Fae Courts Hounds & Horns

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Again, Nairth waved aside the indiscretion from Curcurbita. That he recognized Nairth as the King was purely thanks to deduction. The seemingly-cursed Fae would see Nairth wearing a crown or sitting upon a throne and was able to put two-and-two together. Curcurbita wasn't an unintelligent man by any means, merely an afflicted one.

"If it's all the same to you Curcurbita, I'd like to change topics for a moment..." They had talked so much of Nairth's admittedly interesting plus one for this event, that the questions lingering in The King's own mind had gone rather unanswered. Instead, his heavy gaze now fell entirely upon Solenne. The longer he lingered in her presence, the more he was certain she had the scent of Spring about her. So why had he no knowledge of her? "What of you, Solenne? What is your story? I'm infinitely curious..."

Before she'd have a chance to answer, Nairth's attention was again stolen.

Familiar notes began to play through the air, a new song playing in place of the one that had just ended. He knew the notes well; long had they been embedded into his heart. Upon hearing them, San'Seya's face softens, his lips part into a soft smile as though seeing an old friend he'd missed for ages.

"The Tower in the Mist... It's my favorite. Such a lovely tale it weaves..." Slowly Nairth rises from his seat, and takes a step towards those dancing in the open field, before turning back to Solenne. He knew not this woman, held not the trust he usually wished for in his partners, but...

He extended a hand nonetheless.

"The dance must be done with a pair. Would you honor me, Solenne?"

Solenne Curcurbita
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Solenne grinned as attention was brought to the music, the notes falling after each other in a way that would entrance one to move to it's sound. She did not realise at first that the King asked for her hand, an invitation to dance catching her by surprise.

Her rust coloured eyes widened, but her hand found his all the same. "Here I thought you would ask your friend." She grinned, shooting Curcurbita a mischievous smile. As soon as her hand was warmed by Nairth's, he gently guided her to the dedicated dance floor where few had begun dancing, and now more followed suit at the new sound.

Her footwork was terrible, but none paid attention to her lack of experience. She set her peculiar coloured eyes up to the duannan, ensuring that he caught her stare before smiling. "You wanted to know my story?" She asked, echoing the question he had asked originally before the muse of dance overtook him.

"It's awfully morbid." She explained, almost tripping on his foot. "I was turned away from my people for being different, you see? I was seen as an omen. My family all have fair hair, and yet I was born with hair like this." The purest of blacks cascaded loosely at her back, her wings protruding out from the silken waterfall. The way the autumnal leaves clung to her hair looked as if she had fallen into a pile, but they all stayed within the ebony locks.

"And you, King of Spring Court. A story from you?" Solenne inquired, doing her best to follow his lead with the dance.

Nairth San'Seya
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"How odd of a feeling it is to want to finish this dance quickly, but also to never end so that I could remember this moment." Confident enough now with the footwork, she stepped in closer towards him, leaning her head back enough to peer up at him without straining her neck too much. "Why have I never seen you at past functions when we resided in the Night Court?"

"Of course, I would be delighted to go for a little turn," Paetr said. He was all eyes and teeth as he smiled down at her. The hand at her shoulder blade drew her just a little closer than the waltz typically demanded.

"I would normally go and ask for your brother's permission," he whispered, "but he seems far too engaged to interrupt."

He bloody well wouldn't have even if Saang was stood at the edge of the dance floor being an attentive chaperone.

"This moment will have happened, no matter how long it lasts. Although a good dance never ends too quickly."

Another turn and more space opened up between them to allow freedom of movement. Such a shame. If they could be out of sight of the advisors and siblings they could be just a little closer. Not that he would do anything that would truly upset brother Saang.

"I'm sure you just didn't notice me. Ha. No, that is not likely. I am fighting the long war, it takes me away from many events I usually adore."

At a break in the music, he took her hand.

"Shall we?"
"Of course, Highness, Lady Solenne."
Curcurbita excused himself as was his place.
Slinking back to the twilight's edge of the party, seen but not noticeable. He stood still and watched the hall bloom into life.
The more he watched the more he knew this was not for him and he began to feel greatly unwelcome despite the royal invitation and permission. Such fairness there was and he, a grotesque weed among flowers of such splendor it would make him weep, if only he could.
Around his form, his stick thin frailty he hid within the cloak of leaves he wore.
Everywhere he looked there was the joy of life in one way or another. His gaze trailed upward to the Stag, the King of Winter himself and he wondered if such an ancient and noble being might have some insight as to his curse.
He was forbidden to ask for help directly but he was free to wonder.
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Wrongtoe, the holder of the record for fastest expulsion from the Redcap Academy and only goblin for whom it is illegal to carry on them rubber bands, allowed Signe to pat their head.
They didn't even flinch at this display of casual affection.
"Raahhh, baggadda gaga!"
*You're alright for a tall dink!"
For goblins, the best compliments were always backhanded.
They looked to show Ianthe this most splendid of terrible offerings but they were slapping someone. Which was fair. Wrongtoe never knew Ianthe to slap anyone who didn't deserve it
Especially since "everyone should be given a big slap now and then" was one of the cornerstones of their friendship.
So back to Signe they looked and smiled widely and began to hop with excitement as they remembered the bargain they made.
"Droobliks pump-a-rump!"
*Let's knock something over!*
Ianthe glanced down at her dress and by doing so almost tripped over the ridiculous shoes the sisters had made her wear. The unusual shade of crimson flushed her cheeks as she was forced to grab a hold of Saang or faceplant the floor.

"I told your sisters this dress was ridiculous," she all but spat. She should have just come in her usual garb, or not at all. Even worse was that she had dragged Wrongtoe into the whole shambolic affair. She had laughed earlier at their misery in the same way they would have laughed at her for losing a toe or finger earlier but now she was beginning to feel the unusual emotion of guilt. Nobody should have to suffer this kind of... of... Well Ianthe didn't know the word for 'posh shit'.

"I know I look ridiculous."
Glancing to where Saang was, now occupied by the wretched lady that ruined her hardwork of a dress, she turned her green gaze back to Paetr. "We do not need to interrupt him." She answered and helped guide them both away from the dancing, so that they could stop by the edges of the growing couples joining for the new song.

Seryn could not bring herself to pull away from him so soon, but with her hand held fastly in his, she moved to stand by his side and brought her free hand to lightly hold his arm and follow his lead to wherever it was he intended to show her.

"Fighting in the war must be a terrible thought. I know our Mother frets over Saang. As do his sisters." And now, it was too foolish of her to even admit to herself that she would now think of Paetr when he would return to the battlefield. Perhaps she could send him a letter? A treasure of her thoughts written onto parchment for him to remember her by...

If he even wanted a reminder! Seryn's cheeks bloomed in a soft pink.

Signe didn’t understand the backhanded compliment. She had very little idea what Wrongtoe was saying but she felt that pull to complete her bargain. Her smile faltered and she sighed. She looked across the hall to where the fairy statue was. She saw Seryn and Paetr leaving the dance floor, thinking little of it as her attention was quickly brought to Saang and Ianthe dancing together. Copper brows raised up in brief surprise before settling low over her eyes. She didn’t realize she was frowning.

She felt lonely. Those three words weren’t expressive enough for this wound that she couldn’t explain. She hadn’t realized it was there until much later when she had preferred idle naps in her room to the company of her sisters. It must have been there before then, even before realizing that dancing felt like a chore.

Time to break the dancing fairy statue.” Signe said, the smile back as she glanced back down to Wrongtoe. She glided with ease across the hall, still refusing to step on the fallen leaves. “You’re lucky, Wrongtoe, that I am the sort of woman who doesn’t mind getting into a little bit of trouble.” There was a hint of mischief in her smile now as they came to the winter fairy statue.

It was a beautiful piece of art, the hair looking very natural as if the statue had been frozen while spinning. She looked down at the stone thorns around the dainty feet. Her feet were ruined, days upon days over the many centuries making areas of her feet rough even when she healed. It was why she was never barefoot without a glamor but the imperfection was worth it. At least it had been at one point, a symbol of her hardwork and passion despite being crazy enough to dance when it had been frowned upon.

I’m actually a bit of a free spirit.” Signe didn’t have the sense to look over her shoulder to make sure no one was watching. She lifted her foot out of her slipper, planting her heel firmly against the head of the statue. “Not as much as Sybil, mind you.” She explained before taking a deep breath to push through her thigh to her foot. She began to tilt the statue over, cheeks tinging with red as she held her breath.

Putting the pumpkin down and bracing their hands against the base of the statue Wrongtoe also began to try and topple it with Signe. They were having the best time right then.
First it began to tilt then wobble. Wrongtoe burst into sweats and their face balloon into a kind of blue green with the exertion of it but after a few seconds the statue of the snow fairy finally fell over with a mighty crash sending shards and fractures out in all directions. The wings came off in solid chunks and the arms shattered to pieces while the head remained mostly intact the shock severed it almost cleanly and it rolled awkwardly into the dancers.
No small amount of attention turned their way as guests and guards alike looked on in mixtures of gaping horror and bemusement. Looking at Signe, Wrongtoe gave what passed among goblins as a curt bow.
Then, triumphantly, Wrongtoe scrambled to the top of the statues broken back looking like a multi coloured miniature of some ancient priestess and threw their hands up into the air declaring in a loud shriek

Ianthe Seryn Lusce Signe Lusce Paetr Nairth San'Seya Solenne Saang Lusce Aelas Midir Curcurbita
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Saang's embarrassment for staring quickly fled from his face at her stumble and he slowed his step to let her catch up, bracing to support her from any public misstep. He frowned at her troubles and her clear discomfort - Ianthe was so far out of her element she'd become vulnerable to something he'd previously thought her impervious to: the opinions of others.

"No," he squeezed her hand, "no no no. Ianthe, you look lovely." Saang implored with a trying smile, unable to keep the adoration of her pinked cheeks out of his eyes, "You always look lovely. Today it's just a new color."

"I see you made some... alterations to Seryn's work,"
amusement then followed the warmth, a small smirk shifting over his lips. Seryn did not understand the nature of Ianthe because she did not understand the nature of kelpies. Not in the way she understood the nature of, say, Sybil Lusce of whom she'd never craft a dress knowing full well the outcome of such an effort.

"It suits you-"


He froze just as much of the party did, eyes wide as he looked up for the source of the sound and then the-


"What in the frozen depths..." was that a flash of crimson hair he saw through the crowd?
Oh no.” Signe whispered, horror on her pale, freckled face when she saw the statue shatter. She had thought it would perhaps crack or break off from the base, being no more than three large chunks. But as she looked around at the mess and the hazard of it, Signe felt dread course through her. Should she hide? She shivered and looked at Wrongtoe calling more attention to themselves.

This was worse than her pretending to be Saang at Athbhliain. This was worse than when she had poured vinegar into one of Sadie’s perfume bottles to get back at her. This was worse than when she had played doctor with Siobhan and fed her chili paste as medicine.

The thoughts only lasted a second and then instinct took over. Signe pivoted on her heel and ran, leaving her shoe and Wrongtoe behind. Her bare foot stepped over the sharp shards even if there was a sharp pain from doing so, but she needed to hide. Her tight dress was restrictive in this moment, not allowing Signe to stretch her long legs out. She heard the seams around the widest part of her thighs rip and become loose.

Maybe Ianthe had had the right idea in making a slit in her dress. Signe leaned against a broad, old tree, glancing over her shoulder. She would need a lie to tell Saang and Seryn. Did other fae understand Wrongtoe? What if they tattled on her? Maybe the goblin didn’t know her name. Why on the two moons had she listened to a goblin?!

A clammy hand went to her brow. Signe shivered again. She was sweating now to make it all worse. She hoped no lesser fae were about, other than the will-o-wisps that had followed after like a trail of light— Signe groaned.

What a fool, what a fool.

I will stab him if he mentions it, Ianthe swore quite calmly to herself as she felt Saang steady her. But not in the face, it would be a shame to ruin that, she thought reluctantly. She didn't like limiting her creative freedom in such a manner when it came to maiming or killing, but if she would make an exception for anyone it would be Saang. As he proclaimed she looked good in anything the kelpie couldn't help but raise a brow; the man had literally seen her covered in the blood, entrails and assortment of lost body parts of their enemies. Was he counting that amongst what she looked good in? She was about to ask him just that to see how his expression might shift when he brought up his sister and what she had done to her work.

Ianthe opened her mouth then shut it again. Saang loved his sisters and attacking them in anyway would probably not endear her in any manner but--

"I won't apologis--Oh," he liked it. See? Fuck you, Ser-andomly-inserted-s-name-here. She glanced around to see if she could spy that particular redhead to give her one of her smug smirks when the crash stole all the attention in the room. Ianthe's head whipped towards the noise, the dagger that had been hidden amongst the skirts already in her hand, only to find her companion on a mountain of shattered ice.

Ianthe's chest swelled with pride.

"Oh good, they're actually enjoying the evening!"
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Nairth had danced with both pauper and princess, from the lowliest of lesser to the most powerful of Duanann. Solenne's lack of innate skill, she would find, mattered little. From the moment they made their first step the King held her broad chest snugly to her own, deliberately guiding her through each turn, swing, and step of the dance. Occasionally her feet would land atop hers, but with powerful ease, her partner would merely lift his foot with hers and correct her.

"There are those whose view of the world around them narrows, be it with age, worry, or pain." Nairth spoke quietly down to his partner. One of his hands interlocked with her own, his subtle push and pull against her arm a quiet, gentle reminder of the dance's pattern. His other hand rested with a flat palm against the small of her back, keeping her body close to his, his fingertips pressed into her flesh ever so slightly. "When this happens, the slightest perceived imperfection can become a grotesque deformity. It is saddening, that we are capable of losing our grip on reality, that we can forget true beauty."

The tempo of the song changed, slowing and sweeping. Nairth's hand rose from her back, his tips sliding between her wings and through the thick curtain of the hair that had cost her the only home she'd had. San'Seya held her just below her neck, bending a leg to gently dip her towards the ground. Normally, he'd have released her hand and allowed her to hang, but owing to her inexperience and lack of confidence, he slid his grip to her shoulder and held her slightly aloft by his own strength, before carefully pulling her back to her feet.

"A story from me..." The King purred, smirking at the not-so-subtle prod back at him. "Do you know the hidden meaning behind this song we dance to? The meaning behind it?"

A razor sharp hush fell across the dancefloor as eyes swivelled from the goblin to the Erlking.

Midir had returned to the antler and bone throne after the curious kelpie had vanished into the crowd. She'd danced with one of the Shucks, so he would have to ask them later what they had gleaned from their moments together before the Night Court General had intervened. A kelpie would certainly be an interesting addition to the court, he had mused as he swirled the wine about his glass and watched the festivities. It was such thoughts that the shattering of one of his sculptures disrupted.

The clearing held its breath as the Erlking sighed and waved a hand towards the guards.

"Bring them here. Both of them."
The King spoke with an eloquence she was unused to, but it melded well with his charm. The wisdom he spoke with turned sweet, but not the sickly honey that stuck to flesh, rather the kind to attract and lure closer. It was rare for Solenne to feel charmed, but she suspected the way his hand ran at her spine then neck was another move on the King's part.

She could only smile, unable to help the slight stiffening in her muscles to hold her position as he let her dangle for a mere moment before pulling her back to stand flat on her feet.

Curiousity filled the depths of her rust coloured eyes, a colour that was tinged with pink than pure red. They stared up at the King, blinking twice as her thoughts searched for the answer to his question. "The Tower in the Mist..." she repeated the title of the song, the same he had named before offering to dance. When no logical answer came to her, her lips curled to a frown, brows coming together a fraction to create a crinkle. She shook her head.

Nairth San'Seya
Seryn could not bring herself to pull away from him so soon, but with her hand held fastly in his, she moved to stand by his side and brought her free hand to lightly hold his arm and follow his lead to wherever it was he intended to show her.

"Fighting in the war must be a terrible though. I know our Mother frets over Saang. As do his sisters."

With Seryn on his left, Paetr brought his right hand to rest it on the hand on his arm. His warm thumb lazily stroked up and down the outside of her index finger.

"The front is a string..."

He was interrupted by the crash behind them. Paetr glanced over his shoulder, decided it was drama that he didn't want a part of and hastened Seryn along.

"...a string I'd small skirmishes. We let the hounds and the kelpie entertain themselves. Occasionally we have a proper battle."

He made it sound like more like a game than a war. To him, it was.

"Fortunately I am remarkably hard to kill. Given how fantastically great I am to be around, they do keep trying to have me killed. Jealousy, I expect"
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The statue broke and the words of the Erlking had been spoken.
"Oh dear."
The scene before him was horrible in it's own way that he couldn't remember. Perhaps because he was both acutely aware and ignorant of Kingly Punishments. Gingerly he made his way to the edge of the crowd as one woman in red rushed passed him.
"Oh pardon me please!"
But she was gone quick as that. On the floor was the only telling of her passing a dirty bloody footprint.
"Um, MISS, you've left your blood!"
She didn't seem to care.
Behind him the eerie stillness punctuated the great ballroom.
"Wait, why has the music stopped?"
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Wrongtoe let out manic cackle and leaped down from the broken statue scuttling off into the crowd.
Outrunning Shucks was not easy but not impossible, for a goblin.
Slipping under a very ornate gown Wrongtoe dipped neath the shadow and emerged out behind the door guards cape. Whom they gave a right good bite on the hind quarters causing them to leap forward with a Yelp.
"Ba boopla nick snick!"
*Can't catch me!*
Their large eyes spotted Signe running frantically.
Scrambling on all fours towards her Wrongtoe went right up to her with the most monstrous look of glee Signe might ever have seen on their horrid little face.
"Na na tada goo!"
*This way!*
They outstretched their tiny hand to the frantic woman.

Ianthe Signe Lusce
Jealousy, I expect

Seryn was too enraptured in his talk that she did not notice the crashing of the statue that halted the festivities. A smile lifted at her lips as they edged away from the gathered guests.

"It sounds to me that you are too clever to fall for their pitiful attempts at taking your life." She stated, looking up at him to spy his expression. "But even if they are small skirmishes as you say, does that mean I do not have to worry about Saang's safety? Nor your own? I would be cross if you could no longer indulge me in future dances." A coyness settled into her voice, glancing at him through her long lashes.

It was a rare thought for her to enjoy the company of anyone other than that of her family. That Paetr was easy to talk to, and so attentive. She had felt as if she had many eyes on her before splitting from Signe's side, and felt too self conscious wearing such a dress that had made her blush when she had tried it on. Now that they were away from prying eyes, she felt more comfortable in her own skin, and the pressure of only impressing Paetr was a manageable feat for her.

There was a sly smile that rested upon the King's lips at the burning curiosity that his words had kindled in Solenne's eyes. She held a desire for knowledge, one that wasn't so easily hidden from the likes of a Duanann who'd seen it so many times before. Nairth continued in the dance, sweeping the smaller Sidhe across the ground with a tad more grace, now that she'd begun to get the hang of the repetitious movements. In time, he would raise a hand above her head and carefully spin her, always greeting her with a hand to her hip, both to steady her and keep her near.

"Before recorded time, two Gods, One of peace, benevolence, and love, and one of violence, jealousy, and hatred were locked in the midst of this very dance. Endlessly they moved with one another, atop a tall tower that reached up into the clouds, shrouded in mist."

The truthfulness of this tale was, of course, dubious at best. Most stories of legend were passed down and twisted over time, even by those with the extended lifespan of the Fae. The Tower, however, was very real. He'd been there himself, on many occasions. Perhaps someday he would show Solenne, were she interested in such a trip.

"Each wanted to outlast the other, waiting for the day when their partner would collapse and they could be the dominating God of the world. Over time, the dance became more and more fervent and intense, and the effects of their perpetual motion shook the world, changing and warping the empty lands beneath them, forming all good and evil in what we now know as Arethil."

As he recounted the story, so too did he begin to increase the pace, his words coming in shorter breaths as he carried her by the waist and lifted her up over his head, using his considerable strength to guide her in a small flip before bringing her feet back down to the ground. With every step they took, he held her tighter, and pulled her closer. The song was reaching its conclusion, and Nairth pushed her away while keeping a hold on her arm, pulling her back in and spinning her back to rest against his broad chest.

"After a millennia of dancing without end, the two Gods realized that neither could best the other. Out of both admiration and a deep connection formed from their long days together, they fell in love. The Gods no longer competed but joined together to bring balance to Arethil: No good without evil, and no evil without good."

There was no need for her wings now that Nairth spun her round so quickly, the shimmering and fluttering seemed to disappear from view. If one were to look closely, the wings traced an outline at her back, almost as if it were a tattoo centering at her spine. Solenne's breath quickened as she dutifully moved where Nairth directed her, keeping up with the music through all it's swells and melodies.

And she listened, ears honed in on the sound of his voice as he relayed the story to the song. With practiced hands, he was able to guide her along the dance floor, always keeping her close and balanced. Given her nature as a leannan sidhe, to trust another blindly was not ideal, but she trusted him in this dance. He had proven himself when he had lifted her to flip and catch her, not giving her a moment to even anticipate the move.

With the finality of the song and their dance, Solenne came to rest at his bare chest. She was out of breath, the kind that moved her shoulders and her breath warmed his skin. She did not make a move, not until her thoughts could collect themselves and make sense of the story he weaved from his memory.

"A strong feat to fit such a story into a singular song." Solenne pushed back from him, looking up at the Duannan. "For such a tale surely would inspire to be told in books, and art, and song." Here, she smiled. Taking another step back to extract herself from his grasp, she lowered herself into a bow before straightening once again.

"You speak of it well. Did you grow up with such a story, Your M--" She cleared her throat, trying again. "Nairth." Solenne grinned, unsure if he were happy to keep adressing him casually.

Nairth San'Seya
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I would be cross if you could no longer indulge me in future dances."

"As would I!" Paetr announced.

With each step a pale stretch of perfectly formed thigh was playing peak-a-boo through her emerald green dress.

If she wasn't Saang's sister and of such high standing he would have told her that she would shortly be wearing those boots. And nothing else.

"I would be quite put out if anyone put me in the ground," Paetr declared. "And even more angry that we would never get to dance properly."

With his fingers curled, Paetr brushed the outside of his fingers against her arm and then the curve of her neck.

"Did you match the jewellery to the outfit?" he asked, making a very mild excuse for the soft brush of his hand against her.

"The entire ensemble is remarkable," he said, mispronouncing ensemble.
Seryn delighted as he noticed her outfit, finding that to be a triumph on her part. Of course, Signe had been the mastermind behind it all. If he found her attire remarkable, then perhaps she should not be so nervous!

"Yes, I felt as if my shoulders were a little bare... and it is not often I get to wear the golden chains like this. I, hmm, tend to wear modest things. Respectable and reserved... the perfect thing for a woman in the Night Court." Her smiled strained, but she took comfort in his lingering hand.

She angled her head to look up at him before turning her eyes to watch his brushing fingers go down her arm again.

"But we are not in the Night Court..." she whispered. Seryn's tourmaline eyes found his hues once more, a small smile lifting at her lips. "Tell me, are we hiding away from Saang?" It was an amusing thought, and even more so that he was transfixed with Ianthe. And where had Signe gone to? Perhaps still dancing with that little nuisance of a goblin.

That meant she was properly away from prying eyes, in the company of Paetr.

She leaned up onto her toes, wondering why her sister insisted on something with a smaller heel as she still could not reach his ear.
"I am good at keeping secrets, you know?"

Paetr fought on the more moderate side of the Night Court conflict, but he was not the greatest champion of their morale cause. He'd never spoken out for the rights of women or lesser fae across the Court. If the cause meant women being dressed to impress he could get behind it.

What he didn't realise was that it also came with more people from the lower orders of fae challenging him on what he said.

Paetr leaned towards her, feeling the warmth of her breath over his neck as she confessed her ability to keep secrets.

"I would not say hiding," Paetr replied, "but we are staying away from all prying eyes, aren't we?"

The high lord turned towards her. Shadow fell across his eyes but they still gleamed with wicked intent.

Paetr was the tundra storm. He could be calm and serene and controlled for long periods. Then the mix of ice, stone, rain and wind would become a squall and everything in its path was stripped bare. He had survived through strength of will, not luck.

He maneuvered her as he had on the dance floor, his touch insistent but not forceful. Paetr turned her to face him. He loomed over her. One step forwards and she was in danger of her back being pressed against the tree behind her.

Without ever giving the impression of movement, he had one hand at her waist and another cupping the back of her neck.

"If you are good at keeping secrets, do you imagine how much I may struggle at resisting temptation?" he asked. For the way he stood above her, Paetr's voice was remarkably quiet. Only the slight edge of need took it beyond a whisper. He spoke to her, and her alone.
The will-o-wisps frenzied around her brow, the softest of hums could be heard as they rejoiced. Signe tried to swipe them away from her face, but they were persistent. Some moved to her hands and glowed brighter against her clammy palms. She knew it was pointless to try and get them off of her.

“You’re even pretty when you sweat.” Signe’s head turned with a mixture of surprise and fright etched into her features. The woman had snuck up on her to already be so close and Signe shrank further against the tree. The woman was shorter than her, like her sisters, but she seemed far bigger. Her shoulders were wide, legs strong, and while she surely had to be high fae to have a presence that permeated through the air, Signe had never seen a duanann missing a limb before. The woman’s uniform was tied neatly at the end of her bicep.

How, no, what… why?” Signe sputtered, composure lost the moment the statue had shattered. Her heart was still pounding in her chest and once again, Signe tried to make the will-o-wisps leave her alone.

“You made quite a scene. Not getting enough attention at home?” The blonde continued, the pale blue glow of the will-o-wisps limning the contours of her face with the softest blue. It made her fair hair glow with a ghostly sheen. If it weren’t for the sound the buckles on the ceremonial armor clinging between them, Signe might have thought she was talking to a ghost.

You’re wrong.” Signe felt her jaw tighten with indignation. The woman was even closer now and pulled out a handkerchief, dabbing the last of the sweat off of Signe. “I was just following through on my end of a deal.” Signe jerked her head away, the gesture of the other fae feeling crude and clinical.

“Liar.” She grinned. Signe’s blood went cold. “I bet you like attention. You want all eyes on you. Well.” The fae leaned in. “I’m watching.” Signe’s first instinct was to deny the accusation, to point out that she couldn’t lie.

Who are you?” Signe’s warm breath puffed into a cloud of fog in the small space between them.

“Now there’s the question worth my time.” One by one, the will-o-wisps began to lazily float down to the ground, hovering just before touching it. “Luella Balsinde.” Signe felt that Luella expected her to know who she was. Unfortunately, she didn’t, politics and history putting her to sleep faster than any lullaby could. Luella shrugged and leaned back, pocketing the handkerchief. “Well, I guess you could say I’m your neighbor. I’ve seen you and your sisters around town. I’ve never seen such a large family of redheads.”

Signe opened up her mouth, to say something, surely, but she had no idea what would come out of her. She didn’t even know what she wanted to say.

She was thankful for Wrongtoe appearing then, their big eyes and tiny hand bringing her back to the present. Luella, however, grabbed Signe’s lithe bicep, pulling her away from the goblin.

“You’ve both made my job easy.” Signe didn’t dare pull against Luella’s grip, already fearing that she was bruising now. “I got them.” Her voice rang loud and clear, and moments later, the guards that had been sent after them appeared. Signe tried to pull her arm then, but it was useless and the gesture too weak to even have Luella turn her head towards her. “Calm down, running away again will only make this worse.”

What do I do?” Signe whispered. Luella shrugged, wry and cruel humor tugging her lips into a smile. One guard took Signe from Luella and Signe pleaded wordlessly for an answer.

“How should I know? I’ve never purposely pissed off a King.” There was something in her eyes that told Signe she had upset plenty of others though. Her fingers flittered in a mock goodbye. “Apologizing might help. Maybe.” She called after the duo that were being led to the Erlking. She watched the will-o-wisps follow after Signe in a sinuous trail. That was when she noticed one had stayed behind, ignoring the others to instead float around the pocket that Luella had put the handkerchief in.

Signe frowned, rubbing at the gooseflesh on her bare arms. She undid her bun with one hand, letting waves of crimson and orange fall over her, using it like a cloak. She was honest when she told Seryn that they matched the scenery. Hopefully this helped her blend in so her freckled skin wouldn’t be stark against the autumnal colors. On the way back, she prayed for her siblings to be elsewhere.

When they all arrived back to the clearing, Signe did her best to ignore the hollowness of consternation in her gut. Now she truly noticed the Erlking’s presence, omnipotent and overbearing. Funny. It reminded her of her mother and the time Signe had tied her own hair to her bed’s headboard to get out of her morning studies. She shivered, suddenly more afraid of her mother finding out about this. Signe could already picture the face of disappointment and—

The guard jerked her to attention, pulling Signe forward so that she might stumble. She kept herself from falling over, finding balance immediately. She was smart enough to not look up at the king himself and keep quiet. What may have not been smart was the curtsy she did in the fashion of the Night Court. The will-o-wisps that had followed her went off to the shadows, not enchanted enough to also face punishment.

Wrongtoe Midir
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