A gentle drizzle left a light dewy web on their hair and picked softly over their phone screen. They pulled the sleeve of their sweater down over their hand in an attempt to rub it dry, but that just made wet streaks across the screen. 23:05 – they’d missed the last train back. They sighed, stuffing their phone back in their pocket and considered their options.
Walking was out of the question. There were no busses running this late. They could shift, but it was always so draining. Wasn’t there one of the Aes Sídhe clubs nearby on St Mary’s? They could always take one of their tunnels back, but that meant dealing with the fae, which was… less than ideal. Drake glanced over their shoulder back at the castle, with its warm, dry rooms.
Esyllt was walking towards them, huddling her arms against the cold.
“Wait up,” she called, her voice echoing through the shadowy barbican.
“S’alright, not going anywhere anyway. Missed the train.”
“Just stay here,” Esyllt offered as if the choice were obvious.
“Look, I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Couldn’t have stopped me back inside?” They asked, “Instead of traipsing out here after me in the cold and wet?”
“Didn’t want anyone to hear,” Esyllt hovered inside the archway of the barbican, keeping herself dry.
“Let’s have it, then.”
“One of my friends has gone missing.”
“Oh yeah?” Drake stepped into the shadow and leaned against the opposite barbican wall. The rain gathered on the portcullis above and dripped steadily onto their shoulder in an insistent rhythm.
“Sarah. Haven’t heard from her in a few days and… That’s not like her.”
“What do her clan say?”
“Oh, she’s…” Esyllt shifted uncomfortably. “She’s not… She’s human.”
Drake arched a brow. His sister, fraternising with the lowly serfs? Wonders never ceased.
“Right,” They offered tentatively. “And you know her how?”
“That’s not important,” Esyllt straightened her posture. “We speak regularly and she’s just dropped off the radar. It’s not like her. Can you… you know, with your thing…”
“My ‘thing’? You mean my PI business?” Drake asked.
“Yeah. Can you look into it?”
Esyllt had always treated him with a kindness and respect that the rest of their family would not. She didn’t seem to mind that they were a lowly drake sullying the family’s good name. Whatever had happened to her friend though, it probably had an entirely mundane explanation and would be a grand waste of their time.
“Please?” She pleaded.
“Yeah, all right. Send me her info, address and family and stuff. Whatever you know about her. Be thorough.”
“Thanks, Rhun,” She stepped towards them and squeezed their arm, and then stalked off back towards the castle, leaving them once more with the conundrum of how to get home.
Deal with the fairies, or stay at their ancestral home and possibly run into their parents once or twice more before they got to leave again the morning? Their father would probably insist they stay in the servant’s quarters than get their ‘impure filth’ on the good bedding.
They pulled up their collar and jogged across the road, heading for St Mary’s street.
Drake steeled themselves on the club’s threshold, taking a few deep breaths and then letting them out slowly. A group of drunk youngsters swaggered past, tripping over the curb and bubbling laughter at each other’s ineptitude. They saw Drake but didn’t pay any heed; to them, Drake looked like another over-indulger finding their purchase on an empty patch of stone wall.
Lifting their chin and squaring their shoulders, Drake muttered “Daoine maithe, lig dom pas a fháil.” As if it had always been there, Drake now stood before a pair of ornate doors fashioned from curling ivy, as if wrought iron itself had been compelled to become the creeping, twisting plant with its tendrils wound in filigree tracery.
The doors swung open, and with a cursory glance from the two sturdy doorkeepers, they were allowed to pass.
Instantly the smell hit them; a cloying concoction of pollen and musk designed especially to muddle the senses. Drake’s draconic ancestry allowed them to remain mercifully unaffected by the mind-altering mist that coiled in iridescent wisps around the room, but without the magical effect accompanying it, the smell presented as nothing more than a sickly-sweet annoyance.
Pastel rainbow lights danced slow circles around the buzzing room, highlighting the intricately carved wooden chairs and tables, the bar that wound almost fully around the huge space, and the spiralling staircase that led to the mezzanine where pearly-skinned sylphs gyrated to the heady music.
Drake pushed across the busy floor to the bar and waited for a tender. A creature with a mess of green-brown hair decorated with sticks and bits of fern turned her attention to him, her almond eyes huge and oily black against her sage-coloured skin.
“Rhun Craig-Caled,” The corners of her lips twitched. “What brings the lordling to our neck of the woods?”
They had mistakenly rested their hands on the bar, and the nymph reached out and traced her fingertips across their skin, leaving silvery patterns and a vague tingling sensation in her wake. They drew their hands back sharply.
“Need to use your tunnels,” Drake said, rubbing the backs of their hands on their jeans to shake the feeling. “How much?”
The nymph feigned hurt at her rejected attentions and jutted a dark green lower lip in Drake’s direction. “More, now,” She whined. “Should have played nice, lordling.”
“Fine,” They shrugged and turned away, heading for the door.
“No, wait!” The nymph squealed at their back. “If passage does the lordling seek, then passage will the lordling keep! Free of charge.”
Drake paused, turned their head back slightly.
“Free of charge for the lordling, a special gift from the King,” She crooned.
Nothing from faeries was ever free. The fact that the King was mentioned could only mean that Finn Veara wanted something from them, some favour to be called in at a later date. They didn’t much like being indebted to the fae, but they were all out of spoons from family nonsense and really, *really* eager to get home.
“Fine,” Drake turned back to the bar. “Lead the way.”
The nymph skipped lightly to the end of the bar, holding her hand in the air for Drake to follow. She led him along a hallway at the back of the room, past closed doors from which scents even more saccharine and doubtless more toxic seeped, and held back a curtain woven of moss and tiny white flowers for Drake to pass through. They ducked under the curtain into a room floored with grass, where a circle of yellow-capped mushrooms framed a hole in the ground and a steep slope that descended quickly into darkness.
“Think of a place, familiar face, count one two three, and there ye’ll be! Taisteal sciobtha! the nymph trilled behind them, and then dropped the curtain and left them alone in the room.
Drake formed a mental picture of their cozy living room in their mind, and stepped down into the darkness.