by Stephen J. Herron
The Harpers Raid on Dunmurry
The war was going badly for Kestry and his people. In the months since the Fall of Belfast, the Fae of the city had been under a cruel martial law. Many had slipped into the Mists, the Banality of the situation forcing their Changeling souls into hibernation of a sort, one which might last forever.
Kestry and his resistance were based at Belfast Castle now, and it was a good defensive position. No Viking would risk stepping into the grounds, with Peter Gibson in residence. They could not survive an encounter with an enraged Get of Fenris, especially one as basically pissed off as Peter was at the best of times. No on knew where Malcolm Fletcher was, but they were as afraid of him as they were of Peter.
Their victories were small, rare ones. The occasional foiled bombing, the stab of a chimerical knife in a crowd, with the Unseelie victim appearing simply to faint in the eyes of mortals. The War was lasting a long time, and the City was tense.
Sometimes more deadly games got played, and people, Dreamer and Fae got hurt, really hurt. Kestry and his people tried to avoid those actions, but it got harder.
After a blast injured four people in the City Centre, Kestry decided to take steps. Final, deadly steps.
The Rebels stayed with Duchess Aishling, though they were starting to get bored. The Forest Park was large, but they had soon explored most of it. Kestry would visit with them occasionally, and speak with Aishling and Malcolm, and Matthew. Ardry had said nothing n this long while, though Malcolm assured them that he was fine. No one doubted his word.
They visited their families often, the Cantrips that provided them with excuses for being away were simple enough to keep up. They were tutored by the best tutors the Duchess could afford, and their lessons were interesting.
Robin missed Belfast and Kestry tremendously. Eithne hung on Kestry's every word when he visited, and would talk about him when he wasn't there. Rocky was busy with three of the young women who worked at the Manor, and had two of them fighting over him. He rarely had a quiet moment.
Giant was getting more reserved. He would rarely be far from Eithne, and she regarded him politely as her own Knight, something that would put a rare smile on his face. But Giant was waiting for the battle, preparing himself as best he could.
Aishling was a good host, and rarely asked the Rebels for anything. She would try and talk to Ardry, but he wasn't speaking to anyone. There was an urgency to her requests sometimes, as if she needed to ask him one desperate question.
They were playing a waiting game, and the Rebels didn't play it well.
They grew closer over the months, and the practiced their Magic and their combat training and their etiquette together. They could feel each others pain and joy, and they knew when one of their circle was in distress.
Giant and Eithne were spending more time together. She would talk to him of court matters, since he was the only one of the Rebels who was interested in such things.
One day, as the leaves started to fade to brown, he pledged to be her Knight Protector. She was delighted, and kissed his cheek impulsively. Giant beamed, and Eithne was pleased to have a tall brave Troll at her side as they attended minor functions at the Manor. Rocky was pleased for Giant, while Robin was too distracted thinking about Kestry and Belfast.
The Rebels were getting ready, in their own way. What for, they couldn't have said.
Lorenzo stood silently, strangely unanimated, in the middle of the shopping centre. People milled around him, avoiding him. He would have looked striking to their eyes, a rock star or artist. He didn't care, he was almost unaware of their presence, their stares.
One figure walked out of the crowd towards him. A young, attractive woman with short cropped hair, and dark brown eyes.
He looked at her, not himself.
"Doireanna. You called. I came."
His voice was tinged with hate, with resentment. He was not in control at all, and that scared him. He would forget this meeting later, but Doireanna's orders would remain with him, and he would think them his own ideas, plans, theories.
Most of them were. But there was a direction that he was being steered that was not his intention at all. Doireanna didn't have to enhance his cruelty or deviousness- that all belonged to him.
It was as if his plans had a passenger.
"The day draws near when Finn will finally be ours. There will be nothing left of his old soul, and we will make the most of our puppet king."
She grinned at him.
"And our favourite pet, Lorenzo. You will be well rewarded. You'll get to keep Belfast, and we'll let you have Kestry as well. After I've finished with him," she breathed, her intentions clear.
"Then I'll reward you personally." she told him, placing her hand on his chest. He fumed.
"Never let me remember this. Because I'll kill you."
She patted him on the cheek.
"Men better than you have said that. But they all melt in my mouth eventually," she smiled.
Lorenzo gritted his teeth.
"Here's your update. Listen, and file it safely away. "
She spoke to him for some time, and the, she walked away into the crowd again.
Lorenzo snapped out of his trance, and blinked. He walked into the Easons store, where Folly was reading magazines off the rack.
"Did you get what you were looking for ?" he asked. Lorenzo shook his head.
"I forgot what I wanted," he said quietly, and they left the shop, Folly having placed a small incendiary device behind the magazine rack.
Ten minutes later, the shop was in flames.
Deep in the hill of Emain Macha, King Finn sat on this grand throne. His face was buried in his hands, and all the stained glass windows were shattered. He wept loudly, painfully, great heaving sobs of loss. He knew he was falling, losing his mind, his heart.
Once, he was loved, respected, considered the greatest of Kings. Now he was hated, feared, and that wounded him deeply, no less because he knew he deserved his subjects hate, their fear.
"What have I become ?" he cried out, but no one answered. He stood, and wondered over to the shattered glass on the floor beneath what was once the mostly beautiful window. He picked up the shards, trying to rebuild the image of his kind, warm, wise face. He stared down at his fractured reflection.
The picture was of him, of his broken mind and soul. He wept again for the loss, and for the guilt and shame he felt. He could remember all the things he'd done to his people, all the pain and suffering he'd put them through.
Then he stopped weeping. He looked up from his hands.
"Kestry... he'll help me... he'll know what to do..." he whispered, his voice building with hope. Then he punched the glass with his mailed fist, turning the fragments into dust.
"NOOOOOO !!!" he screamed, as the Dark Glamour he had been given for so long regained its icy grip on his heart.
He lay there on the floor for a long time.
One day in November, after their lessons had finished, the Rebels met together in the small drawing room that had been set aside for their use. Matthew was with Malcolm in the kitchen, cooking. Malcolm had over two hundred years of catching up to do in the field of cuisine.
Eithne sat in a large comfortable chair, while Giant sat in a more sturdy chair beside her. Robin was perched on top of a table, while Rocky sat on the floor.
"Sooner or later," commented Eithne, "we'll have to go back to Belfast. We are Matthew's protectors," she looked over at the door into the kitchen, and smiled warmly, "but we cannot simply sit here forever while our city is in such turmoil."
They all nodded in agreement. This was something that they had all discussed the matter together, in little groups of two or three, but never amongst the entire team. They all knew that they felt the same way, but it was good to get it out in the open.
"When ?" asked Giant. Rocky grinned.
"Yeah ! When do we get to play ?"
Eithne smiled mysteriously.
"We will know when, apparently."
"And what's that mean ? It's so clear I really don't need an explanation."
Eithne shrugged ever-so slightly.
"I don't know what it means Robin."
"It means patience," explained Malcolm. He had entered the room with Matthew in tow, carrying a tray of sandwiches for them all.
"Did you make those ?" asked Rocky. Malcolm nodded.
"With Matthews help."
They looked at the sandwiches, and exchanged doubtful looks.
"What did you mean by that ?" asked Giant. Malcolm regarded him with an unconcerned gaze.
"It means that Matthew buttered the bread."
Robin giggled and Giant looked confused.
"I meant the patience comment."
"Oh. I meant that things happen in their own time. You'll understand when you get to the other side of this... situation."
They hated it when Malcolm said stuff like that.
"I've actually enjoyed this time here, with the Duchess," he commented, "and with each other. But I want to help Kestry."
Eithne smiled warmly at Giant as he spoke, encouraging him. Matthew looked sad, and handed Giant a sandwich, while Malcolm just had that cool look on his face, as always.
"Be careful what you wish for," he advised. Giant ignored him.
"I just hate the waiting," he complained. Matthew smiled up at him.
"Sometimes waiting is winning," he said quietly.
They all looked at him.
"What ?" he asked, a bit guilty.
"Nothing, Matthew. You just said something very true." said Eithne.
Late November 1996
Kestry had discovered that the Vikings were putting their bombs together just outside Belfast. Techincally, Dunmurry was part of the Duchy of Belfast, but it was far enough away to be out of mind. But Kestry remembered the last time the Vikings had been active. Dunmurry was handy for transport, you could be anywhere in the city in twenty minutes, and out just as quickly.
Kestry had contacts, but the Harpers as a group had more. They soon heard of unusual activity at a high school in Dunmurry. That was bound to be the Vikings current base. A good hard strike there would harm Lorenzo's campaign against the city.
It was dark early in the evenings now, as Autumn gripped the land. And Darkness would be the Harpers cover.
Magpie stood in the pool of gold thrown off by a streetlight. The feathers pinned to his coat were tussled in the wind, and his face was unreadable. Slowly he began to pull his magic together, casting his senses into the breeze, made bright by the pure energy that he was holding fast in his mind. Everything that the light fom this streetlamp touched, he would be able to see or hear.
Every square inch for a hundred yards in every direction was known to him now, and he cold feel stone and brick, tree and leaf. He touched on a sparkling figure nearby, then another. It was the other Harpers, he knew their auras well. But there were others within the scope of his spell, others he didn't know.
"They're here," he whispered. Divis, standing a few paces behind him in the darkness smiled.
Magpie turned and placed his hand over Divis's eyes. In an instant, he had shown the Werewolf everything he had seen. Divis growled, and nodded. He disappeared into the darkness beyond the street light. Soon, the killing would start.
Elsewhere, Shanachie and the two other Eshu were standing outside the entrance to a school. There were two lights on inside the school, unusual at this hour.
He nodded at Jon, who grinned brightly back. He pulled out a knife, and ducked into the school yard followed by Richard. Shanachie sighed, and wove a Cantrip over the schoolyard, plunging it into silence.
Euan stood in a doorway, looking as if he was waiting for a bus. He was mortal, and no supernatural being would pay him much attention- that was his strength, his weapon. He wore the Harpers Brooch, the magic in which pulled him half into the world of Dreams. He could recognise Changelings or Chimera if he saw them.
In fact he was watching two of the Vikings, as they squabbled over guard duties in a van near the school. He smiled grimly at their arrogant indifference to the mortals around them, and held the Chimerical knife tightly under his coat.
The three Eshu entered the school after Richard opened the lock with a casual Cantrip. The moved through the corridors of the school like a rumour, and were soon standing outside the lit up chemistry lab. They entered surprising the three Nockers who were examining the contents of a glass flask. Jon threw a bottle of acid at their feet, and the Nockers screeched and jumped back. Shanachie sighed, and ducked around the tables until he was behind the Nockers. He bounced two of their heads against each other, and punched the third square in the face as he turned to see what was going on behind him.
Outside, Magpie stood in the pool of light, his senses reaching out, observing the events unfold. He watched as Divis crept up upon a Troll standing at the back of the school. He watched as Divis transformed into Crinos, and tore the Troll into strips.
Magpie watched Euan in the doorway. He watched as a Sluagh appeared in the shadows behind him, and sent a flicker through the electricity of the lights in the street. He watched Euan react instinctively to the signal, and drove the dagger behind him without even turning. The Sluagh fell back, and vanished into the shadows.
Magpie watched the three Eshu tidy up the mess left by the fight inside the school, telling stories about other battles.
He saw Kestry get out of the car down the street from Euan, and walk up to the van containing the two arguing Trolls. He put his flintlock through the open window and fired twice. The squabbling stopped the Trolls lost in the fading memories of what it was to be Fae... Kestry walked back to the car, and climbed in. Euan got into the passenger side, and the car pulled away.
Magpie frowned. He knew that the Trolls would eventually get their memories back... but he wondered about the fragility of their existence.
Divis, in human form, climbed onto his motorbike, and drove off, in the opposite direction from Kestry.
Shanachie, inside the chemistry lab, examined the bomb making equipment, and sighed. He put together a timer, clicked it onto five minutes, and started it counting. He left the lab, and met with Jon who was pulling the bodies of two other Nockers behind him. They dumped the bodies in the room with the bomb and the rest of the bodies, and left the school, but not before clicking the outside light on and off twice. Richard was waiting outside the doors, and locked them with another Cantrip as the three ran into the cover of darkness.
Magpie saw this, and sent a pulse into the electrical system of the school. Each and every light came on, brighter than normal.
Vikings seemed to appear from nowhere, Fae running towards the school, the signal of an emergency.
Shanachie appeared beside Magpie and sighed.
"I set five minutes on the timer."
Magpie narrowed his eyes.
"Too long," he said, and with a thought he clicked the counter down to ten seconds. He sent a flicker through the street lights, and the Harpers made their exits. Magpie flickered and shifted, blurring, and flew away in the shape of his namesake. Shanachie grinned, and disappeared into back alley, trusting to the path his feet would take him.
The explosion was confined to the Chemistry labs of the school, and the police were surprised to find bomb making equipment and the bodies of four terrorists, killed by their own explosives.
Some witnesses were found. Two men, sitting in a van near the school had been simply getting some food at a fish and chip shop, though they didn't remember much about how they'd got there, or what else they'd been doing that evening.
The Harpers had stopped the bombing. The people of Belfast were safe again, free from terror.
But there would be a price.
The Duchess Aishling slept in her large bed. She looked like a little girl lost in a sea of white sheets.
She had shared her bed with another, just once, and even in her dreams she ached for his return.
Then the Dream changed and she was alone. Except for a small child who sat in her room, watching her sleep. She stood at the foot of her bed, watching herself slumber there. Aishling pulled her silk robe tightly around her, and looked at the boy. It was Ardry, or so she imagined. He smiled at her.
"Yes. It's me."
"Why haven't you spoken to me ?" she asked.
"You weren't ready. I have to meet in people's dreams. I thought I'd let you finish your last nice dream before we spoke."
She shivered at the words, and what they meant.
"So, it will happen soon," she said. Ardry nodded.
"You've known your fate for a long time, haven't you ?" asked Ardry.
"It came in a Dream when I was a child. When I met Kestry, I knew it was true."
"You're very brave. Not everyone would do this."
"I'd rather have had the one night with Kestry than never to have met him."
Ardry's eyes were serious.
"But you're giving that up too."
She lowered her face, and tears came.
"I know. Maybe I'll remember them in my Dreams."
Ardry made a decision. This brave young woman was giving up all she loved for a greater ideal. How could he not grant her this one thing ?
"It's the least I can do."
He smiled at her.
"And it's not one night. It's two."
She woke up, the Dream still in her head, and the tears still wet on her cheeks. There was a soft knock at her door.
"Come in," she whispered, and the door opened. Kestry stood there, his face pale in the moonlight. He wore his armour, fresh from the raid at Dunmurry, and there were tears on his face too.
"Aishling." he said simply, because he knew what she knew. She nodded, and held out her arms, and Kestry was in them, holding her close, the reserve of other meetings gone because this was the last time they would hold each other like this.
She whispered questions to him, urgent inquiries about love and commitment, and he answered them with hushed promises. She took his armour off, and bathed his bruises and wounds, and then they made love, for the second time, and for the last time.
They held each other all night until the sun rose over the Irish Sea, and they did not sleep for a long while. Time was too precious, though they said very little to each other. Words weren't enough.
Eventually, they slept.
Faraway, beneath another hill, this time in Antrim, is a pit, cut into the very flesh of the world. It leads to Darkness, to Fear and Despair, and it has awoken from its slumber. Voices chant over it, and promise it the soul of the High King.
Doireanna makes the promises, the black heart of Balor beating in her breast. She will bring her Lord to the land where he fell, and every Dreamer will suffer.