by Stephen J. Herron
May 8th 1996
The worst part was the waiting. Kestry hated the waiting. Sometimes, hours would pass, before Lorenzo would come again. Sometimes the dark Duke would let Kestry stew for a couple of days before the torture started again.
But he always came back. With his pain and his hate. Sometime he brought that vast Troll with him, who seemed to enjoy the feeling of his fist against Kestry's back.
When the agony turned to numb aching, Kestry hid within his memories. While he could. Even that was starting to become difficult.
Kestry was starting to forget things. Like his own name. There was a dark, shadowy time which could have been minutes or hours when he couldn't remember his own name. That had scared him. He held the image in his mind of a very young girl with red hair, who smiled at him. Then he tried to remember her name. He had whispered it until he remembered his own name.
- "Robin… it's Kestry…"
- "I'm sorry."
She had woken up crying one night.
"Robin ? What's wrong ?" her mother had asked while Robin shuddered with an unknown grief against her. Worried, her mother kept the girl off school that day, watching her lie in bed, just lying there, silently crying.
Her friends came to visit her that night, and sat on her bed, whispering their thoughts to her. Robin's mother felt that something important was going on in that room, but she loved and trusted her daughter, and left her to the care of her friends.
"Could she really have heard him ?" asked Rocky as the three friends walked away from Robin's house. He sniffed, and gently touched his nose."Has it stopped ?" he asked. Giant nodded, answering both questions.
"Yes, it's stopped. And yes, it's possible. Robin may have powers she hasn't fully uncovered yet. Lord Galway once told me that she could be very potent when she grows up."
Eithne looked thoughtful. "She was kidnapped by Lorenzo once. And she escaped. Interesting."
Rocky shook his head. "It's the King who has Kestry, not Lorenzo."
Eithne sighed, and stopped by the bus stop. There was a man and a woman, busy with each other as they waited for the bus. Giant looked away, and Rocky grinned. Eithne pursed her lips, then answered Rocky with a soft voice."Don't make that mistake, Rocky. Lorenzo and King Finn are working together. Kestry isn't in safe hands. I believe Robin."
Rocky was watching the couple kiss and caress each other with a scientific curiosity and a huge smile. Giant gave a deep sigh, and shook his head disapprovingly.
Eithne was trying not to smile, but she laid her hand gently on Giant's arm."It's not his fault, Giant… he's what he is," she said, nodding towards Rocky's hairy hooves, and his short horns.
Giant self-consciously felt his own twin horns, and brushed his hair forward. Eithne looked at him curiously. "What's wrong ?" she asked. Giant seemed embarrassed that she had noticed. "Nothing."
She gently tapped his arm, scolding him. "Don't hide them. They're very handsome."
Before Giant could stammer and stutter a reply, the bus pulled up at the stop. Rocky lept on board, and paid for the two others. Giant allowed Eithne to step up, and he turned to the two lovers who were unaware of the bus. He was about to speak, when Rocky leant back.
"Listen. Do you really think they came here to catch a bus ?" he asked. Giant looked sharply at him, and could see the truth in Rocky's eyes. He nodded. He smiled. Then he climbed up on the bus, and took his seat beside Eithne. Rocky walked up to the back of the bus, and sat beside the three much older girls who had already taken up roost there.
"I'm… surprised…" commented Giant to Eithne. She raised an eyebrow, prompting him to continue."Rocky… he understood something there, about those two at the bus stop, that I didn't catch."
Eithne looked around, and watched Rocky chat up the girls. One was already sitting on his lap.
"He knows his subject area," she said softly, and hid a smile behind her hand.
The bus drove on into the early evening.
"So where are the kids ?" asked Peter. Malcolm stood at the wide high window in the empty ballroom of Belfast Castle. The night was drawing in, and, like every night since he awoke, Malcolm stood there watching, arms tightly wrapped around himself, silent.
Peter fumed. He had been neglecting his police duties for days, pulling favours and using the political influence he had gained under the Prince of the city to keep questions from being answered.
There was pretty much nothing he wouldn’t do for his friend, but the mood swings, from day to night were hard to cope with.
The final sliver of sun disappeared behind Cave Hill, and Malcolm let out a deep breath. He shivered, and turned to face Peter.
"We'll find them tonight," he said softly. His face was dark, his eyes dangerous. "I feel more like my old self," he added with a sharp smile.
Peter bit his lip. In more ways than one, he thought.Malcolm had quickly discovered that his "new arrangement" had a price. By day, he was indeed mortal. But when the sun set, some of his Vampiric nature returned, along with the preternatural powers that went with that nature.
Though he no longer needed to feed on blood, by night, Malcolm was as dead as he had ever been. No blood flowed, no breath was taken. The change from one state to the other was quick, but not painless. It was a pain of loss, a pain of denial, nothing more, nothing less.
When the sun rose, he lived again. It was a strange state of dual nature, life and death, good and evil- because Peter knew that at night, Malcolm could do anything without blinking. Before blinking, in fact, he was that fast.
"Malcolm," Peter said softly, "Who did this to you ? Why ?"
The Vampire Malcolm slid past Peter. Had it been anyone else, it would have looked like a blur of movement, but Peter's senses were sharper than any mortals. Perhaps, even sharper than Malcolm. At least, Peter hoped so.
"Who? A friend. And an old friend at that. Why? Because I have a choice to make,eventually."
They walked through the hotel to the car park, and Peter quickly ran a routine glance across the vehicle. He snarled at the spirits he had grudging admitted made better deterrent against bombs and theft than any man-made item. The spirits fearfully replied, and fled into hiding inside the bag filled with carved fetishes Peter kept in the glove compartment.
Malcolm waited for Peter's nod before getting into the unmarked police car. The Garou drove them into the city in silence, though they were both deep in thought.
By day, I will help them, thought Malcolm. By night, I will protect them.
What the hell, thought Peter, Have I got myself into ?
Robin felt better after her friends left. Rocky had made jokes and tickled her, which she secretly enjoyed, though she had kicked and punched him until his nose had started bleeding. Eithne had said kind things, and Giant had just sat and looked strong and safe. There was something about each of them that annoyed her to distraction, but she liked them all too. It was very odd.
The dream about Kestry had hurt her, very much. She really missed him, and her heart ached with his absence. But she knew that he would want her to be strong. After all, he had kind of put her in charge of the Rebels. Or at least, had merely forgotten to mention that she was in charge of the Rebels, and had meant to just before he left. That showed that he trusted her, and she couldn't let him down.
She opened her diary, and flicked through to the picture of her and Kestry, taken at the Christmas party they held in Duchess Aishling's manor in Castlewellan. It had been a great party, with all the Fae from the Duchy of Down at the big house. She had met lots of nice young Changelings, including a brother and sister who were both Pooka. Jamie was a Dog, and his sister Marie was a Cat. It was fun watching them chase each other around the garden.
The picture of her and Kestry was her favorite. He was kneeling beside her, holding her, and she was blushing a furious red, and had her arms around his neck. The embrace had lasted about three seconds, and he had disappeared off to talk for ages with Duchess Aishling, showing her bits from those huge old books he had been reading for months. Robin sighed. Even Lord Galway had thought he was "mixing business with pleasure".
She sat up in bed, and turned her television on, hoping to banish the sadness, finally. She was a young girl, and she was Robin. Nothing could keep her down long. She took off her PJ's and after a quick shower she put on her favorite t-shirt and jeans. It was only eight o'clock, and she didn't have school tomorrow. Anything could happen, after all.
There was a tap at the window. Curious, she hopped out of her bed. She opened the curtains.
A man was standing outside. He smiled, and tapped the window again.Robin narrowed her eyes in thought. Then it came to her. They were two floors up.
She opened the window, and carefully looked down. There was another figure looking bored and guilty in the bushes. And yes, this man at her window was floating twenty feet in the air.
"If you're a stranger, I should warn you- I'm completely competent with several martial arts, and my hands are deadly weapons." Her voice was gruff and angry. At least, as best as she could muster.
The man blinked, genuinely amused.
"Not only that, " she continued, raising her fists and taking up the boxing stance that Rocky had shown her, "But I'm not afraid of you, and I'll definitely stand here and kick your bottom should you try anything. You know, pervy."
"You must be Robin," said the floating man.
Robin fumed. People always knew her name. It was like she wore a sign on her head that said My Name is Robin, Kidnap Me.
"It's fair enough that you should just know my name like that. That's fair," she said, more annoyed than scared.
"My name is Malcolm Fletcher," said Malcolm. "I'm here to help you and your friends. The Rebels, as you are called."
It was Robin's turn to blink.
"How do you know ?" she asked. Malcolm shifted slightly as breeze blew by. He thought for a moment. He started a couple of times to even tell her, but stopped, unable to find the correct words.
"I'm magic," he explained finally.
"Okay," said Robin. "Meet me down at our Freehold."
She gave him the address on a piece of paper, and closed the window.
Malcolm slowly returned to the ground, beside Peter.
"What a charming girl," he commented. Peter shrugged. "She can turn into a bird," he said, as if it was all normal.
Eithne and Rocky were yelling at each other. Giant was trying to break them up. Robin sighed. Another normal night at the Rebel's Rest. She walked into the main room, and watched. Giant noticed her, and smiled in greeting.
"You cannot demand a kiss from me !" Eithne screamed at Rocky. He stood , and thumped the book in front of him.
"It says here that I can !!!" he yelled back. Eithne picked up the book of Sidhe law, and flicked angrily through it. She found the right page, and showed it, or rather, threw it, at Rocky.
"It doesn't count !!!" she howled, and stamped around the table until she was an inch from his face.
"Why not ???!!!!" he bellowed back in her face. Eithne's eyes narrowed, and she was frighteningly calm.
"Because, " she hissed from between clenched teeth, "This rule was written in pencil. By you. Five minutes ago."
Rocky blinked a few times. Then he grinned. Then he kissed her. Giant stood, his face flaming. Eithne just stared at Rocky in a curious mixture of shock, horror and amazement. Rocky leapt onto the table, and began a clacking joyful dance as his hooves clicked on the wood.
"Yes ! Yes ! Yeeeeeaaahhhhhh !!!!" he laughed and sang, doing a Satyr dance of carnal victory (first base).
Robin sighed. Malcolm was standing behind her. "So. This is the last, best hope for the Kingdoms of Hibernia," he commented.
Robin nodded. "Yeah."
Malcolm sighed. "It's worse than I thought."
It was getting cold, even for May. Liam and Mary had been staying in the same boarded up house for the last few days, but there had nearly been a fight when a pair of drug addicts tried to use their room. Liam had scared them away, but he didn't want Matthew to even see anything like that. He came back about an hour after it got dark, and led his wife and son to the back of a boarded up shop. He climbed up on the back wall, and lifted Matthew over, then helped Mary over. She had to rest for a moment, her coughs racking and very painful. Her chest infection was getting worse.
Inside, the shop was actually quite clean and warm, if a bit dusty. Matthew was delighted to find out that it used to be a toyshop. They took up residence in the small store room, and Liam was grateful to find that the cooker in the kitchen was attached to a half-full gas cylinder outside. He made them all a cup of tea, and they felt like royalty for a while, at least.
Matthew walked to the front of the shop, and peered through the gaps in the boards. Outside, in the street, some of the shadows were moving, with long spindly legs and hate-filled eyes. Eight legs. Eight eyes. Watching, looking, searching.
He whimpered, and ran to a small mirror, looking into it.
Matthew listened. Nodded. Sighed.
Then he went back to his parents, and held them close.
The reaction to Malcolm had gone like this;
Eithne had been polite, but reserved. Giant had been silent and sullen, staring at Rocky. Rocky had gone pale. He'd met Vampires before. Robin had tried to explain about Peter, and about Kestry and the letter.
Malcolm had sat, patiently, quietly. Then he stood.
"I'm aware of your mission. I'm aware of your status, and your abilities. But I will not tolerate any actions which endanger Matthew or his… passenger. Now, " he said, walking around the table, "by night, I will protect you all. Or whoever is looking after Matthew. By day, I'll attempt to assist in non-violent ways. Because, I cannot defeat our enemies during daylight hours. At night, nothing I have yet encountered in the last two hundred years will stop me."
At that, he went silent, remembering events in an English town, not that long ago. He shook away the memories. "You can trust me. I'm not here to lead you. But I'll advise." He looked at Eithne. "You are the leader. I answer to you, but you must keep me informed."
Eithne smiled. "Alright, Mr. Fletcher. I understand. The first thing is to find Matthew. We've been looking all week, and we've narrowed it down to two streets. We intend to search them tomorrow."
Malcolm nodded, and stood. "Good. I'll return in the morning. Peter and I will drive each of you home."
Rocky made a face, and Giant was about to comment, when Malcolm interrupted.
"I'm here to make sure you're all still alive to do your job. Don't force me on this. It's after ten o'clock at night, and you're all children. It's not safe at night."
He allowed himself a smile. "I should know."
Sir Vasrik walked into Lorenzo's chamber inside Emain Macha. It was simple, clean, empty of anything that would indicate a sense of ownership.
"Spartan. I approve, " commented the Troll. Lorenzo looked up from his bed. He lay on top of it, fully clothed, bored.
"High praise, indeed," he replied dryly. The Troll simply snorted.
"Ill at ease, your Grace ?" he asked. Lorenzo sat up.
"We've got to let our chum recover enough to scream again. It seems to take a lot out of him," he explained.
Sir Vasrik nodded. "Yes. Well, you do put on quite a show, Duke Lorenzo. It's odd, though."
Lorenzo sighed. "What's odd, Vasrik ?"
"I would have thought that King Finn would enjoy the chance to take part. Or at least, watch." The Troll stroked his long beard thoughtfully.
Lorenzo stood, and walked to a mirror, where he examined himself and tried to tidy his clothing and hair.
"The King… yes. Well, he's mine, of course, and he thinks what I want him to think." Lorenzo paused. "But seeing Kestry suffering- well, I don't think the King would react well to that. Despite his Unseelie nature. He was never cruel."
The Sidhe turned, and grinned wickedly at the Troll. "That was my job !"
"Hmph. Well, you certainly do it well," Sir Vasrik agreed. He turned, and left Lorenzo to his preening.
The next morning, Malcolm collected each of the Rebels, and took them to the first of the two streets in West Belfast that they still had to search.
This one was long, but ended at a high brick wall. Well over half of the houses and shops were boarded or bricked up.
"Alright. Do your stuff," said Malcolm, and he sat on the bonnet of the car, keeping watch.
Eithne was wearing her running clothes, but she even looked glamorous in those. Robin was in her usual t-shirt and jeans, whilst Rocky wore his most tasteless ripped jeans, DM's and Anthrax t-shirt. Giant felt self-conscious in his shirt and trousers. They even exchanged looks with each other, saying it all.
Eithne looked down the street. "How can we be sure they're here or not ?" she asked. Giant shrugged. "I'll start by asking each house."
He walked up to the first boarded up house, and leant close to the wall. He pulled the Glamour from within his soul, and wove it into a Cantrip. He knocked the wall three times, loudly rapping with his heavy hand. The Glamour welled up, and with the final knock, shot into the wall. With a heavy sigh, the wall awoke from it's slumber.
"Wall. Hello," said Giant softly. The Wall rumbled back. "Is there anyone inside you ?" asked the Troll. The Wall seemed to think, or at least check.
Giant turned to his friends. "Not in this one."
Rocky applauded. "Very very very good. That's a great trick."
Robin blinked. "I did that once. I sang a song to Kestry's big house."
Eithne tried to decide if Robin was telling the truth this time. She wasn't sure. "Well, perhaps you could ask the houses on the other side of the street." Robin nodded, and skipped across the road.
It was a strange sight. Giant knocked on each derelict house, and asked it. Robin sang the line from a pop song, and asked. Malcolm chuckled at the sight, in better form during daylight. Rocky noticed his good humour.
"Nice Malcolm and Nasty Malcolm, eh ?" he commented to Eithne. She nodded. "There's definitely a change at night," she agreed.
"Well, he's the oddest Vampire I ever met, " he sighed. Eithne laughed. "He's not a Vampire ! It's daylight !" she chided.
Rocky looked hurt. "That's what I mean. He's the oddest one I've met, 'cause it's daylight, and he's not running around screaming about sunburn."
Eithne shook her head. "Rocky, I never put you down for being so silly. Vampires indeed."
Rocky looked at her. "I suppose you don't believe in fairies !"
Eithne punched him on the arm, and Rocky chuckled throatily. He looked back at Malcolm. "I reckon he's a Vampire. But he only gets his powers at night. That's why he's different."
Eithne shrugged. "Whatever."
Giant and Robin eventually returned to the car. "Anything ?" asked Eithne. Robin nodded.
"There wasn't anyone in that old toyshop, at least, not according to the toyshop when I didn't ask it."
They exchanged excited looks.
"Right," said Malcolm, "Let's do it."
They walked down to the shop, and examined the front. Malcolm sized the situation up.
"I'm going behind the shop. There'll be an alley out back. I'll cover it. Giant, come with me."
The pair disappeared into the alley.
Rocky and Eithne stared at the front, deciding what to do. Robin looked around, and froze suddenly.
"That's not good," she whimpered. Rocky and Eithne turned around, and saw what had Robin so scared.
From the shadows in the street, spiders were crawling out. Some big, some small. But they were Chimerical Spiders, invisible to mortal eyes, but very real to the Fae. And very dangerous.
Eithne drew a small paper knife. It shimmered to their vision, and superimposed upon the real knife was a Chimerical short sword, made from gold and glass. It's edges glinted sharply, and the gold glittered in the sunlight. Robin hid behind Rocky, who took out spud-gun from his pocket. It was Chimerical as well, and hid a large glinting pistol. He aimed it at the largest spider, and waited for it to scamper closer. Robin squeaked with fear, and looked around for something to grab.
The first spider leapt with a fierce hiss at Eithne. She twirled on her feet, her ballet lessons paying off, and was behind the spider. Lunging with her blade, she cut deep into the spiders belly. Black smoke hissed out from the wound, and the spider seemed less solid, fading slightly. Rocky fired a shot from his pistol and with a pop, the bullet burst like a bubble against the spider. It howled, and faded into nothing.
"Yes !" he hissed, and Eithne grinned. But there were dozens more scuttling towards them. Robin picked up a rock, and threw it at another spider. It bounced off the nightmare, and the spider vanished into the breeze.
"Fire at will !" yelled Eithne, and both she and Rocky leapt into combat.
They were a blur of action, with bullets bursting against black forms, and Eithne's paper-knife short sword flashing back and forth.
A spider leapt on Rocky's back, and nipped his shoulder with it's great black fangs. He winced, and blasted it with his pistol, kicking another spider as he did so. Eithne cried out as one bit her leg. No blood was visible, but she seemed instantly weaker, as her Glamour faded slightly. Steeling herself, Eithne slashed the beast away with her sword.
Robin changed into her bird form, and lifted a small rock into the air. She struggled, but managed to drop one on a tiny spider, which disappeared with a pop. Then she flew over the shop, to where Malcolm and Giant stood- fighting more spiders. Even Malcolm could see them. He had drawn a pair of sharp fighting knives, and was efficiently slashing his way through the spiders. Giant had taken out an axe, also Chimerical, and was hacking legs off the spiders.
It's up to me ! thought Robin, and she flew between the cracks in the boards, and into the house.
She found Matthew sleeping in the arms of his parents, who also slept. She changed back into her human form, and stood, watching them. Her heart was sad for them, without a home of their own. The mother was breathing with difficulty, wheezing and coughing. Matthew looked unhappy as he slept, sensing his mother's pain.
"Matthew ?" she said softly. The boy woke up, and looked into her face. Her heart melted at the look of trust and warmth in his gaze.
"Hello…" he said sleepily.
"I'm Robin. I'm here to look after you."
The child looked back at his parents. "But my mummy- my mum, and my dad… they look after me."
Robin smiled. "I know. But we- me and my friends- we want to take you with us, to play."
Matthew looked brighter. "I like playing !" he said.
"Well, we'll have to ask your parents. But not yet. My friends are… er, trying to get in…"
Outside, the fight was nearly over. Eithne kicked the last spider back into the shadows, where it scuttled away. She looked around, and limped painfully over to Rocky. He was sweating, and also looked hurt.
"I'm okay," he told her, before she could even ask. She nodded, and made her way over to the house. Robins eyes appeared at a crack in the boards.
"Hi ! He's in here ! But we can't just take him from his parents ! They'd worry…"
Eithne nodded. "I know. I have a plan. Rocky can do something about that. Let us in first."
Robin pulled back a board, and Eithne climbed through, followed by Rocky. Malcolm and Giant appeared via the backdoor.
Matthew shook his parents awake. His mother coughed, then saw the others. She looked a bit scared. Liam awoke, and quickly stood, holding Matthew close.
"Who are you ?" he asked, angry, frightened. Rocky stepped forward, and handed Liam a small folded piece of paper.
"That will explain everything," he said. Liam unfolded the paper, which triggered the Cantrip. Glamour rushed from Rocky's hands and spun around Liam and Mary.
"Well, " said Liam, reading the paper, "if it's a good holiday scheme, then I suppose that would be okay. There's food, Mary, and a warm bed in Portrush. He can play in the arcades !"
Mary coughed and smiled. "As long as he can be happy for a couple of weeks. I'll miss him so much, though.." She cried, and hugged Liam.
Eithne's heart couldn't stand it. She stood forward, and reached into her pocket, pulling out a small plastic pot. She unscrewed it, and the smell of honey filled the air.
She handed it to Mary, and summoned Glamour to imbue the honey with magic."Eat this, please… it's good for coughs."
Mary tasted the honey, which was enough for the Cantrip to work. It started slowly at first, as if the Banality of the situation would smother the magic. Then Matthew smiled at his mother, and she smiled back, and the rush of Glamour raised the hairs on the neck of each and every one of the Rebels necks. The healing would work now, and quickly.
"Let's go, people," suggested Malcolm quietly.
"I'll phone you mummy !" laughed Matthew as Giant carried him out. When they had all left, Malcolm stepped forward, and pressed a handful of twenty pound notes into Liam's hand.
"You found this, " he said, catching Liam's eye. He had used Dominate before, but this time was very subtle. He reached into Liam's mind, and placed the memory he wanted to create. "It was left to you by Mrs O'Brady. Remember ? She made great soda bread. She left it to you in her will. You have the legal papers to prove it." Malcolm pulled out an envelope filled with the actual legal documents, including Mrs O'Brady's will, which had been slightly altered to include the two thousand pounts, instead of the two hundred the old woman had really left them, and handed it to Mary. "You will call Matthew every day. And you will not worry about him. And he will be back with you soon." He handed them his mobile phone number. And then he left.
Outside, the others waited for him.
"What were you doing ?" asked Eithne. Malcolm smiled, and got into the car.
"Making up for lost time. And for my sins."
One night, the King came.
Kestry opened his eyes from a bad dream, thinking his torture was about to resume. He looked up, and saw King Finn, in dark simple robes, leaning over him, gently tending the cuts and bruises.
Kestry flinched weakly, and Finn stepped back, guilty, ashamed. Through swollen eyelids, he could see tears on the Kings cheek.
"My King…" croaked Kestry. The King looked down upon him, and slowly the look of pity, of compassion darkened to a solid uncaring mask, as the Unseelie shadow returned.
The King turned and left.
That hurt Kestry more than anything Lorenzo had ever done.
Kestry closed his eyes, and winced, as the salt in his tears stung in the cuts on his cheek.
He began whispering his name again, in case he forgot it again.