Rating for this section: PG-13
Pairing: Adam/Kris, others
In 1683 the first boat carrying fey landed in Virginia. Receiving ill welcome from the young American colonies, most of the passengers and the ones who followed after chose to go west, eventually establishing the new kingdom of Western Faerie in the Pacific Northwest. Distrust of Faerie persisted in the east and traveled outwards as the United States
and its ally, the Kingdom of Texas, spread west into the lands bordering those claimed by the fey.
Two years ago Kris Allen, lost to himself after a bitter three-year war, answered a newspaper ad and headed west to the chaotic borderland known as South California. He'd hoped, in a land with no loyalties, he could find respite from his own divided nature. What he found was something else.
Kris sat at an out of the way table, nursing his second beer. Anoop had been singing for about a half-hour now. He didn’t think he’d have much longer to wait.
Kris had been coming to Giraud’s for a while now. When he’d first come to LA, his music had been so tied up with everything he’d been trying to leave behind he hadn’t even wanted to look at his guitar. But then Lil had dragged him out here for moral support when she’d decided to sing at one of their open mike nights. Kris had liked the atmosphere and had been coming a few times a month ever since.
Anoop had started performing about six months ago. He had a mellow, layered vocal style that Kris usually enjoyed listening to, but it wasn’t his music that had drawn Kris here tonight.
He waived to the waitress to bring another round. He’d told Allison he was following a lead. He’d arranged it for a night when she’d have to stay at the Embassy to keep an eye on Adam. He wasn’t entirely sure she’d approve of his line of investigation for the night and he thought it best to go solo on this one. It helped that keeping her occupied meant the same for Adam. What Allison’s reaction might be was a question, but Kris knew damn well Adam would be angry if he knew what Kris was up to.
Anoop slipped into the seat opposite Kris. “What’s up, man? Matt said you wanted to see me.”
“I need your professional opinion on something.”
Anoop’s graduate research was in the new urban legends that sprang up in the buffer zones between the wild fey lands and the ones controlled by humans. Folklore wasn’t precisely what Kris was interested in, but if anyone in his acquaintance had any of the information he wanted, Anoop was it.
Anoop blinked in surprise. “You’re having an anthropological emergency? That has to be a first.”
Kris settled back in his chair and aimed for casual. “Do you know of a Sidhe named Baraz?”
Anoop jolted half out of his chair. “Baraz? Shit, Kris, what the hell have you gotten into?”
“Lil charmed a big donation out of Prince Ailill at some soiree she went to last week. Baraz brought the check over a few days ago. Let’s just say he made an impression.” Kris didn’t like lying to Anoop, but he liked the idea of getting Anoop involved in the rest of it even less.
Anoop settled back into his chair. “Yeah, that makes sense. I heard Ailill tends to be pretty involved with his charity projects. Baraz was probably just making sure you’re legit before he let his pet prince have anything to do with you.”
“I’m guessing you have heard of him, then,” Kris said, trying not to react to the “pet prince” bit.
“Yeah—I mean everyone’s heard of him. The problem is we don’t know anything about him, not for certain. Even by Sidhe standards his background is pretty fuzzy.”
Kris drew a circle in the condensation left by his beer glass. “Can you tell me anything I should know?”
Anoop shrugged. “All we know is the rest of them are afraid of him. Or not afraid of him—more like in awe of him. Like he’s the fey version of George Washington or something. As far as we can tell, he doesn’t have any lands of his own, but they all treat him like he’s one of their most powerful lords. Hell, we don’t even think his real name is Baraz. We think he came to America from the fey kingdom in northern Iran about two centuries ago, but that’s just a guess.”
“That’s all you have on him?”
Anoop frowned. “There might be something—I mean, I think it’s completely crazy, but my advisor thinks he might be the Wandering Prince.”
That didn’t sound too promising. “You’re going to have to help me out here.”
“The Wandering Prince is like the story—the one a lot of the other stories are based on. Like King Arthur and Troy and half the quest stories and even the Bible—you can find pieces of all of them in there.”
Anoop paused and gave him a skeptical look. “Are you sure you want to hear this? Like I said, it’s pretty out there.”
“It sounds like it,” Kris said, although he had a sinking feeling it wasn’t so crazy after all. “But protecting that place is my job, and if this guy’s some fey version of Dracula I need to hear about it.”
Anoop shook his head. “No, not Dracula. It’s been a while since I’ve studied it, but I can tell you the broad points.”
Kris made a vague gesture for him to continue.
“The way the Sidhe tell it, back in the beginning the world was a bigger place and we could travel to lands lost to us now. One of these lands was the place where the sun went to rest every night after its journey across the sky. They called it the Summerlands. It was like the fey garden of Eden. Back then fey and humans lived together in harmony and they worked together to create a great city full of learning and art.”
“The Prince lived in this city?” Kris said.
“Yeah, he ruled it,” Anoop said. “One day he met with a delegation from the neighboring human kingdom who’d come looking for suitors for their princess. The Prince took one look at her portrait and was supposed to be stricken mad with love for her.
“But a princess that beautiful gets a lot of suitors. Seven kings besides the Prince sought her hand. So her father sent them on quests all over the earth—to the edge of the great sea to capture a fallen star, to fetch a perfect apple from the tree of life, that sort of thing. After seven years of unimaginable toil, the Prince was the only one who’d endured and he was given his princess at last.”
Anoop paused to drink from his beer.
“I’m guessing they didn’t get to happily ever after,” Kris said.
“No,” Anoop said. “They were only supposed to have had a few years together. When the Prince was off on a hunting expedition, a group of bandits attacked the city and killed the princess. The Prince avenged her but couldn’t bear to return to his city and went out into the human world. But while he was gone, a human army took advantage of his absence to attack the city, killing or capturing everyone who lived in his lands. The Summerlands were so grieved they closed their gates to all but the Prince, who now rules an empty stone city full of ghosts.
“The Sidhe say that one day the Summerlands will relent and open their gates again. They think that on that day the Prince will lead them away from this world and all that has been lost will be returned to them.”
Kris frowned. He’d known he wasn’t going to like this story. “You’re right, that does sound a little crazy.”
Anoop shrugged one shoulder. “Yeah, mythology like that is not really my area, but I can’t think what a dude like that would be doing living in LA.”
Kris tried on a smile. “Probably not handing out checks to human charities. Doesn’t sound like it’s something I should worry about.”
“Look, Baraz was probably just marking his territory. Rumor in the department is that Baraz has been bargaining with Eilín for years for our fair prince’s hand.”
Wait, wait, what? “They’re engaged?”
“Not yet anyway,” Anoop said. “Not that we know why, but Ailill is something special to them—I mean more than just the fact that he’s royalty. I guess the competition is pretty fierce. It could explain why Baraz is so possessive.”
Anoop turned and signaled for another round. “Is that all you wanted to know?”
It wasn’t, not by a long shot, but Kris thought asking anything more would look suspicious. “Yeah. Thanks.”
Anoop leaned forward. “So, what did you think about the chord changes in the Lauper piece?”
“It was an interesting choice. I think I liked it, though,” Kris said, struggling to drag his mind back to Anoop’s set.
Anoop nodded enthusiastically. “I think I’m going back to Bobby Brown next week.”
Kris groaned. “No, just no.”
“I have to. It’s what the people want.”
“I think your polling methods might be a little flawed.”
“No, man,” Anoop said, laughing. “It’ll be epic.”
Kris listened to Anoop’s dubious explanation of how New Jack Swing was due for a comeback. He usually enjoyed talking music with Anoop, but it was hard to keep his head in the conversation.
He needed to talk to Allison. Soon.
The theme of the party seemed to be the Scarlet Pimpernel meets the apocalypse. Adam stood there in his brocade waistcoat and immaculate hose and breeches patiently enduring the final attentions of the small army devoted to his appearance. One knelt in front of him, frowning direly at the giant bows on his clunky heeled shoes, while a pixie pulled his blue-streaked hair into even higher spikes. There was another unidentified bony wisp of a thing carefully drawing silver spikes around the three sapphires they’d glued in an arc high on his right cheekbone and a fourth was fussing with the elaborate tie of his cravat.
Watching Adam getting ready for an event was something of a spectator sport. Kris chose a spot on the divan and observed the entire process with slightly boggled amusement. He couldn’t really complain about the view. He was definitely developing an altogether new appreciation for the fit of well tailored breeches. He might also have to reconsider his thoughts on cravats. There were a few girls from back in high-school whom he definitely understood much better now.
Adam’s black leather brocade jacket was still being worked on by the new designer of the hour. Kris supposed it probably shouldn’t be a shock when Adam introduced minor celebrities as old friends but it took some getting used to. Cassidy at least seemed remarkably low key for Hollywood.
Cassidy finally gave up on whatever he was doing to Adam’s futuristic frock coat thing and condescended to have Adam model it for him. The leather clung very nicely to the broad planes of Adam’s back, but even Kris could see the high collar was uneven. Cassidy sighed in violent despair and wrenched it off again.
Adam dismissed the fluttering crowd around him and took a seat next to Kris. He looked, as always when it came to these affairs, like half a stranger. His eyes seemed bigger and more mysterious under all the makeup and the black beauty mark someone had pasted near his red-painted mouth was really very distracting.
Adam looked longingly at the beer in Kris’s hand. “They never have any food at these things,” he said. “I think they really do believe that faeries live on raindrops and glitter.”
“You want?” Kris said, offering Adam a sip.
“I’ll ruin my make-up,” Adam said, sighing. He looked a lot more deflated than Kris would have expected after two hours of playing dress up. He plucked disconsolately at the frothy lace flowing down to his fingertips and then sighed again.
“You look nice,” Kris said. Nice didn’t really begin to describe it, but Kris didn’t think they’d actually invented a word for Adam yet, so it would have to do.
“You think so?” Adam perked up. He gave Kris a long sideways look. “You could come, you know. I’m sure we could find an extra coat for you somewhere.”
“Fuck that,” Cassidy yelled from across the room. “You can get that thought out of your head right now. If he goes with you he’ll end up with his picture in all the papers and I don’t want people thinking I’m responsible for that thing he’s wearing right now.” He looked up and gave Kris a broad wink. “It’s not that I wouldn’t like to get my hands on that body, but I don’t have the mental energy right now to whip up something not completely hideous. Genius takes time.”
“I have plans with Allison, anyway,” Kris said. “There’s some movie she wants to see.”
They were not actually seeing a movie, but telling Adam their real agenda would probably be nothing short of disastrous.
“You’re stealing Allison from me, too? All of my favorite people are abandoning me.” Adam flopped against the back of the couch and pouted fantastically.
“Poor little prince,” Cassidy said. “Your life is so difficult.”
“You could ditch,” Kris said, nudging Adam’s knee with his foot.
Adam’s head popped up. “Seriously?”
“No,” Cassidy said. “Not seriously. Do you know how much of my life is in this coat?”
“Yes seriously,” Kris said, throwing a quelling look at Cassidy. “Come out with us. Someone needs to buy the popcorn—might as well be you.”
It would throw a real wrench in their plans, but it might be worth it. Adam had been tense and unhappy about all Embassy affairs since the night with Inir. It wasn’t hard to figure out why, but Kris didn’t enjoy watching it.
“I probably shouldn’t,” Adam said, face crinkling.
“Look, beautiful,” Cassidy said, frowning. “You don’t want to go, don’t go. You can wear this to the ball next week—or, hell, never. I don’t care. I don’t need my favorite muse losing his sparkle.”
“I couldn’t disappoint people. Noblesse oblige and all that,” Adam said, sighing. He stood up and straightened the lines of his waistcoat. “Is the coat finished?”
Cassidy fitted him back into the jacket. He frowned at it again, but whatever he’d just done seemed to have worked because the collar was straight. Adam picked up a silver-handled cane and struck a few poses in the mirror.
“You know you look amazing,” Cassidy said, though it was with a smile. “You can stop preening now.”
He did—look amazing that is. Just extravagant and ridiculous and gorgeous all at once.
“My compliments on your work, Mr. Haley,” Baraz said from the doorway. “You have outdone yourself.”
Baraz crossed the room to Adam looking like he’d just stepped out of an 18th century drawing room. Knowing Baraz, the entire thing had probably been woven by actual 18th century French artisans from silk that had been grown in the fey kingdom of eastern Ch’in and transported to Europe by unicorns. The deep blue of his outfit complimented Adam’s black and silver without being obvious about it—as he had no doubt planned.
Kris tried to see if he could look at Baraz and see this immortal legend Anoop had told him about, but Baraz just exuded the same unruffled perfection he always did.
Baraz made a small adjustment of the diamond clustered pin in the center of Adam’s cravat, instantly making the whole thing look better. The gesture had the easy intimacy of long familiarity—the kind of familiarity someone like a fiancée would feel entitled to.
“Thank you,” Adam said, smiling at Baraz. Kris told himself he wasn’t going to be irritated that it was Adam’s first real smile of the afternoon.
“I look forward to rejoining you at Lady Abdul’s gathering,” Baraz said to Cassidy. Cassidy took the dismissal for what it was and made his exit, though not without a final considering look at Adam.
“Mr. Haley was correct,” Baraz said. “If you do not desire to attend tonight’s festivities, there is no reason to compel yourself. I have told you before, it is for them to conform themselves to your will, not the reverse.”
Adam grimaced. “If the media is going to call me a diva, I’d rather it be for reasons they fabricated. It’ll confuse them if they have to report the truth after all this time.”
He turned to Kris. “Are you sure you’ll be all right with Allie? I hate to just leave you here.”
“I’ve lived in this city for a while, you know. I think I can handle going to the movies.”
The assessing look Baraz gave Kris was tinged at its edges by a palpable amusement. “Mr. Allen has proven himself capable in the past. I anticipate no problems from his plans for the evening.”
Adam gave the lace at his cuffs one final fluff. “We should probably be going then.”
A crowd of fey awaited them in the hallway, each wearing increasingly bizarre variations on Adam’s ensemble. Adam took the hand of his escort for the evening—a tawny Sidhe boy decked out in a leather and lace ballgown and a tall purple Marie Antoinette wig. Kris watched while the entire bright company got into honest to God carriages and road off down the drive.
He found Allison back in Adam’s suite as expected. That was about all that was expected.
Allison wore a short fringy emerald green dress whose plunging neckline only managed to look semi-reasonable by how low the dress dipped in the back.
“I’m guessing there’s a coat that goes with that?” Kris said.
Allison rolled her eyes, which was about what he’d been expecting. “If anyone’s wardrobe needs work, it’s yours, cowboy. We’re going to The Sithen, not an all you can eat barbecue.”
She stalked over to Adam’s wardrobe and sifted through the clothes that had been left there for him.
“Does Adam seem a little off to you?” he asked.
She pulled out a pair of dark jeans and a black long sleeved shirt and threw it at him. “I think everything’s just starting to get to him. Having to distrust everyone he knows isn’t really in his nature.”
The shirt had a subtle silver glint in the weave and was slightly see-through, but it looked better on than he’d have anticipated.
Allison tapped her foot and gave him a once over. “You look more like Adam’s boyfriend than mine, but it’ll have to do.”
“You think Adam would like this?”
But she just rolled her eyes at him again. “Boys. You’re lucky you’re pretty.”
On that encouraging note, she led the way to her car. It looked like a classic Mustang, but instead of turning on the ignition Allison just told it the address of their destination and the car started driving down the drive on its own.
“Do all faerie cars do that?” Kris asked, clutching at the door handle.
Allison shrugged. “Pretty much. The fey up north appreciate human technology but they don’t really get it. We have TV and computers and stereos and all that like you do, but it just runs on magic.”
“Were you able to find out anything this week?” Kris asked, hoping the car at least wasn’t being monitored.
“I watched Baraz’s office like you asked,” she said, looking conflicted. “He met with the staff a bunch of times and a couple of messengers from the Queen.”
“And?” Kris said, knowing there was more.
“Lord Cowell came twice and he wasn’t happy when he left,” she said, deflated. “But I still think you’re wrong about Baraz. It just couldn’t be him. I don’t believe it.”
“And I don’t think we can afford to trust him.”
Allison sank down into her seat, as unhappy as when he’d first asked her to keep an eye on Baraz.
Kris didn’t really enjoy pushing her on this but she was the only help he had. “Can you tell me what his relationship with Adam is?”
“You’ll have to ask Adam about that,” she said.
He sighed. “Allison.”
But she shook her head. “I just don’t know, all right? None of us do, really. Baraz does what Baraz wants and it’s always been useless to figure out why. He came down here when Adam first moved into the Embassy. Adam’s pretty young for a prince and the others try to take advantage of that sometimes—you’ve seen it. Baraz, well, he made things a lot easier just by siding with Adam on a lot of things and I know Adam’s pretty grateful to him for it.”
Which told him something about where Adam’s head was on Baraz but, as per usual, not a damn thing about Baraz himself.
The car swung through the theater district, the bright displays outside each theater as blinding as ever.
And there, on a giant billboard announcing the upcoming Shakespeare revival was a familiar swoop of blonde hair. But it couldn’t be . . . it just couldn’t.
The car whipped around a corner and the display fell out of sight. Kris settled back into his seat, almost certain he was imagining things. There were a thousand blondes in LA. There was no way it could be her. His mother would have told him, surely.
The car slid smoothly into a parking space and Kris had to pull his thoughts into the present. He didn’t think they were going to get a second chance at this.
The Sithen was new, expensive and in demand. And it had been in a dark alley just behind the place on his way to a discrete waiting car that Adam and his friends had been grabbed.
Kris sidled up beside Allison in the long line waiting for the door.
Allison slid an arm around his waist and he tightened up, entirely unsure of where to put his hands.
“You’re supposed to be my boyfriend, not my out of town cousin,” Allison hissed.
“Just tell me ‘big brother Adam’ doesn’t actually know how to turn people into frogs and I’ll be fine,” Kris said, at last finding what he hoped was an inoffensive spot on her shoulder to put his hand.
“Adam knows that I’m an adult,” Allison said. At his continued awkwardness she heaved a sigh. “I’m 21 okay? Completely legal even in that backwards country you come from. And no, Adam doesn’t turn people into frogs. Although if you wanted to punch that creep behind us, I think I could manage to be okay with that.”
Kris glared over his shoulder at the mouth breather lurking about two inches behind Allison. Allison giggled into Kris’s neck as the guy backed off in panic and all of a sudden standing there with her wasn’t nearly so awkward.
More than half of those in line were turned away at the door, but Allison got them in with a flirtatious smile and a quick press of bills into the bouncer’s hand.
“The bartender who was here that night is supposed to be up on the second level tonight,” Allison said, pulling at his hand.
Allison wanted to head right over to the bar, but Kris kept them on the dance floor, wary of being watched. The guy they were interested was fey and not of a type Kris encountered before. He looked mostly like what would happen if someone took rain water and pressed it into human shape. He moved behind the bar with the same flippant competence Kris had become accustomed to since coming out here, but there still seemed something jittery about him. After about a half-hour, a new bartender appeared and the fey they were interested in slipped out a side door.
Kris pulled Allison after, singing a few quick bars of an unlocking spell before pushing through the side door and out onto a fire escape.
The fey looked up, startled. “Don’t you read? Employees only.”
“We’re not here for a drink,” Allison said.
His features flowed into something angrier as he backed up a step. “Hey, I told the other ones. I don’t know anything else.”
“There were others?” Kris asked.
“Yeah, those fuckers from up on the hill already came down here, throwing their weight around. I’m telling you what I told them—I don’t know jack about any spell that went down here that night.”
“You’re lying,” Allison said. “You’re the one who told them to check out the back alley.”
“I just don’t want any trouble,” the fey said.
“And we’re not trying to make any for you,” Kris said, trying to project reassurance. “We just want some information.”
The fey looked back and forth between them. “And then you’ll go?”
“And then we’ll go.” Kris nodded at Allison. He’d shown her a few images from his memories of the night Adam had been taken. It had taken him an hour to cast the spell to dredge them up, but Allison recreated them with just a wave of her hand.
She flipped through the images one by one.
“Wait, that guy. They asked about him, too.” It was the man who’d wielded the knife. “He was here a few times talking to some Sidhe kid.”
The fey made a gesture of his own and a hazy image of Inir appeared.
“Show him the rest of them,” Kris said. Kris thought they were going to get through the rest without anything useful, but the fey told Allison to stop at the end and go through the last few images again.
“That one,” the fey said, pointing to Kris’s memory of one of the border guards. “He was here another night I think. But he wasn’t talking to a Sidhe.”
He gestured again and this time the image was of a brownie. The face wasn’t familiar, but the tense, brittle anger in his expression was.
“You recognize him?” Kris asked Allison.
“No,” she said, “but I have his image now.”
“I gave you something new,” the fey said. “And now you’re gonna let me go, right?”
“Just one more thing,” Kris said. “This fire escape – does it go down to the back alley?”
Kris stepped aside as the fey pushed back inside.
“I think that brownie might be from out east,” Kris said. “From the border, I mean.”
She nodded. “There have been a lot of them out here the last few years. They aren’t welcome up north and the human lands aren’t safe for them. I’ve learned to recognize the look.”
She put a hand on his arm. “You were in the war, weren’t you? We’ve learned to recognize that look, too.”
He nodded and let her give him a quick hug.
“I hate to ask,” she said. “I know Adam wouldn’t want me to, but if I gave you a copy of the image do you think you could ask your old contacts to see if anyone knows him?”
“They weren’t really concerned with who they were fighting so long as they died,” Kris said. “But yeah, I’ll ask.”
He followed her down the ladder to the alley below. He thought he’d have fallen to his death in those heels, but she just scampered down with typical fey indifference to things like gravity.
Sometimes it was really hard not to resent them just a little.
They spent a good while searching, although Kris wasn’t really expecting to find much. It had been close to two months now and Baraz would probably have disrupted most traces of any spell in his own search even putting aside the possibility he’d deliberately obliterated them to obscure his own tracks.
The place still gave off an aura of subtle rot, a scratching feeling at the back of his head that told him something very wrong had happened here.
“Kris,” Allison said, “I think you better come over here.”
She stood in the darkest corner of the alley, far away from the dim light over the back entrance to the club or from the more general glow from the main street.
He crossed over to her but didn’t immediately see what had caught her attention. She took his hand and then he felt it; the faintest brush of winter and the slide of old hatred across his skin.
“There’s only one thing that leaves that kind of signature,” Allison said. “A Shadow.”
“Baraz didn’t mention anything about a Shadow. You’d think that would have been the first thing he’d find.” Adam was with Baraz right now. He’d been alone in that carriage with him, just that pretty toy for company. Kris should never have let him go anywhere without Allison at least.
But she shook her head. “Baraz probably couldn’t have sensed it and he’s much too arrogant to think to ask for help. The Sidhe think their magic is stronger than everyone’s, but even they have their limits.” She raised a hand and fire danced along her finger tips. “The Shadows are made from Midwinter. Some of us are more sensitive to the absence of heat than others.”
“The Shadows are mercenaries, right? We already know whoever’s behind this is willing to hire out some pretty ugly magic. I don’t know how much this tells us.”
“You don’t understand,” she said. “The Shadows—they can go to the Embassy because it exists half in Faerie. Them coming here? It should be impossible.”