by Stephen J. Herron
May 3rd 1996
Somewhere outside Armagh is a great grassy hill. A thousand years ago, it was Emain Macha, the seat of the Kings of Ulster. To most people, today, it’s Navan Fort, a fairly pleasant tourist attraction that actually attracts very few bermuda short-wearing photographers.
If you visit in the summer, or so some would say, instead of ‘taking something away with you’, you leave something behind- a feeling of peace that is felt and shared by the next visitor. In the winter, when Navan gets fewer visitors- but still a trickle, they tend not to stay for long enough, not the hours at a time that picnics and summer afternoons take, if you are to do it properly. Late August and early September, just as summer becomes Autumn, are by far the best time to spend time there. The sense of peace is strongest then.
At least, until recently, that was the case. Since the early 1990’s, however, a darker mood has fallen over the ancient hill fort. The Summer keeps it at bay, and only in the evening a soft melancholy falls over the place. In the Winter, that melancholy can turn to madness, in the twilight, if you were here. And if you had eyes to see, a permanent shadow hangs over the entire place.
And if those eyes were Fae, you would see more than just a tall green hill. Those eyes would make out a vast glass facade, sparkling with grand subtle darkness, with rafters of a rich dark wood laced through. They would see something once bright and proud become night and sullen. That person would not want to be there, even if they were visiting for Official Court business. For they would be before Emain Macha, the seat of the King of Ulster.
Three figures walked up a long silver path that only they could see. It wound its way fully around the base of the hill, giving the walkers a long and full view of the Palace. Most folk would be impressed, but these three had been there many times before.
Lorenzo was in his finest black Voile, and looked vaguely bored. Folly walked beside him, nine-fingered and bitter. Between them was a vast tall Troll, his skin light instead of the deep Seelie blue.
"Sir Vasrik," muttered Lorenzo, "remind me why I bothered getting you a title ?" He looked up with contempt at the massive warrior. The Troll was dressed in Norse plate armour, and had a great bastard sword slung across his back. He looked down.
"Because, your Grace," he said, with a smile, "I deserved it." He chuckled.
Folly shook his head, and muttered something under his breath. Lorenzo and Vasrik ignored him.
"It’s a great night, isn’t it ?" laughed Lorenzo suddenly. He looked up, and smiled. "And look who’s back. After a three whole days."
A cloud that had been hanging far above their heads coalesced into a vaguely solid form. It swooped lightly and somewhat painfully down until it hung above Lorenzo.
"My dear Smoke Dragon !" cried Lorenzo, with extreme sarcasm. The Dragon looked tattered and hurt, with wispy holes in his once fine wings. It glared dangerously at his master.
"Not the welcome I had expected," it commented, it’s voice a waft of burnt hope.
Folly blinked. "I thought you’d been destroyed, " he commented. The Dragon snorted with contempt, and looked at Lorenzo.
"Luckily for him, I wasn’t... it takes more than a damned Childing to destroy me. Not even the King could do it," it grinned, and it exchanged a long knowing look with Lorenzo, who finally looked away. Even Sir Vasrik looked surprised.
"Anyway," said Lorenzo, dismissing the Dragon with an arrogant wave, "we’re here to see the King, so be on your best behaviour. He has a gift for us, or so he claims. Well, we’ll see."
They continued their walk through the twilight, and finally reached the massive brass gates. Two trolls pulled them open, and a tall figure stepped forward. It blurred and shifted until it was a nine foot tall werewolf, it’s fur glistening in the moonlight. It snarled at the visitors. Lorenzo lit a cigarette.
"Is that meant to impress me or scare me ?" he asked casually.
The Garou growled barely understandable words. "Beware, Sidhe... I do not welcome insolence."
Lorenzo sighed, mockingly. "I’ve killed your kind without raising a sweat, you Fianna whelp. If you want to keep wearing that lovely skin, let us in. It’s getting cold our here, and I could do with a new coat."
The Garou stared at him in silence, and Folly trembled. Sir Vasrik chuckled dangerously.
After a long moment, the werewolf shifted back into human form. A tall young man in his late teens stood in it’s place.
"You never learn, Lorenzo," he muttered. Lorenzo blew him a kiss, and walked in, followed by his entourage.
The Garou watched him enter, hate in his eyes, before ordering the Gate shut
The Rebel’s Rest had never looked better. Since they had moved in, the Rebels had worked a couple of hours a day to tidy the place up. They would come down after school, and work until they couldn’t put off going home any longer. It took a week, but the Rest looked great. Robin and Lady Enya had worked closely together to counter Rocky’s attempt to turn the place into a sports shrine, and had convinced Giant that it needed to look more cheerful than the library he wanted it to resemble.
A compromise was reached, and the Rebel’s Rest was a charming mixture of all their ideas. Everyone had a room, and there was a single large meeting room which they decided to leave with bare brick walls- it looked a bit like the Brick Glade, but that was alright. They had left the ground floor bare and open, and had worked on the first and second floors. The meeting room was on the first floor, as was the small kitchen. The second floor had the four individual rooms.
The last few days had been very difficult for Robin. Since the Beltaine Party, she had barely spoken about Kestry. It had been difficult for all the Rebels, but Robin felt it the sharpest. She had known him the longest.
It had been Rocky, out of all of them, who had said the right thing. He had found her crying on the upper stairs of the Rest, and he had spoken to her with a soft voice that she hadn’t heard him use before.
"He knew he had to leave," Rocky had said quietly, "and he needed us to be ready. We have to be strong, because he left the job of finding Matthew to us. We are the only ones he trusted to do that. So, Robin, let’s get the place looking great for when he comes back."
Robin had hugged Rocky until he thought she was going to break something. They hadn’t talked about it since, but that had brought them closer.
But now, here they all were, sitting in their own Freehold. The Balefire burned warmly in the iron grate of the fireplace in the meeting room. The table was solid and strong. Just as well, because Rocky had chosen to use it as his seat for the first meeting of the Rebels.
The voice echoed around the stone chamber, but there was no visible source to the sound. Regardless, the voice sounded again.
"Malcolm. Wake up."
A form lying in the center of the chamber remained motionless. It was the dead body of a man in his early 30’s. Perfectly preserved, its skin taut across the muscle and bone, it looked as much like a wax work image of a man. A thick layer of dust covered the corpse, in this dry cellar. Upon its chest lay an unopened wax sealed letter.
The voice, calm and measured, grew subtly more insistant.
"Malcolm. Wake up."
The corpse suddenly moved, it’s fingers snapping out to full length. Then it opened its eyes.
"I call to order this, the first official meeting of The Rebels. Present are Robin, Giant, Rocky and myself, Lady Eithne."
She stood at the end of the table, stately and perfect. She let the Glamour flow from her, placing everyone within the room, including herself, under a spell of protocol. Everything would go perfectly.
"How exciting. Our first meeting. It’s very important that we have meetings when our friends are missing. Because that will help us find them. Not only that, but I would rather be sitting here right now, with each and everyone of you, than be out there risking my life for the man I...."
Robin had been speaking without really thinking about what she was saying. She stopped suddenly, and looked each and every one of the Rebels in the eye. The look clearly suggested that they say nothing. Robin attempted to finish her sentence. "...the man I, er, you know, uhm, that man I know. Kestry."
Rocky broke the silence.
"What are we actually having a meeting for ?" he asked, his hoofed feet crossed beneath him, as he sat upon the table, at the far end from where Eithne stood.
"It’s just how the Court works," explained Giant. He had a book open in front of him, and was reading through it. He had been studying for some time.
"Giant is right," confirmed Eithne, "As the only Noble here, I have certain duties to perform. And one of them is making sure that our meetings conform to the process of the Seelie Court."
Rocky chuckled. "Sounds a bit posh for us, sweetheart," he said. Lady Eithne glared at him. "For a start, I’m not a Sidhe, neither is Robin. Giant wishes he was," which got him a cold stare from the Troll, "but he isn’t. Now, I don’t really remember when you were made our leader," he continued, smiling sweetly at Eithne, "but we didn’t vote you in. "
Lady Eithne stared at him and for a short moment, her composure looked in danger of slipping. It didn’t.
"Listen, horn-head," she said coldly, and Rocky rubbed his short horns with pride, "I don’t have to be ‘voted in’. I am Lady Eithne O’Brien ap Fiona, and I am of noble descent. I outrank all of you commoners!"
Rocky laughed dangerously when she used the ‘c word’. Giant flicked through the book of Courtly Law in front of him. He stopped at a passage, and read it. Rocky sighed as Giant nodded in confirmation of what Eithne had said.
Robin looked up, and caught Eithne’s gaze. She held it firmly, and spoke softly. "Kestry says that titles don’t mean anything if the one who holds it doesn’t deserve it. He says that you must earn respect and authority, not demand it."
Everyone looked at the Pooka, who sniffed a great tear back. Giant smiled tightly in sympathy, and Lady Eithne looked vaguely ashamed. Rocky jumped down from the table, and handed Robin a hankerchief.
"Robin is right, of course," said Eithne softly. "I’m sorry. I hope that I can earn respect from you." She sat down, and smiled hopefully at them all. "This is all very new to me. Please help me learn."
The three ‘commoners’ exchanged looks, and nodded.
"Our purpose," continued Eithne, her voice low but strong, "is to find a young Sidhe boy who has recently undergone his Chrysalis. Robin," she smiled at the Pooka, "was there when he underwent the Change."
Robin stood. "I didn’t see him, nothing happened at all. It was the most unremarkable thing I have ever experienced."
Rocky narrowed his eyes, and tried to walk through her words. He tripped and fell. Giant nodded, having worked it out much more quickly.
"I see. Would you remember what he looks like ?" he asked her. Robin nodded. "Never."
Eithne smiled. "That’s a good start. We’ll simply have to go and find him !"
She stood up, and took out a pencil from inside her bag. On the wall was a map of Belfast, tattered and probably several years out of date. "We were told by Lord Galway that Matthew is probably with his parents. He’s homeless, so there’s lots of old houses where they could be staying. This may take a few days," she explained with a musical sigh, "so we’ll mark out the city into bits that we can each do."
She indicated four distinct areas on the map, and pencilled lightly, but clearly, around each. "I’ll try East Belfast... where I’m from. Giant, you try North, Rocky, you try East. Robin, you try South."
Robin nodded. "I’ll take much more time than the rest of you, because I can’t fly. How are you going to look as slowly as me ?" she asked. They each exchanged looks.
"We each have our own methods, Robin," said Giant quietly. Rocky nodded. "Yeah. I’ll be asking people on the street that I know," he told her.
Giant smiled. "I’ll probably be asking the street itself," he chuckled.
Eithne put the pencil back into her bag. She peered at the map in deep concentration. "I’ll have to phone around. Pretend that I’m doing a school project on the homeless."
Robin’s eyes brightened. "I know of somewhere !" she squeeked. Lady Eithne looked at her.
"What’s that supposed to mean ?" she asked. Robin looked confused.
"Kestry didn’t go to a place in the City Centre, to see an odd man. He didn’t work for something called Homeless Action, so he won’t have any ideas where to find Matthew."
Eithne smiled, very pleased. "That’s great ! Robin, well done." She turned to Rocky and Giant, and thought for a few moments. "Giant, you come with me. Rocky, you should still ask any of your friends. If talking to these people in the City Centre doesn’t work, we’ll still split up our search."
They all agreed, and if Giant was slightly more pleased than he should be, well, no one except Rocky noticed. He grinned, and filed away the information for later.
Malcolm Fletcher sat up, and winced at the dull pain that racked though his body. He stared around, waiting for the Hunger to kick in, that unwavering need for blood, warm human blood...
It never came. Instead... came a feeling Malcolm couldn’t put a name to. He stood up, and grabbed the letter before it had fallen an inch. He held it close to his face, examining the seal in the low light. Then he snapped the wax seal open, and unfolded the letter. His lips moved quickly as he read the copperplate script.
The voice came again, and it sounded amused. "Welcome back, Malcolm," it said.
Malcolm looked around. It took a few moments to sink in, but he remembered the unique Malkavian ability, to speak with members of their Clan from thousands of miles away. Some said it was the Collective Consciousness of the Clan, made real by their shared insanity.
Whatever it was, it was talking to Malcolm.
"How long has it been ?" he asked simply. The Voice didn’t hesitate. "Three years, four months."
Malcolm nodded. He still had a little blood in his system, not as much as he could hold, but about the same amount a living human would have. "We have ensured that you were kept well stocked, Malcolm," answered the Voice to the thoughts in his head.
"Why ?" Malcolm was not known for his long winded speeches.
"Because," replied the Voice, "You made a promise a long time ago. An Oath, you might say. And now, it’s time."
Malcolm frowned. He held the letter up, as if to show it to the Voice. "This ? Is this what you mean ? I don’t know anyone of this name."
The Voice sounded amused. "Yes, you do. You just don’t remember."
Malcolm knew that there was a long time of his existence as a Vampire that he didn’t remember. Many things that had occurred. He kept a diary, forever locked, that he knew contained the secrets of his life. They still lay beside him on the floor, as they always lay beside him as he slept. Only Peter knew about the book. And the zippo with a full tin of lighter fluid he kept with the diary, just in case the memories were too much to cope with.
"So. This Oath. The letter says I promised to help this person when he needed me. The letter is dated 1765. I can’t remember anything before 1780. Is this person my Sire ?"
The Voice laughed. "Far from it. What else does the letter say ?"
Malcolm looked at the part he had been wondering about. He read it aloud. "...The Oath, The Gift and The Choice...The Past, The Present and The Future..."
He looked around for the Voice. "What does that mean ?"
Suddenly, he felt strange- it was like falling into Torpor again... he felt tired, dizzy, and his legs wavered. A soft thumping sound began to rise from nowhere, getting faster each moment. He coughed, and dust blew out from his long disused lungs. Then he gasped, fighting for breath. Head swimming, Malcolm fell to the floor, breathing in sharp noisy gasps, until he felt better. The sound had got louder, and he realised that it was his own heartbeat. This was odd. Malcolm had been in Torpor for three years, but he had been Undead for at least a hundred years prior to that. At least a hundred.
Now he was breathing. He had a pulse. He was alive.
Eithne and Robin walked from the Rebel’s Rest to Homeless Action’s office near the City Centre. They arrived at the front desk of a building filled with a dozen little businesses. It had been five months ago, outside this very building, that Matthew’s Chrysalis had occurred. Robin could still sense the trace of strong Glamour that still hung to the front of the building. Small Chimerical flowers grew there now, where before it had been but the banal face of a rather unimaginative building.
The woman behind the reception desk barely noticed them, and they walked up the stairs without being approached. The door they arrived at had two words printed on the window.
"Homeless Action," murmured Eithne, her thoughts far away. Robin shivered a little, as a hint of deja vu passed over her. She said nothing.
The door opened which made them both jump, and a tall man stood there, staring at them. The man was wearing a leather jacket, and scruffy jeans, and looked like a biker. His response to Eithne’s earth-shattering smile was a raised eyebrow.
"Let me guess," he said, crossing his arms, "you’re here on a school project about the homeless, and just want to ask me a couple of questions. I’ll tell you about some of the places I’ve heard they go, and then you’ll smile sweetly and leave. Then, you’ll look around those places, in hope of finding who you’re after."
Robin blinked, then giggled. "Not even close," she said, eventually.
Eithne sighed. "Alright. That’s true. So, will you tell us what we need to know?" she said.
He looked at them, and his eyes shifted slightly. Instead of human eyes, they were like wolf’s eyes. Robin jumped, and lept behind Lady Eithne.
Eithne stood her ground, and held his gaze without fear. Divis nodded, and turned to walk away.
"Alright. I'll give you the addresses I've got. There's no guarantee that they'll be there."
Eithne's eyes sparkled in victory, and she flashed a grin at Robin. The smaller girl returned the smile.
Rocky sat in the back of the black cab as it drove through the streets of West Belfast. There was a lot of bustle and movement, yet many shops were bricked up, covered in Republican graffiti. He'd seen some of the loyalist areas, and except for the content of the graffiti, it was much the same. Whoever said that the Protestants in the city had more money obviously chose not to see those particular streets. Rocky had fought boxers from Protestant areas, and had got on well with them, once the bout was finished. He made the effort to talk to them and discovered along the way that there were few differences, once you got past the fear and mistrust. There were some Prods he even liked. But he felt closer to the people here, on the Falls Road. He couldn't help it. The smiling faces, the laughing children... this was his home. Giant came from a nice house on the Antrim Road, and Eithne came from a really big house in Castlereigh. Robin, too, came from a home with plenty of money. Rocky didn't mind really, but he wondered if they could really understand the world if they had never had to deal with poverty. Perhaps he'd help them see.
The cab stopped at traffic lights, and Rocky handed the driver a handful of coins, before leaping out. He had done enough driving. It was time to do some legwork. And Rocky definitely had the legs for it.
The Voice had much more to tell Malcolm, and he sat, taking in the sensations of life while listening. The letter was explained, and Malcolm was told what he had to do now. But the future was left untold. He understood. He was Malkavian, and although most of what he was told would confound anyone else, for Malcolm, it was pretty much par for the course.
Then the Voice was finished.
Malcolm staggered up the stone staircase until he reached a thick steel door. There was a key on a chain, obviously to allow Malcolm to let himself out, should he awaken. He quickly opened the door, and walked out into a corridor. A bright light drew him to a window, and he stared out at the sun.
"I never thought... it's still beautiful…" he whispered. A shiver of emotion rushed down his spine, and he felt tears welling in his eyes as the bright sunlight warmed his skin.
The click of a hammer being cocked on a gun made him stiffen. He realized that whilst he was now mortal, he had lost some of his preternatural senses. And perhaps, his inhuman speed and strength.
"Don't move," said a familiar voice. Malcolm bit his lip to stop laughing.
"Turn around... holy shit!"
Malcolm grinned, pleased to have been able to surprise his friend for the first time that he could remember.
"Hello, Peter," said Malcolm softly. Peter stared. "Malcolm… what's happened?" he asked in a whisper.
"I'm back. I'm mortal. Human. Well, sort of," Malcolm added with a smile.
Peter put his pistol away, and noticed that his hand was shaking slightly. He clenched his fist, and quickly attempted to regain his composure. "What... what do you want?" he asked in a fearful voice.
"I want..." Malcolm thought, then smiled. "Fast food..."
Giant sat on a seat near the city hall. He waited for Robin and Eithne to come back from the Homeless Action office. The city moved around him, for the most happy to ignore him. His heart leapt when he saw Eithne emerge from the crowd. He stood, feeling as tall as his Troll seeming would let him.
The two girls walked over to the young man, and looked around.
"We've got some addresses in West Belfast to look at," explained Eithne. Giant frowned.
"That's hardly a place for you, Milady," he said softly. Robin giggled at Giant's odd word. Eithne smiled- she couldn't help it.
"Giant, you are my protector, are you not ?" she asked him. He nodded, lost for words. "Then… protect me. We must find the child quickly, and we need to get Rocky. He'll know where these streets are."
Robin fidgeted, looking around. She looked up suddenly, feeling cold, and her eyes searched the sky. When she looked back at the others, they were looking at her curiously.
"Just checking," explained Robin.
Peter sat opposite Malcolm, watching with a mixture of awe and disgust as the new-born mortal ate his fifth cheeseburger. Malcolm finished it with delight, and sucked noisily on his milk-shake.
"This is fantastic, Peter… it's so… tasty !" Peters expression obviously spoke for itself. Malcolm grinned. "It's been two hundred years since I've eaten food- bear with me !"
Peter shook his head. "I knew those bloody fairies were going to be bad news… I just didn't realize that you'd be so linked with them."
He thought for a moment. "Actually, no, I'm not surprised at all."
Malcolm laughed. It had been so long since he'd done that. "I told you about them, back when we were enforcing the Concord," he said, starting in on his sixth burger.
Peter nodded. He remembered the patrols, back in the early 1990's when the Kindred and Garou had drawn up borders around Belfast. Some of the more… militant Tribes had attempted to break the agreement. Peter and Malcolm would kill those who transgressed.
"Yeah, but, you know, you're mad. I didn't think you were serious."
Malcolm smiled dangerously at Peter. "I'm always serious."
Peter coughed nervously. "Anyway… this letter you got. It was given to me by a fairy called Kestry. He's their boss- their real boss. I dunno," he mused, eating a french fry, "it's almost worse than the Vampire politics."
Malcolm nodded. "Kestry doesn't know me, and I don't know him. But I've been told about him. He's someone we have to help, Peter. The whole thing, it's more important than anything we've done in the past." Peter looked dubious. Malcolm continued. "They are the guardians of mankind's dreams. Each individual dream, and the hopes of nations. What's happening here in Northern Ireland, and across the world, is about Dreams."
Peter shook his head, not understanding. Malcolm narrowed his eyes in thought for a moment, and then spoke softly.
"What's the point of life, if we have no hopes or dreams, Peter ?" Peter sighed. "I understand," he said simply. Malcolm nodded. "Okay. Now, the letter talks of a group amongst the Changelings. They'll be called The Rebels, according to the letter. A bunch of kids. With the most important baby-sitting job this island's ever seen." Peter frowned. "So what ? What's that to do with us ?" Malcolm grinned. "We have to find them, and I have to help them, with all the power I can muster." Peter groaned. "Oh, great." Malcolm nodded. "You think that's bad. Me, I think I'm about to experience something I haven't done in two hundred years." Peter looked at his friend. "What ?" Malcolm smiled sheepishly. "Being sick." He stood, and disappeared into the toilets.
Somewhere outside Armagh is a great grassy hill. Inside the hill, unreachable by all but a special few, is a chamber. It is dark, dank and full of terror. It is a relatively new part of the Palace of King Finn. Before his decent into madness, he would have banished anyone who would even have thought of such a place. Now, though, he lets his favourite Noble use it for his own amusement.
It is a torture chamber, filled with sharpness, heat and cold, Fear and Iron. Currently, it's single occupant is chained to a mossy wall, half-naked and broken, cold iron binding his wrists and ankles. He is barely conscious, but whispers, in french, the words to precious tales of fantasy and magic. When he stops, it will be because he can't remember them.
The door opens, and the man looks up, his fair hair dirty and matted. His blue eyes are tired and dark. A tall blue skinned giant enters, carrying a bundle of bad times for the man, and is followed by another figure, with long dark hair, and a wide smile.
"Kestry, old friend," says the dark hair man, unwrapping a long sharp knife from the bundle.
The man smiles, or tries to. "Lorenzo. What a delight it is…" he says, his voice breaking. He finds new strength. "What a delight it is to see you again…"
Lorenzo grins, and leans down close to Kestry. "First, we'll make you hurt. Then, we'll make you scream." He takes a couple of steps back. "And then, if you like, I'll sing you a song !" Lorenzo examines the long sharp knife. "But let's start with the bleeding."