You would think that by now I would be used to having my concept of the world radically flipped on its head at a moment’s notice, but it’s not really something you ever get used to. Adam had been keeping his finger on the pulse of the movements of the Black Council as best as he could, and the simple fact was that time was running out. Sooner rather than later the Grey Council was going to be at war, and when that happened we’d need allies. So naturally I was the person he shoved the responsibility of finding said allies on to. And find some I did.
It turns out that (as my little brother and former apprentice always suspected) Summer and Winter are not the only Courts of Faerie; Spring and Autumn also exist as a part of the fae Courts. Though instead of Mothers, Queens, and Ladies these two courts consisted of Fathers, Kings, and Lords. The Spring King: Oberon. The Autumn King: Faraday. The Spring Lord: Puck. And the Autumn Lord: Joransidhe. Yes, that Joransidhe. Turns out that being an Emissary of the Winter Court doesn’t actually mean you have to be a member of said Court.
Research got me some of this info, but most of it I got from CoCo. Oh, wait, sorry, not CoCo. Corlaconsidhe, daughter to the Autumn Lord. Yes, that Autumn Lord. It was bad enough for Des and I when we summoned CoCo to instead find Lady Corlaconsidhe (CoCo to you guys!) standing at just under my height with gorgeous curves, beautiful red-jelly colored hair, and eyes of deepest orange. But to also find out that she was the daughter of Joransidhe ‘the great and powerful’ was icing on the cake. The twins are full wizards, Jason is a father, and CoCo is a Sidhe Lady; why does everyone have to go making me feel so gosh darn old all the time!?
After some general anti-feminist treatment from the Autumn and Spring Courts we came to a bargain. Autumn and Spring would grant the Grey Council passage through the Ways and support in conflict if, and only if, Des and I were able to hunt down and kill the Dukes of Spring and Autumn (think Knights of the other two Courts) and then return the power of the Dukes’ Mantles to their respective courts. Easy enough, right? Except that the once mortal Dukes had slowly fallen to their changeling lineages after thousands of years cut off from their Courts, and had turned into vicious monsters. Oh, and once the mantles were released they would both end up in the possessions of the Queens of Summer and Winter.
Which is what brought Des and I to an old creepy cave in northern China, on the boarder of Mongolia. As CoCo cutely stood bouncing up and down at the cave entrance Desmond and I entered, he shotgun raised, me with sword at the ready. As we strode further and further into the old cavern we eventually reached an opening of sorts that lead into a large circular chamber. All over its walls and ceiling were hundreds of shards of mirrors, carefully placed, all reflecting back a wizard and a grim. At that moment I knew exactly what the Duke had turned into, a Fetch.
No sooner did I think it than Desmond flipped on his tactical light to find the monster standing right in front of us. It looked like one of those cool dragon floats in Chinese parades, except that the creature wasn’t made out of paper mache, it was cold hard scales and claws. The dragon-fetch reared up with an ungodly roar and Desmond blasted it in the face with some steel balled double ought buck. Both of us dived to the side as the dragon-fetch began tearing around the cavern. The creature was definitely scary, but even more so for someone versed in ancient Chinese culture (like say the villagers at the bottom of the mountain). Desmond and I however were used to this sort of thing. Every time the fetch turned to try to face the bite of my steel warden swords Desmond would pepper its back with steel jacketed gunfire. Back and forth we torn into the fae with cold iron, until it realized it needed a new tactic.
Suddenly the dragon was gone and in its place stood Mi-Hyun. Not Mi-Hyun as I remember her, but a rotted corpse Mi-Hyun, like I’d always feared Zhang-Yin had done to her body after her death. I stood frozen in fear and regret. Even as I locked up Des jumped into action, firing shell after shell at the fetch. As zombie Mi-Hyun whirled I could tell the Fetch knew who the largest danger to it wast. It took a long look at Desmond and then changed forms once more.
“Desmond, my boy, did you really think you’d get rid of me that easily?” Nicodemus Archleone spoke in the dark cavern, fixing his slightly askew noose tie.
Desmond’s eyes went wide in fear, his gun raised, and then he just froze in terror. I knew how he felt because I was shaking just as hard as he was. Nicodemus was perhaps the greatest enemy we’d ever faced, and we’d killed him against all odds. But here he was, alive and well, walking right for Desmond; To kill him, or perhaps to force him back into the hell he’d only barely escaped. That thought is what brought me to my senses. The thought that even if it was Nick, that I would die a thousand deaths before I let him take Desmond again.
If it was Nick.
“You know what, Fetch? I’m glad you chose that form,” I snarled at the fae, “because you’ve given me the chance to do something I always wanted to do. INCINERATUS!!!!!!!!”
With a snap of my fingers I reached deep down inside myself to the small flickering flame that burned there; the same flame that I’d called on during the Blood Moon to burn Hamish McHale. I took the small flame and I poured my will into it, let the flame roar bright white, and then released it all over the Fetch. Less than a second after my fingers snapped the fae was engulfed in flame and burned away to ash and dust. I felt the ‘rubber band’ release of power as the Duke’s Mantle snapped back into the Nevernever. Inside, the flame burned slightly brighter.
Desmond still stood stalk still with his gun pointed at nothing. Fear was locking his gaze into a thousand yard stare, and I could see that my husband was shaking in his boots. I slowly walked up to him, put my hand on the shotgun’s barrel, and pushed down until Des lowered it.
“Hey,” I said softly and with love, “can I take this?”
Slowly, Desmond let got of the gun and I slung it safely over my shoulder. I reached out and hugged him, gently kissing his neck, and pulling him into a warm embrace. I didn’t need to say anything, because Desmond knew I understood, or at least understood as well as anyone could have, not having gone through it myself. I held him and just let him know I was there. It didn’t take him long to kiss me on the head and part from me with a nod of thanks.
We left China shortly after with dreams of Rocky Road ice cream floating through our heads.
- - -
The Balkans suck. Oh, and Bosnia may be the suckiest of all suck. Old worn out buildings, remnants of wars long past, and gypsies running all around who couldn’t curse their way out of a wet paper bag. On the plus side, it was also really lame having to set on the edge of a village and wait for a monster Duke to come and eat me. The plan was simple: Desmond was going to set up in a sniper perch using me as bait, and when the Duke showed up he was going to shoot it.
Of course, it didn’t end up that way. As I sat for hours getting cold and bored I watched as distant trees began to bend and sway. At first I thought the wind was picking up, but I quickly realized that I was being watched. No, I was being hunted. I began to peer into the woods when suddenly the foliage exploded, as the largest troll I had ever seen in my life came screaming right at me with a tree trunk in hand.
I immediately clicked my Veil Watch, disappearing from sight, and dove just far enough to avoid being crushed to death. I heard a shot ring out and a loud thump from the troll’s body. A solid hit. Then the troll spun around and buried his tree club into the house Desmond was in. As the rubble cleared I heard the gunfire of Des’ shotgun from inside the house. I decided to join in on the party. I shook out my magnetic bracelet, focused a ton of will on a nearby broken down car, and flung the massive steel projectile at the troll’s head. Turns out the troll was a baseball fan, because it whirled its tree-club back and slugged the vehicle right into the remains of Des’ sniper perch. I watched as Des dove from his building into the window of the building next door.
Still invisible, I reached out once more with my magnetic bracelet and launched a volkswagon at the troll’s head. Just as expected, the creature wound up to hit the car once more with its massive club, so at the last second I wrenched my arm down and sent the car sailing under the tree and into the Troll’s kneecap, causing the great creature to stumble to the earth. Des wasted no time leaping out and firing shell after shell into the creature’s skull.
It wasn’t long before I felt the thrum of the Duke’s mantle retuning to the Nevernever. Then it was time for the hard part of the crazy plan.
- - -
Getting Spring’s mantle back from Summer had been comparatively easy next to what we had planned for Autumn’s mantle in Winter. Titania was a terrifying ball of fae fury, but that didn’t make her completely unreasonable. I focused on her sense of forgiveness and fairness (and also sort of shoehorned Lord Puck into acting as Summer’s Emissary as a mirror to Joransidhe as Winter’s) and Desmond focused on touching my tits and reminding her what fun things men and women (even immortal fae) can do with one another. Ironically enough Desmond’s grab action worked the most on her, and after agreeing to have King Oberon come over and bang her senseless Titania released the Spring Mantle back to its court.
The Autumn mantle was something else entirely. Mab was keeping the mantle well guarded in a fortress that just so happened to lie in the middle of Winter in the Nevernever. Go figure, right? Assaulting anything owned by Queen Mab was near suicide, but I hoped that if we were quick enough we could get in and out with no trouble.
Well, little trouble.
Since trouble always finds us though, I decided on a back up plan. I won’t split hairs here, we went to Lopez and got a full suit of platemail for Desmond to wear (and ward off any angry fae) and then I gave him an endurance potion so he didn’t keel over in exhaustion after the first fifteen minutes of walking. I can’t say it was my most brilliant ‘ace in the sleeve’, but Desmond did look pretty darn cool in it, and any faerie trying to hurt Desmond would find themselves plenty hurt in the process from touching cold steel (read iron).
As Desmond and I made our way into Winter proper (him wearing what amounted to Plutonium for the fae, as armor) CoCo trailed quietly behind us with a faint smile on her face like she’d had during all of the near death experiences over the past few days. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the gates of the mantle’s fortress, which was guarded by two large ogres with large bronze spears.
Desmond, covered in steel with a shotgun in his hand, walked right up to them and said, “Ho there fellow ogres, I am the ogre known as Shrek, and I am bringing back prisoners.”
I face palmed on that one, but it did make me laugh.
“What do you think you are doing human?” one of the ogres asked as he brought his spear level with Desmond’s throat.
“He’s ducking!” I yelled as I threw the last of my high explosive fragmentation grenades at the ogres’ feet, and then hit the deck with Desmond.
The grenade exploded, sending metal shrapnel all over the ogres and the door they were guarding. The ogres howled in pain until Desmond put them down with buckshot. Behind them the faerie gate began to smolder as the pieces of cold iron bore into it. Desmond sped up the process by simply walking through the gate, melting it off of his steel armor. The gate opened to an empty courtyard, save a large tower that must of held the Autumn mantle.
I walked forward all front focused like I always do, but Desmond put a hand out to slow me, and pointed at the variety of tracks to be found all over the fortress’ snowy interior. Then Desmond spun around like a lightning bolt struck him and began firing his shotgun as fast as he could. I turned around to find a pack of malks not far behind us. Malks are pushovers alone, but in a pack they could take down prey much larger than themselves, and we were NOT much large than them. I focused my will, found that small spark inside me that had fueled my fire spells so well of late, and snapped my fingers.
INCINERATUS! I yelled as white hot flame leapt into life, incinerating nearly the whole pack of malks in one go. Once more, the little flame glowered brighter inside me, and not so little.
Which was good because from around the tower came two very large trolls swinging wooden clubs the size of Volkswagens. Desmond went full bore on one of them and even began punching the thing with his steel gauntlets. I saw Desmond causing mayhem just as I dodged out of the way of getting crushed to death myself. I pulled one of my warden swords and began swinging away at the troll’s legs and feet. Warden swords are items of power not to be underestimated, but they were still being swung by a relative amateur. I was getting better with them for sure, but another foot of height and a buck fifty extra in weight would have given me more benefit from the blades against the troll than any amount of training ever would.
I decided to play to my strengths, even if they didn’t play to the fae’s weaknesses. I pulled my focusing fan to hand and conjured up a monstrous blade of wind. CLEAVOS! I yelled as the impossibly sharp blade of air dug into the beast. He swung hard at my head, but my shielding spell turned the attack harmlessly off of me, if only just barely. I took the opportunity to dive under the troll and make an upwards blast of air with a cry of VERAMOUS! The gust of wind rocketed the troll’s club straight into its face, causing it to let out a howl of pain and fury. Trolls are very badly hurt by their own weapons, even when used on them in comical fashion.
One or two more shows of power felled my troll. That gave me enough time to see Desmond having his troll on the ropes, and gave me a stupid-awesome idea.
Stu – pid – awe – some
: Not intelligent, but expressive of awe :
: Not sensible or logical, but extremely good none the less :
I yelled out for Desmond to clench his body up into a ball (which he did with no question because our relationship and monster hunting team are both built on complete trust. Hell yeah kick ass relationships!) and then I yelled out VERAMOUS! as I turned Desmond into an oversized, steel billiard ball, and rammed him right into the troll’s head, snapping its neck. I immediately ran over to Desmond to find his bell rung, but his body mostly unharmed.
After a short minute of shaking out any concussions, Desmond and I entered the tower and walked up its stairs into a main chamber. The chamber was mostly barren, except for the man sized crystal of ice housing a glowing essence of power that could have only been the Autumn mantle. I pulled my warden sword once more (which was better at breaking enchantments than it was at killing things, which should say a lot about its enchantment breaking abilities) and I rested it on the top of the ice. I focused then, pouring my energy into my blade as well as my counter-magic ring, and I pushed down until the blade began cutting through the ice like a hot knife through butter. The second the Autumn mantle was exposed to the air it immediately snapped back to its rightful place in the Autumn court.
Then all hell broke loose.
As Desmond and I turned around to flee we found ourselves face to face with a being of unearthly beauty and grace. She was also sporting a look of unearthly rage and hate. Queen Mab had found us out, and we were going to die, eventually. Mab herself couldn’t kill us outright (due to our mortal status and her Queenliness) but that didn’t mean we were going to be any better off. Dead at Mab’s feet was a lot better than alive in her clutches.
Just as she was about to enact her fury the entirety of all the faerie courts (sans the Mothers and Fathers) appeared and started. . .bickering. Oberon and Titania. Faraday and Mab. Joranside, Puck, and the Ladies. All of them started acting out a drama of family dysfunction that rivaled anything Maury or Jerry Springer could come up with.
Just as I thought the whole thing was going to turn into a near-gods smack down I got a small telepathic message from Desmond.
Go with me on this Connie, I’ve watched a lot of day time television. I know what I’m doing.
“Would everyone just shut the fuck up, and calm down!” Desmond screamed, bringing the collective eyes and ire of the entirety of the fae courts on him. “I think we all need to sit down, and talk about the deep seated emotional issues we are dealing with here.”
And so Desmond and I (over a grueling fourteen hours that I was sure would have ended in our deaths) sat down, and played Dr. Phil and Oprah for eight of the most powerful beings in the universe. And I’ll be darned if it didn’t work like a charm. Things would never be perfect, but Autumn and Spring were getting their old power back, Des and I weren’t going to die, and the Grey Council had vast access across the Nevernever through Autumn and Spring.
Sure, Des and I sort of pissed off Oberon and Faraday by not taking up the mantles of Autumn Duke and Spring Duke (respectively). Sure, CoCo was a full Sidhe lady now, and while she’d always be my friend I’d never be able to trust her completely again. Sure, the victory I had won may not have been anywhere near enough to protect the people I loved from the war that was coming. But Des and I were alive, and for the time being we had our whole future before us.
We decided to kick back, open some beers, and watch the best of Jerry, Season 20. Can’t beat it.
Season’s Greetings from Buffalo,
Connie and Des <3