"I thought I would find you up here. Couldn't sleep?" As the wild haired fey emerged from the twisting stairwell and into the lantern room of the great Sanctuary Island lighthouse, Alice turned from the window and shrugged off Muffy's concern with a tired smile. "Nerves, that's all. Is everything ready for tomorrow?" "Should be. There's only one way to find out." Muffy gave a hopeful sigh and placed one hand on the elegantly carved glass-like Otraresin lens. Despite the intense light, the rainbow surface remained cool to the touch. "It's good to see the beacon lit again. I never could sleep through the night without its beam filling up my window every few minutes. It's been so awfully dark here since it was broken. I've had such terrible nightmares." "So have I." Alice gave a nod and squeezed her friend's free hand. Muffy squeezed back, a smile of fierce determination on her face. "This is just the beginning," Muffy promised. "We'll set things right, you'll see. With the light lit, they'll start making their way home. They have to." Alice felt a wash of grateful affection for the strong, stubborn girl at her side. What would I have done without her? she wondered. You would have fallen long ago, a voice responded deep inside her, and then all of this would have been for nothing. You need her. You need all of them. But will they come? "...Alice..." The sudden fear in Muffy's voice raised the hair on the back of the captain's neck and shook her from her introspection. "What is it?" When Muffy did not respond, Alice followed the line of her gaze. Muffy stared stiffly out one storm pane, fingers suspended in the air as if drawn to something but afraid to make contact. For a moment Alice couldn't make out what had set the girl on edge, but as the beacon rotated and flooded the window with light she saw them: nine words scratched into the glass of the storm pane, thin and jagged. As if carved by a hook, thought Alice, an unsettling shiver crawling up her spine. But no, that's impossible. We would have known if she were on the island. She would have tripped the defenses. We would have known. I would have known. "What does it say?" Muffy asked, though both had read the words. Alice said nothing for a moment, hesitating to give voice to the strange note. When she did speak, the words tasted of gunpowder and ash in her mouth. "Night, shaded Wren:all men's dreadhaven's fatal ill" "...what does it mean?" Muffy whispered as the two girls stared at the ominous message. Alice shook her head and turned away to let the hot white beam of the lighthouse wash over her chilled skin, but the words had robbed the light of its comfort. "I don't know."
She has no trouble finding her way, though the signs are all blank and she has never walked these streets before. The worlds may change but the reflection of this place remains the same. Even the night is as all the rest and the thunder overhead rumbles words familiar as her heartbeat. Her feet carry her unerringly down dark side streets and hidden short cuts, deeper and deeper into the maze of the abandoned city. Like a compass needle buried in her breastbone, the longing makes minute adjustments, forever magnetized to the location of the fragmented spirits.“What are you doing out here?”She freezes in the darkness before the mouth of the alley like a hunting cat tensed to strike. No motion, no sound, no breath. Her ears strain to catch the soft reply but the wind carries only a single fragment back.“... ill-fated ...”Her hand moves to her side to caress the blade slick and cold as ice. She knows this moment as intimately as she knows this place, this reflection, this glorious cyclical tragedy, but this time she is not merely a witness. This time she is a player. This time she takes control.“Come inside, darling. You'll catch your death out here.”But he will not heed his lover's advice, not soon enough, and it is death which catches him. Thunder drowns out the staccato of her footsteps on the pavement and blood-red sparks dance like hungry electricity along the hook as she raises it, a solitary flash of razored lightning in the darkness.
“Spirits white as lightning, shall on my travels guide me.The moon would quake and the stars would shake, when' ere they espied me!Still I sing bonnie boys, bonnie mad boys.Bedlam boys are bonnie for they all go bare and they live by the air, and they want no drink nor money.”The tavern roars as tipsy patrons clink their ale mugs together and sing along to the chorus of the popular old folk song. The conductor of the inebriated choir, a young woman garbed in black and tight leather, leaps onto a heavy oak table and belts out the next stanza. Her silver jewelry glints in the light of the crackling hearth fire as she moves.“My staff has murdered giants, my bag a long knife carries,for to cut mince pies from children's thighs, with which to feed the fairies!”Angular golden eyes follow the festivities from a secluded corner of the tavern, narrowing in amusement when the woman brandishes a large dagger as if to make good on her cannibalistic boast. Despite the cheery light cast by the large fire, nothing seems able to pierce the thick shadows gathered in the room's far corner, which completely disguise the seated figure.“With a host of furious fancies whereof I am commander, with a burning spear and a horse of air to the wilderness I wander!”Cackling, Mage leaps off the table and bows to her audience with a flourish. She spares a moment to indulge in the crowd's exhilaration, then sheathes her dagger and weaves her way to the back of the tavern. She throws herself down into a chair across from the shadowed stranger, kicking her boot-clad feet up on the table between them. “Sorry to keep you waiting, Caít my dear,” the woman apologizes, but does not look particularly regretful. “Just couldn't help myself - I've always loved that song.”“You've quite the voice, Captain,” the figure comments wryly. Mage replies with a conspiratorial wink, “Tom o' Bedlam wrote that song about me, you know.” The creature makes a sound halfway between a chuckle and a purr. “Oh? I seem to recall that song being several hundred years old.”“I know; don't look a day over twenty, do I?” Mage lowers her feet and leans over the table, flashing her companion a hungry grin. “Now. Shall we get down to business? I'm sure we both have important duties to attend to. You know, hunting shadows and destroying the last remnants of the Lost Boys and delightful things of that nature.” Caít-Sidhe giggles and might nod in appreciative agreement, but all that can be seen of the spirit is the faint outline of a dark shape within the heavy shadows. “First, my payment,” he orders, all eager business now.“Of course.” Mage reaches into the breast pocket of her trench coat and produces a small silk bag bound with bright red string. A faint smear of sparkling dust lingers on the lip of the fabric. “Fresh this morning, and a good one, too. Quite pretty.” As she places the bag on the table, something inside twitches, struggling feebly against its confines. Caít-Sidhe licks his lips with a sandpapery tongue and is about to reach out to the bag when Mage lays her hand over the payment and prompts, “and now my information.”One hand emerges from the shadows, its digits covered in sleek black fur and tipped in wicked claws. The hand slides a thick envelope sealed with silver wax across the table. "All the locations you requested, Captain. Can't say as they're all up to date, what with so many of the Lost up and disappearin' themselves, but you should find who you're looking for. Pity for them, that is.""Yes, such a pity." Mage slips the envelope into her coat with a private smirk and rises to her feet. "Enjoy your savory little morsel, Caít," she says with a half-bow. "I'm sure we shall see each other again quite soon.""It'll be my pleasure," Caít-Sidhe purrs in response as he prods playfully at the silk bag with one long claw. The faerie inside shudders, bringing a particularly hideous, toothy grin to the creature's face.
In every direction, the horizon. No island, no lighthouse, no battered ship with its vengeful tempest; just a thousand miles of open ocean and one tiny skiff. The stars are bleak, cold points of light in a domed and Moonless sky. Mage stands motionless in the center of the skiff, waiting. An internal clock ticks slow seconds by as the stars overhead complete a minute revolution. When the night and the ocean and the far stars are all in place, she finally stirs.“It's time.”Daren, hunched over the skiff's oars, lifts his head and eyes the captain silently. Gazing out across the calm water, Mage speaks in a rare voice: deep, slow, weighty. Awed.“Humanity's most potent weakness is how powerfully it fears,” she says. “And that fear manifests in so many twisted, malformed specters. Know what to look for and the nightmares are all around you, discarded childhood insomnia and the paranoia of adults who remember the cold thrill of terror but can no longer place its source. All those monsters in their alleys and closets and forests, lurking beneath beds and stairs and bridges, are just waiting. An entire army of ghouls restless from disbelief and hungering for purpose.”Mage takes hold of a long black cord around her neck and draws out from the folds of her coat a small silver whistle.“Shall we give them a purpose, my dear?”She raises the whistle to her lips and sends one long, shrill cry out across the glassy sea. For a moment all remains still and silent, but then the skiff begins to bob gently as the ocean beneath quakes and ripples. Thick black tentacles twist in the watery depths.“The unemployed of all midnight Europe shivered in their stone sleep and came awake," Mage recites. "Which is to say that all the old beasts, all the old tales, all the old nightmares, all the old unused demons-put-by, and witches left in the lurch, quaked at the call, reared at the whistle, trembled at the summons and in dustdevils of propulsion skimmed down roads, flitted skies, buckshot through shaken trees, forded streams, swam rivers, pierced clouds, and arrived, arrived, arrived.”Something passes high overhead, veiling the stars in an expansive darkness, but it is not an errant cloud.Mage laughs.(Note: Mage was quoting from The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. You should read it; it is all sorts of delicious Halloween wonderful.)
Night. The ship anchors in the deep water beyond the cliffs and a single rowboat is lowered from its side. Two men work the oars; they are black silhouettes against the bleak sky, outlined only by the cherry glow of their cigarettes. The woman who stands at the bow of the boat has no cigarette of her own but she, too, breathes out smoke and ash. As the boat pulls to shore beneath the cliffs she steps out into the surf and sets foot upon the island for the first time in many, many years. No alarms sound in the night. No flood lights fix their beams upon the intruder. No sirens wail “Danger! Deceit! Deception!” or warn “Betrayal! Betrayal!” No. The island recognizes the woman as one of its own and welcomes the safe return of its child. Gazing up at the lighthouse on the cliff high above, the woman smiles her cold smile.“Home sweet home.”
Darkness. Darkness. A flash of white. Darkness. Darkness.Someone has lit the beacon.Darkness. White. Darkness.The ship groans as another wave batters its side, icy salt water spilling over the wildly tilting deck, and the wind rips at the tattered sails and ragged black flag which still flies at full mast. Nothing can be heard above the roar of thunder, nor the tempest's banshee howl as it claws at the ship. Like the tentacled arms of the legendary kraken, the ocean endeavors to drag the vessel to its doom. Darkness. White. Darkness.By miracle or sheer stubborn will of its captain, the ship remains afloat. The helm is held tight by two white-knuckled hands and despite the raging storm, endless in its fury, the battered ship remains on course. The black is momentarily lit once again by the lighthouse beam and in that fleeting moment the distant island appears, tiny on the horizon but closer with each passing second. The storm has not reached those far cliffs yet, but even now the waves crashing against the island's shores grow larger; the current becomes a deadly rip tide. As the ship sails toward the island, the thunderhead with its lightning and hurricane winds follows.Darkness. White. Darkness.The woman at the helm stares out into the chaos, her eyes as cold and dangerous as the turbulent waters below. No amount of wind or rain can move her; clothed in the same darkness as the tempest itself, she only laughs at the gusts and welcomes the downpour. The lighthouse beam cuts through the night and for a lightning strike second the island is visible again. The woman smiles in greeting to the lit beacon and it is not a kind smile.“Welcome back, Inno. I've been waiting.”Darkness. Darkness. A flash of white. Darkness. Darkness.
The breeze off the still water ripples the tattered sails. The ship sits low in the cold water, tilting slightly to one side in a strangely human-like gesture of defeat. The water around her is littered with chunks of splintered wood and lost cargo. Her hull is riddled with cannon holes. The painted words on the ship's side are chipped and nearly scraped off."J-l-- -og-r"On the broken, uneven deck strides a young woman. The breeze tugs at her hair and long coat. She surveys the wrecked ship, peering over the sides and at the piles of shattered timber. Every once in a while she nudges something with her foot or pushes at it with her hands, inspecting. She makes her way carefully over to the steps leading down below decks and leans over the stairway."How's she look, boys?" she calls down into the darkness. There's a moment of silence, broken only by the sound of the water lapping against the ship's sides, and then the sound of footsteps. Two young men make their way up the slippery steps, emerging into the bright sunlight. Their matching dark suits and long black coats make them look like feds, anonymous and menacing. The image is broken, though, by the fact that the bottoms of their pant legs are soaking wet.The first boy shrugs casually, smiling, and runs his fingers through his dark hair."It's still floating... for now at least. Pretty fucked up though. How's that?" He turns and takes a lit cigarette from the younger boy's hand. Their eyes meet for a moment, dark to light. Just a moment."What happened here, anyway?" the second boy asks, breaking the silence and brushing a lock of snowy white hair from his eyes. The girl turns and wanders over to one side of the lurching ship, peering out to the calm ocean beyond. Ten or twenty yards away a tattered red felt hat floats listlessly in the water, a soggy purple feather still stuck in its brim."There was a storm," she says simply. The boys exchange unreadable glances."This thing's a piece of junk, though," the first continues as he paces the deck, kicking at the bits of wood and canvas as he takes a drag on the cigarette. "You had a nice ship before. It even flew. Why do you want this one?""That ship's gone," she murmurs, watching the waves lap against the dying ship."But this one's on its last leg," the boy argues. "You'll never be able to fix it. It's useless now."The girl runs her fingers over the chipped wooden railing. A fragment of wood pierces her finger, drawing a large drop of ruby blood. She inspects the wound for a moment, then looks back to the two boys. Above them, a tattered black flag flaps in the wind. She smiles slowly."It's not about the ship," she says. "It's all about the symbol."