, she envied and enjoyed the wizard’s passion for self-expression. But she also knew him well enough to understand that he fancied himself a subdued and measured man of letters and so would be embarrassed to have mercurial tendencies so regarded by another .

“He hardly ever gets off the throne anymore,” Lapinaris had gone from hollering to whispering. His tawny ears were straight up at high alert and twitching in all directions, “unless, of course, it is to meet with Curator Lucifer and Ares.”

“Ares? So Emperor Zeus is still missing?” Jasco didn’t really need to ask the question. She knew the answer. The word on the street was that the Lord of Olympus had lost his mind, and Ares, now a pacifist with a penchant for painting in oils, was making a play for his father’s throne. Apparently he had a humbler and gentler Olympus in mind.

“Oh yes!” Lapinaris barked! “Lord Ares is a gem! Delightful! What advantage he seeks by way of these two, I can not determine?”

Lapinaris enjoyed gossiping a little too much for a king’s counsel Jasco thought. But she loved it. She had come to despise decrepit Arawn completely and she knew the king’s wizard shared her disgust. A ruler who does not value the respect of his subjects is doomed, she thought. How many murdered tyrants’ souls had she bottled over the millennia? And how many of them had died at the hand of one once loyal come to loathe their lord’s fullness of self over time?

“Well Lucifer certainly does seems to be on a roll,” she said. “First Helheim, then Hades, now Fey.” The banshee let her disapproval show. “Maybe Ares fears what Lucifer has planned for Olympus? Keep enemies close and all that.” As they approached the two enormous oaks that marked the threshold to the Grand Lord Arawn’s throne-glade, Jasco noted how scant the wildlife had become. Or, perhaps it was there and lying still under the cover of the sickly coloured mist. Either way, she lamented what had become of the once vibrant, energetic realm of Fey.

“I think the Prince of Light’s interest in Olympus ended with the Siege of Stygia and Hell’s appropriation of the soul vaults of Hades Prime. It is no secret where his true ambition lies. He eyes one prize and one prize only. All else is just amassing of resources to that end. Vengeance upon the Ialdoboath and the Seraphim is his heart’s true desire. The Otzar, the Guf of Heaven is his — ”

“TEA!”

The word, a command for Lapinaris no doubt, telepathically delivered, roared into their minds such that both Lapinaris and Jasco jumped and staggered in shock.

The wizard looked at Jasco. See what I mean! was all over his face. He hid the disgust he felt from his face. But she knew it was there.

Then, Jasco observed as the fine, glowing fibres of Fey’s mycelial matrix flowed up into Lapinaris and down his arms. The lovely emerald light of it deepened her longing to see the grass again. When it faded, Lupinaris held a crystal teacup so large she marvelled at the wizard’s ability to bear its weight.

They stepped into the glade and lowered a right knee onto the spongy undergrowth. In customary fashion, Jasco gripped her fly plaid around her left hand and covered her left side as she knelt and looked to the ground. For for comfort, in what had become a ritual in this fiend’s presence, she patted the dire-wolf-fang-handled knife of cold iron and silver hidden in her boot.

“Grand Lord Arawn, your tea!” Lapinaris stood first and walked toward the throne. Jasco followed.

“And as requested, the Reaper, Jasco, Soul-Trading House, Fey.”

Lord Arwan’s eyes fought to focus on the rabbit and the reaper. His vision had begun blurring almost immediately upon finishing his drink mere moments ago. Mead he thought it had been. Yes, remembering now, he looked to his right hand and saw the empty tankard there. After another moment of his mind wrestling to move his hand, the black-bear hair of his forearm, having become intertwined with the fibres that had grown up into it from his living fungal throne, He tore it away with a ripping whisper of protest and threw the tankard. It thudded into the moss at his wizard’s feet.

“Well met Jasco,” Arawn roared. His voice booming beyond usual, nearly deafening. The reaper sensed that he was speaking as much with his mind as his mouth and she worried that he was loosing the ability to tell the difference. “I do hope Yappy little Lappy hasn’t talked your ears off.” Lord Arwan reached down and yanked the enormous teacup from the wizard. The King of Fey’s slender, dirty hand — a racoon’s — was shaking. He did not seem to care if they noticed.

“No, Lord Arawn, he was just informing me of the successes the realm has enjoyed under the new agreement with the United Hells. The newfound calm of the Fey soothes me. It seems much more peaceful and less hectic than I remember.”

“Is that so, Jasco?” Arawn leaned forward and down to look upon the two — a sip of the tea had brought them into focus, though their eyes seemed larger and their auras danced in colours perhaps askew from their proper hues and proper degrees of luminosity. “You are always welcome to stay longer if you wish.” She noticed the spittle that crept from the corner of his wolve’s mouth was prevented from dropping onto his lap by mistletoe berries, which had grown there giving the appearance of festering pustules. The banshee suppressed a shudder of revulsion as though her life depended on it — because it did.

“An enticing offer my lord.” But the work of the realm –”

“PISS OFF!” Lord Arawn interrupted startling them both, He was looking at Lapinaris.

“I will take me leave then, my Lord.” The wizard bowed and began backing toward the entrance. He did not dare even a sideward glance at Jasco, but she knew he wished her well. Loathesome pig, she thought. An end to my service here cannot come soon enough.

She summoned all the adoration she could into her moon-grey eyes. No mean feat under the circumstances.

Grand Lord Arawn, High King of Fey, was nearly twice the size of a bull-moose, and from the waist down, he possessed the massive haunches and cloven feet of same. His enormous torso and arms were as those of a shaggy black bear. The arms terminated in the expert and cunning hands of a raccoon. Upon his bear’s shoulders sat the head of a great, grey wolf, though — to disturbing affect — one eye in that head was the glittering black of an innocent yearling doe and the other, far larger, was the twitching, seeking yellow orb of a snowy owl. The wolf’s head was adorned with magnificent antlers, razor sharp. These grew also from his shoulders and down the backs of his arms to the elbows. Everywhere on his body, there was all manner of wild flora, fungi, and mosses. Biting insects and moths crawled through his fur and fluttered all about him. At turns, in accordance with the bent of his mind his sent could be the glory of a meadow of wild flowers or the fetid stench of decay.

Above his head, rendered in emerald eldritch fire, ever the glowing septogram of Fey hovered. And above it, in turn, there was the golden yellow tetrahedron-shaped jewel: the Eternal Flame of Faekind. Every time she came home, Jasco cringed to consider how the glory of the crown had been diminished by the loathsome beast beneath it.

Often, of late, since Lucifer’s annexation of the realm, Lord Arawn’s speech was slurred and incoherent. Having passed along the responsibility of governance to the new capitol in Hades Prime, he had bathed himself, inside and out in every imaginable form of intoxicant and psychedelic available to him by way of beer, wine, liquor or mead; ointment, smoke, tea, tonic or tincture.

But he seemed focussed today. Jasco was ever mindful of not underestimating him. She knew well enough that merely despising being in his service did not necessarily mean she could so easily leave it.

In many ways, the chaos his abuse of intoxicants wrought had somehow enhanced his cunning. At the very least, it had made it nearly impossible to ascertain his motivations.

Just as she had anticipated it would, the ferocity of his longing for her faded from his eyes. His addled mind was like a sack of writhing rodents, each sampling but a bite of the others in an attempt to determine which tasted best. Then he finished the mushroom tea in one draught. Its remnants ran from his filthy maw into the white goateed hair of the wolf’s beard and sprayed toward her as he spoke.

“Tell me everything you have learned of this upstart spawn of Earth, banshee?”

Before beginning her tale, Jasco of Fey provocatively raised an eyebrow to engage his curiosity. Remaining enticing (but not too enticing) was essential. She knew no less than her survival depended on keeping Arawn amused. She fully intended to make her account of what she had learned of Andy Crowley as entertaining as she possibly could.

To Chapter 12