It was dark now, the sun long since set. Insects flitted the remaining torch lights, two of which were lit outside of the Town Hall.
“What the hell is this?” cried Ossian Flanigan, the community elder and as close to a mayor figure as Eskcot had. “We are supposed to take the word of the Wyld-mad, Fae-touched youth to start a war with the Aichedians! Most of you are young, and don’t remember the bloodshed the last time we tried to fight back against them. Children left without parents. Homes burned! Our charms, stripped from us!”
“It would be madness!” shouted another community member, a wealthy merchant. “We can hardly hold our own against the winter. How are we meant to take out two entire platoons of Aichedians and commandeer this ship?”
“And anyway,” said the sheriff, “even if we pushed back or take these Aichedian bastards, we’d be a sitting duck until multiple galleys showed up to burn Eskcot to the ground!”
Several other members of the Town Hall’s meeting began to talk at the same time, for a good thirty seconds. They stopped, however, when Aisling’s father shouted. “Quiet, you weak-spined Aichedian sympathizers! I’ll ring your neck before the Aichedians have a chance to do it for me! Now, listen to what my daughter has to say!”
The man’s face was red, and he was panting. He lowered himself back into a sitting position, his expression of anger reverting to his typical sort of brooding.
The Town Hall had fallen silent and several of the previously talking townsfolk looked embarrassed at their outburst. Many eyes turned to the form of Aisling, who was now climbing atop the conference table.
“The Aichedians are taking one of our own. Saoirse. A child of Pirith, a Changeling, a proud member of our community. I can see her parents at this very meeting,” Aisling said, nodding to the two somber figures that were Saoirse’s fathers. “Take that under consideration, before anything else. To do nothing would be to damn one of our own, and if I’ve learned anything from you good folk, we do not leave our own to die.”
“Elder Flanigan, sir,” Aisling said, turning to Ossian, “they burned our homes. They took our charms. They try to teach our children their damn Thaumaturgy! Regardless if Eskcot is spared for a few more years, they have done awful things to us. If that doesn’t boil your blood, sir, and make you want to do something, then you are no citizen of Eskcot at all.”
Ossian Flanigan’s face grew red at this, and he rose to his feet. “I am no coward. I fought with the best of them, took out eighteen of the bastards myself, but they just kept coming. What’s different this time, Aisling? What could you promise that could make a difference?”
At this, Aisling turned to the wealthy merchant and the sheriff. “We are but one town, but Pirith is rife with towns like Eskcot, subjugated by Aichedian boots. With a coordinated effort, we could make a damn good attempt to take back what belongs to us, and belongs to the Wyld.”
“I don’t know if you paid attention in your studies, girl,” said the merchant, rising to his feet as well, “but that didn’t go well last time. The Aichedians made quick work of our militias, and that was under a united Pirith.”
Aisling threw up her arms to the sky. “This time will be different. This time, the Wyld will fight with us, as brothers and sisters of the wind.”
The sheriff laughed. “How do you expect to convince the wildlife to turn and bite the Aichedians for us?”
Several others started to laugh as well, but stopped when a smooth, powerful voice boomed across the Town Hall, coming from Aisling’s chest. “My name is Jack of Night, and I promise you the aid of my kind, as well as any Fae I can convince to join the fight. My kind once ferried peace between my people and yours, and I am sure I can convince some old souls to take up arms in the name of our old friendship.”
The sheriff’s mouth opened, and he closed it slowly. The laughter had stopped. “Well,” he said, scratching at his chin, “that might make a difference, aye.”
Aisling stomped once on the table, shooting a large crack through it. Eyes turned to her, murmuring. “I have been gifted with the powers of the Wyld, and I am going to use them to rescue Saoirse. But if this town has any wisdom, you will join me, and help take back a daughter of this town that we are about to leave to those Aichedian wolves. And then, reclaim our entire country!”
The sun had not yet risen, and the pre-dawn haze was in full effect, creating a misty and forever-damp essence that occupied every space in Eskcot. The Faebane’s Wrath was loaded and ready to leave dock. Rowers had already lowered their oars, and the ship began to slouch its way out of dock, with Commodore Kotia on the bow.
Then, it stopped.
Kotia turned, howling at her sailors. “Row harder, damn you! We have a schedule to keep!”
The Commodore frowned, however, when she saw that, despite the furious rowing of the oars, the ship was not moving. On a whim, she glanced down to the water, and her eyes locked with two large gray spheres that were the eyes of a merrow.
Two dozen merrows, actually, or more. They had gripped the ship, and were tugging it in half a dozen different directions, giggling to each other. They were men and women, giggling like human children, comprising equal parts fish scales and bloated human flesh. To the Aichedians, they looked like death come alive. To Ossian Flanigan, who stood on the dock, leaning on his gnarled old cane, they looked like old friends from a bygone age.
Kotia shouted orders. “Soldiers, bows! Shoot those damn things in the eyes, kill as many as you can!”
Immediately, however, hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of black birds spun down from the sky. They crooned and squawked, clawing the sails and cutting holes into them, clawing at the faces of rowers. The few Aichedians unfortunate to get a look at the birds, known to the Pirithians as Morrigs, saw that they had beautiful human faces, as if carved from marble.
One of the Morrigs attempted to claw at Kotia’s face. With mechanical precision, she reached out, grabbed the bird, and twisted its neck. She let the feathered corpse drop to the deck of the Faebane’s Wrath, drawing her sword and stepping forward, face drawn tight. “Hell, we aren’t going anywhere. Kill them all, use your fucking hands if you have to.”
Two dozen citizens of Eskcot were running towards the dock, making the jump between the wood of the dock and the drifting Faebane’s Wrath. They engaged soldiers and any of the sailors who were attempting to fight back, using improvised farming and fishing implements for weapons. Those who were too late to make the jump stopped to grab bows and arrows, and fired towards the groups of soldiers who were pushing the townsfolk of Eskcot back.
By now, all the soldiers and crew on board the Faebane’s Wrath had come onto the deck, alarmed to see the increasingly intense fight. Many were unarmed, or not even in uniform, and began ducking pitchforks and massive fishing hooks on the ends of poles while in little more than their sleepwear.
Saoirse, too, had found her way up, staying in the stairway’s darkness that led deeper into the bowels of the galley.
“Enough!” shouted Kotia, throwing her arms out. White energy congregated about her limbs, and she shouted in the old Aichedian tongue. “Drothuna! Drothuna! Bring order to this chaos!”
A vast white lattice of Thaumaturgical energy spread out from the woman, encompassing many of the Morrigs and killing them in a net of pure white. It extended down below the boat as well, stabbing and killing several of the merrows while pushing back many of the others.
“I will not allow this under my command! Eskcot will burn by my hand!” Kotia declared, sword still drawn as she strode towards the closest group of townsfolk.
“It’s go time, untheing,” Jack said to Aisling.
“What did you call me?” Aisling asked, watching the mayhem from the dock.
“Untheing,” Jack replied, “a combination of friend and protégé.”
Aisling smiled, a cold grin that was no humor and all fierceness. “Alright, let’s hope your lessons paid off, sir Jack.”
Aisling took a running leap off the dock, beginning to plunge straight towards the water with flailing arms. The Faebane’s Wrath had drifted far out of reach now, but perhaps…
“Breathe the air of your home, untheing.”
“Smell the salt of your sea, untheing.”
“Grace this world with a power not felt by your kind in two generations.”
Then, Aisling was not falling. She felt herself thrust through the air like an arrow, as if the laws of reality had lost their grasp on her.
She felt as light as a feather, and could go in any direction she wanted, suspended over the sea like a bird.
This was freedom.
She flung herself at the Faebane’s Wrath, landing roughly on the deck. She grunted in pain, scraping a knee.
“We’ll have to work on your landings,” Jack muttered within her.
“Quiet,” she managed, rising to her feet and casting her gaze around the ship.
And locking eyes with Commodore Kotia.
The Commodore wore her Commodore’s uniform, decorated with half a dozen patches woven into the fabric. She had pulled her hood down, and Aisling could see the tautness of the woman’s cheekbones, the fierceness in her eyes.
She had just stabbed a citizen of Eskcot in the back, her long blade coated in blood. Aisling felt bile rising in her throat and pushed it down. That had been Rory, the shopkeeper who had asked her if she was alright only yesterday.
By now, most of the soldiers had surrendered, most alive and standing, though sustaining numerous injuries. The townsfolk of Eskcot took command of the vessel, ignoring the stand-off between Kotia and Aisling.
Kotia’s yellow eyes bore straight through her, as if she wasn’t even seeing Aisling. “So that’s where you were hiding, Jack of Night,” she said, quiet yet still able to be heard over the remaining violence on board.
Aisling saw a slight smile in Kotia’s eyes, and she thrust her arms out as if in supplication. “Grokthiel! Grokthiel! You will be mine once again, demon.”
A familiar lattice of white energy emerged from the woman’s palms, steaming in the morning air. The lines attempted to wrap their way around Aisling, faster than she had ever seen anything move, even an arrow.
Yet, in her current state, it seemed laughably slow. She sidestepped a few beams from the lattice, smacking at a few of the others with her palm. The white light singed her palm but the pain was negligible.
For the first time, Kotia’s expression of rage and domination faltered. “What the hell?”
Jack’s voice rang out. “Your people have never known the old magic of Pirith. For so long as a human from Pirith protects me, no human can harm me. Your Thaumaturgy holds no power.”
Commodore Kotia howled with humorless laughter. “She’s almost a child! I’ll just cut her throat and rip you out of her stomach.”
Kotia stalked forward, sword swinging and dripping with blood. She moved swiftly, but Aisling, in her current state, was faster. As Kotia swung at her, she sidestepped the blow, kicking the Commodore hard in the back of the leg.
Kotia groaned in surprise, dropping to one knee as she tried to regain her balance. She held onto her blade through ease of practice, but when Aisling struck the woman’s palm, she dropped the blade.
Kotia stared up at the form of Aisling, face blank. Then, she laughed. “You’ve sold everything you are, child. Do you know why we did what we did to your land? Because the Wyld was a danger to the entire world. The first six expedition parties to Pirith all died, found torn open by the Fae. They violate the very laws of reality that can be found anywhere else in the world. So what if we established some of our businesses in your cities, or drove out your demons? You are human, all we want is to help you.”
Aisling scowled. “You know nothing of my land, or my people, and no justification can be made for what you’ve done.”
Kotia went to speak again, but on an impulse, Aisling struck the side of the woman’s head. Hard.
With something between a smack and a crack, Commodore Kotia slumped to the ground, injured and unconscious.
“That felt good,” Jack muttered, as faint as the breeze running through Aisling’s sweat-slick hair.
“Saoirse. Where’s Saoirse?” Aisling called out, beginning to stride through the ship, as quick as the wind itself.
“Right here, Aisling,” came a familiar, gentle voice.
Saoirse stood, still in perfect clothing, a few meters in front of her. The fighting had long since stopped on the deck, and the townsfolk of Eskcot were starting to work the Faebane’s Wrath back into port.
“Well,” came the voice of Jack from within Aisling, “I believe my work is done here.”
Aisling felt a sudden rising pressure in her chest, and then in a moment, it was gone. Next to her, a figure of shadow had manifested, the familiar form of Jack of Night.
The Cimmerian floated a few inches off the ground, and winked at Aisling. “I had fun while it lasted, untheing.”
Aisling smiled at the Cimmerian. “Me too, but I’m glad it’s over. Gonna miss your power, though.”
“Oh,” Jack said, rising off into the sky. “I left you a few tricks. You’ve earned them. Now, I have to be off. I have to spread the good news, and prepare the Fae for proper war.”
“An apology is in order, Jack,” Saoirse managed. “I am sorry.”
“No apology necessary, Changeling,” Jack said with a chuckle.
And then the Cimmerian was gone.
“Well, what now?” Saoirse asked, taking Aisling’s hands.
“I think… I think I can still fly,” Aisling said with some surprise.
Saoirse raised an eye. “He did leave you a gift, didn’t he?”
At that, Aisling rose up, taking Saoirse with her as if the girl weighed nothing at all. The two twisted through the air like a duet mid-dance until they reached the top of the mast of the Faebane’s Wrath and settled down onto it.
“Saoirse, I…” Aisling tried.
“Ais, you don’t have to say anything,” Saoirse said.
And then Saoirse kissed her, and Aisling’s mind lit up. She suddenly felt dizzy. She only kept herself atop the mast through an effort of will.
The two paused for a moment, and Saoirse giggled, before kissing her again. They stayed there for several minutes. As the victorious citizens of Eskcot howled their joy and success, the two young women shared in each other’s company, in the light of the rising sun.
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About the Author
Mason Kennedy is a writer from south-eastern Indiana, with a love of RPGs, Science Fiction, mythology, and vampires. Twitter, @ArchipelegoTV. Tumblr, at archipelego