49: Shots Fired
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We stepped off the still unnamed airship and onto the high mountain landing to find a large gathering of fae out beyond us. The culture shock began with their clothing, which was revealing to say the least. The women all wore these cut-off shirts that were loose and floaty, and only just big enough to come to the bottom of their breasts. The sleeves were long and flowing, like they had come from some old timey robe.

The men… the men wore the same thing, except where the women all wore harem style floofy pants, the men wore strange puffy shorts, or even miniskirts. It was a lot to deal with, and I found myself quickly inspecting the architecture of the Wind Court with a singular focus.

From out of the crowd, a short fae in the same outfit came running, her messy shoulder-length ginger hair flying in the wind. She rushed us with a huge smile on her face, exclaiming, “Holy shit guys, that was fucking awesome!”

It looked like she wanted to rush in and hug one of us, but she couldn’t decide who, so she ground to a halt a few meters away. Her eyes landed on me with an intrigued, slow pass of my body, one that was very much not heterosexual. Fuckin’ knew it.

“Joan?” I asked, pulling from my girlfriend’s toolbox by raising an eyebrow. “I’m Mist. I’m sure you can guess who I used to be.”

“Yeah…” she grinned. “Mist, huh? Cute name.”

Beside me, Bassi was stiff and nervous, her gaze flitting from one face in the crowd to another. Agh, my poor girl. Leaning to the side, I put my mouth to her ear and my arm around her waist. “My love, use my strength. We’ll face them together, okay?”

Like a knot being massaged out of an overworked muscle, she uncoiled and nodded. “Yes. Thank you. It is just… strange. Strange to be back here.”

Laying claim to her with a brief but passionate kiss, I turned back to Joan and threw her a smirk.

Snorting in amusement, she said, “Clearly we have some catching up to do, huh Mist?”

“Something like that,” I replied, then motioned to Bassi. “I’ll give a quick introduction before the folks in charge come forward. This is Basilisk, leader of a group of thieves I fell in with back in Anamoor. They’re awesome. Jitters, the one behind her, is our mechanic, lockpicking expert, and engineer all rolled into one. The rest are classmates.”

“Alright, okay…” Joan nodded, smiling at Bassi for a moment as she pulled her head back into serious mode. “Okay, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the situation before those deep dive buttplugs in charge get here.”

I struggled to keep a straight face at her description, but she barrelled on without so much as a sly smile. “The folks in charge of this place are like boomers on steroids. They fucking hate change, they fucking hate doing anything other than traditional shit, and they absolutely despise anyone who tries to tell them they are all going to die if they don’t do something different.”

“So, they hate you,” I chuckled.

She winced and shrugged. “Sorta. I’ve been toeing the line for a while now, just so I can live in relative peace. Anyway, please get me the fuck out of here. I highly doubt you’ll be able to get them to change in any meaningful way.”

“We’ll see about that,” Bassi murmured, glancing at me. “They may be fast, but they can’t outrun time.”

My eyes widened. Okay. We were going the intimidation route then. Interesting.

“The siege has been going pretty badly, too,” Joan continued, giving us a funny look. “Fae don’t breed as fast as the minions of Utyx do. Sure, they die in the hundreds, but a week later and their god has spawned a hundred more of them. One of us dies, though? They aren’t going to be replaced for at least thirty years.”

“Wait, who is Utyx?” I asked quickly, jumping on the new information.

Again, my old classmate gave us a look of confusion. “Some god dude? I don’t know the whole story, he’s the one behind most of the monsters. They don’t tell me much, none of them trust me except the enby mage, and even they are a bit iffy.”

That was so much information to absorb. The god creating the rot monsters had a name. Question time was over, unfortunately, because five ageless fae stepped out from the crowd, along with a small army of guards.

They were all trying so hard to look wise and noble, that apart from more obvious things like breasts and such, they all looked so similar it took a moment to notice differences. One, though, wore a long, flowing robe rather than the ornate version of the clothes that all the common fae wore. They also appeared to have entirely dodged the very concept of gender, which was pretty cool. Too bad they were probably a tool.

The other one I noticed was an older fae woman with some rather familiar facial features. I glanced back at Bassi to confirm it, and found her glaring daggers at the woman.

“Mother,” she rasped, not bothering to hide the emotion in her voice.

Bassi’s mum gazed impassively back at her daughter for a moment, then gave the tiniest bow I’d ever seen. Barely even a nod. “Ismensarda, it has been some time. You look different.”

“Yeah. Not sure how it happened, but I look more like you lot now,” my lover replied, waving a hand dismissively. “It isn’t important, though. We came for Joan, and to help you all if you want it.”

“We have the situation handled,” one of the other five said, a man, if I had to guess. 

“Bullshit,” I blurted, and gestured down towards the ruined city below. “You’re getting your shit pushed in. We won’t stop you from your stubborn, slow death at the hands of the rot if that’s what you really want. Don’t let pride be what gets you.”

“You do not know anything of us,” he spat, looking ready to start throwing hands. In fact, I think he might have at least slapped me if it weren’t for the sudden appearance of my full shadow demon form and the low growl I made to accompany it.

Mutterings of “Court of Night” and “Shadow Fae” rolled through the crowd behind them, and I felt a savage sort of satisfaction at their reaction. If what I remembered about the Court of Night was true, my particular flavour of magic was very rare.

I opened my mouth to fire back at the fuckwit old fae, when the robed genderless fae raised a gentle hand. “Sundamar, stranger, please. If I may?”

With an easing of muscles, I nodded in their direction and allowed my shadows to recede back into my body. I felt a sort of kinship with the calm fae mage, so I stayed silent and waited for them to speak. The grumpy old male fae didn’t look happy, but he shut his gob nevertheless.

“Halwan, if I may ask your name?” the mage smiled, gesturing to me. “Mine is Ayen.”

“Mist,” I said, returning their smile.

Ayen rolled my name around on their tongue like they were a child using their mouth to explore it. “Mist. Interesting. Now, I believe there is something more important than our current predicament. The Monarch, I believe, desires to speak with you, Joan, Ismensarda, one called… Jitters, and one called Leon.”

Glancing at Bassi in surprise, I sent her a sort of silent quest. Who the hell was the Monarch? She looked just as confused as I was, however, as did Joan and the others.

“Ayen!” Sundamar hissed, fury burning behind his eyes. The other four leaders didn’t look that much happier than him, either. “The existence of the Monarch is—“

“Not your realm of jurisdiction,” Ayen finished, their eyes burning with an ice to match the fire in the old man’s. “It has been communicated to me that the Monarch wishes to speak with these people. It is not your place to say who may know and who may not know of his existence. It is not mine, either. I am merely serving my function as the Monarch’s Steward.”

“I do not like this,” Bassi’s mother said, speaking up again. “I do not like this at all.”

“It is a good thing, then, that the Monarch does not need to keep you happy,” Ayen remarked breezily. “Nothing would ever get done.”

Beside me, Bassi began to choke on air and quickly had to turn away to mime a coughing fit. I was struggling to hold in a laugh as it was, and it wasn’t my mother who had been sassed.

Then, I made a decision that would burn any hope I had of a respectful relationship with my future mother in law. “I dunno, pretty sure some snake men would get done.”

Utter silence spread out from my comment in a wave, like a bullet fired into a serene pond. It wasn’t a nice, clean silence. Nah, it was brittle and delectable, all at once, like the top of a crème brûlée.

Bassi was dying beside me, and her dammed mirth finally gave way with a peal of high, musical, joyous laughter. She turned and wrapped her arms around my neck, shaking from head to toe. Kinda reminded me of the time I used a shadow dildo on her.

Bassi’s laughter prompted her mother to spin on her heels with a hiss, and pretty soon she had disappeared into the crowd. Sundamar followed suit while the other three leaders stood their ground, either impassive or with slight smiles of amusement on their too-perfect faces.

“Well,” Ayen coughed, their cheeks flushed a gentle pink. “That was certainly an interesting exchange. You may have made an enemy or two today, Mist.”

“I have a lot of those,” I shrugged. “They can get in line, right next to the alabasters and the corrupt merchant lords of Anamoor.”

“We shall see,” they said neutrally, and turning to their two remaining peers, asked, “Llamiryl, Olowraek, the three of us hold enough votes to allow these people to stay for a short time while the Monarch conducts her business. Is this agreeable to you?”

Of the remaining two, one was a woman, who simply nodded, and one was a man. He gave my classmates and I a long look. “Yes, but on one condition.”

“What is it?” Bassi asked, finally regaining her composure somewhat.

With a curt, chin-jutting nod, he indicated our airship. “Teach me how to make those weapons of yours. The others may not want your help, but I know our salvation when I see it.”