July 27, 2016 by Lyn
Sometime around the 1st year of the Addergoole School:
The Hunters had brought in new captives, and so the Elf Queen was holding court. And because Tasiankia was holding court, Caspian and Regan were there.
Regan, of course, fought him every inch of the way, but Caspian knew which side his bread was buttered on, and by extension, his sister’s bread and butter, so they were there, in their finest, the geas laid on Regan so clever that not the sharpest seer could detect it, so strong that even his sister’s rock-hard revolve could not crack it.
The underground receiving hall could have been anywhere. There had been enough befuddlements lain on all of them that, wherever it was, they did not know now and would never be able to recall in the future – Tasiankia had a rather-reasonable paranoia of ashanevaei, and the damage they would do if they found her lair. There were, of course, no windows, nothing but two large metal doors; the rest of the place was thick with illusions, set up to look like the inside of a Luis Royo nightmare.
The doors were, of course, well-guarded. The guards were cousins of Caspian’s, but that didn’t matter. They’d kill him as fast as anyone else trying to leave un-allowed. Possibly more quickly, certainly with more relish.
Regan, they’d kill with ketchup and mustard, too. Caspian had made few friends among their family, but his sister had a knack for making enemies. He was always a little surprised when they walked away from another of the Elf Queen’s courts alive and mostly intact.
They had front-row seats today. Of course – all the better to keep an eye on them, while making it look like a high honor to the children of the least of Tasiankia’s Devourers. All the better to suffer the fall-out, should the Hunters not live up to her desires.
And they would fail. They couldn’t help but fail. They’d been set up to do so. Tasiankia’s mad quest for the Bone Path would rip them all apart, but she seemed determined to continue until they were all dead or as mad as she.
The side door opened, and the Elf Queen strode in, wearing an ermine cloak that covered nothing but trailed dramatically behind her. Caspian blanked from his mind even the memory of a thought against his liege, and like everyone else – even Regan; she had no choice – he knelt in perfect and complete surrender.
His liege settled gracefully in her throne, taking her time about it. Head bowed, Caspian could see her twitching the dragon-skin-lined hem of her cloak into place, the iridescent scales shimmering in an unseen light.
She clapped her hands, and they could all take their seats again – not too hurriedly, with all due poise and grace. “I hear the Hunters have brought something back,” she said to her Herald.
“The Hunters have brought you a prize, Majesty,” he replied crisply.
“Then have them bring forth their prize.” The words may have been spontaneous at one point but now, dozens of repetitions later, they were rote and ritual, meaning nothing to the speakers or the listeners.
The Hunters lumbered down the aisle, dragging their captives with them. Required viewing or not, Caspian didn’t crane his neck looking. The show would be the same as it was every time.
“What have you brought me, my Hunters?” She leaned forward in her chair, the necklace of claws bouncing against the tops of her breasts. Dragon claws. Somewhere deep, deep inside his still façade, Caspian screamed in rage; the part of him that wanted to survive the night tightened his control on his sister.
The lead of the Hunters fell into a crouching bow at her bare feet. “We have brought you captives of the ashanevaei’s bloodline, my liege.” His henchman dragged forward two bound, bloody lumps of what were probably, under the ropes and the sacks, half-blood Ellehemaei – or really unfortunate humans.
“And what lines are they of?” She was bent forward nearly double, as if trying to stare right through the bags. The lead Hunter obliged her, tugging the sack off of the first one.
He didn’t need the Hunter to name this one’s lineage to know it wasn’t the right one. Barely older than a boy, his ears fanned like fins over his blue hair; his noseless face was terrified. “This whelp is of Althea Deep-Sea’s line.”
The Elf Queen hissed her displeasure. “A fish. I have no need for fish.” The boy cringed in the Hunter’s hands. “Give him to someone… her.” Her finger jabbed into the crowd, settling on a sharp-faced Shepherd. Shihshiala. “She can figure out something to do with him.” The fish-boy was unceremoniously tossed at Shihshiala, who did her best to look properly grateful while shoving the kid under her chair. Maybe she hoped he’d die before Court was over and she wouldn’t have to deal with him.
“What else do you have for me?” Tasiankia purred. There were ten claws on that necklace. There had only been two the first time she wore it. Was she killing someone every time she failed to get what she wanted?
The Hunter pulled the hood off the second captive. “This one is of Thirteen-Coin’s blood, three-times renewed,” he said, a tremor somewhere deep in his proud recitations. Gehrengr had a dragon mate, Caspian remembered. She wasn’t here tonight – was she somewhere safe, or did her claw brush the Elf-Queen’s breast?
The girl was pretty, in a feral sort of way, her hair and the bottom of her nose hell-hound red, the dog ears sticking up from all that blood-fire hair mottled, almost freckled light-red-on-black. She could be mistaken for the Elf Queen’s targets in dim light – and many people believed that Thirteen-Coins was one of the Old Man’s get. Tasiankia’s obsession had led her to trace far more accurate genealogies than any of the Ellehemaei, on either side of the aisle, normally kept… but about Thirteen-Coins, you never could be certain. And his birth had been so long ago…
“She might come in handy,” the queen snarled, “but what about the child of the Wild Ones? I gave you an address!”
This time, Gehrengr did flinch. It was a tiny thing, but everyone in the court had been watching for it. “Tekkavin did not come back, my liege.”
Tekkavin. Forget Gehrengr’s mate, Tekkavin had been his son. And, more than that… At his left hand, Caspian could feel Regan fight against his geas. Her rage was righteous and all-consuming, and threatened to blank her mind. A blank mind could not truly be bound – and that was the strength of their bloodline. Right now, though, it could be their death.
He swallowed as much of her anger as he dared, let it slide through him and used it to reinforce the geas he’d lain on her. Stay quiet, Regan. Smile and show nothing. Smile, and feelnothing. There would be time for grieving later. Time for rage later.
“Tekkavin failed.” The Elf Queen looked, Caspian thought, a wee bit irate. “Then send another Hunter.”
“We did, my liege.” Gehrengr had gone past the pain now, into the cold place of ritual. Regan, denied that, smiled tightly and fought Caspian for every heartbeat; it was all he could do to look politely interested while keeping his sister silent. “The house has been burnt to the ground, the earth salted. There were no remains. There is no trail.”
Tasiankia hissed. “Another dead end. But the Wild Ones cannot evade us forever. We will nail their blood to the Bone Path yet.” She grabbed the dog-girl by her hair and threw her at Caspian and Regan; it was Regan who caught her, breaking off the struggle to wrap her arms around the semi-conscious girl. “Take care of that. Play with her all you want, but keep her alive. Her blood may prove useful to us; if nothing else, she will be bait.”
Regan forced the girl into a kneeling position at her feet, while Caspian found his voice. “Yes, my liege. Thank you.” Smile, and feel nothing.
“And you, worthless Hunters,” she snarled. “You will go, and you will find me the Wild Ones, or I will hang you for the crows to eat.” The Hunters, muttering the proper phrases, left hurriedly. “Go,” the Elf Queen demanded, the command ripping through their minds. “All of you, out of my sight.”
They were standing in a parking lot, Regan and he and the dog-girl, outside what had once been a grocery store, blinking their way out of the command-fugue.
“Dragon claws,” Regan choked, “and dragon skin. And Tekkavin.” Her hands clenched tightly on the dog-girl’s shoulders. Caspian prudently took the girl from her, turning his body to shield the little ashanevaei whelp from his sister, before slowly unwrapping the geas that had held Regan quiet and peaceful.
“Tekkavin,” she repeated, her voice rising. “Fuck you, Caspian, Tek is gone.” She took to the skies, ripping her human form off for the dragon in a scream of rage, leaving him standing there holding the whimpering dog-girl.
“You will not piss on me,” he told her firmly. He took her chin in two fingers and pulled her face until she was looking at him. “Do you understand?” She gulped, and nodded wordlessly. She was terrified, utterly scared for her life, and she should be. “Good.” He shifter her slight weight to better carry her. “You might be some fun once we get you cleaned up.”
Regan would hate her. A ashanevaei half-breed was no fair trade for a dead lover, nothing but a constant reminder of the mad quest that would destroy them all eventually. He’d have to find somewhere safe to put her, to keep her out of his sister’s sight… maybe the lair in Toronto? They hadn’t been there in quite a while.
“Come on, puppy,” he said to the top of her head; one ear twitched curiously. “I’ll find a nice warm doghouse for you.”
“Thank you,” she croaked.
“Don’t thank me.” His voice was harsher than he’d meant it to be, the puppy’s terror and Regan’s fury still running through him, making his own bitterness taste like bile on his tongue. “I do as my liege commands.”