"Kitties aren't s'pposed t'have wings," the boy informed Trill cheerfully, shifting his grip slightly to keep Trill from sliding out of his grasp. "Kitties get fur and legs and tails and purrs, but not wings. So how come you have wings?"

Trill managed a vague noise somewhere between a yowl and a hiss, though it was lost on the five-year-old currently intent upon making his life miserable. More miserable. Whatever.

"Rudan's gonna love you," the child continued on, oblivious to Trill's displeasure. "He likes kitties. I think I'm gonna call you Catnip, okay kitty?"

This was awkward, uncomfortable, and the bizarre angle at which he was being held was pinching his wings in a manner that was going to shortly become rather painful. It would be helpful if he had even the slightest notion of what he'd done to deserve this, but as far as Trill knew he'd done nothing to offend anyone.

Least of all the kind of black magician that would be required to cast the curse that had left him in his current predicament.

Trill yowled again, announcing his misery to the world as they reached a small stone domicile in a row amidst other similar structures. Human buildings were so ugly. Nothing like the majestic sweeping spires and delicately carved railings of the faerie lands.

"Eli?" a voice queried from within, causing Trill to shudder. Okay, so maybe there were a few things humans were good for. Particularly humans with deep, rich, silken voices reminiscent of the wildly expensive chocolate one of his father's envoys had brought back from one of his trips to the eastern continent. Would the human speak again? He hoped so.

The man obliged as the faded wooden door swung open. "Where have you been, Eli? Mother's been fretting something fierce and you know..." He stopped, staring. "What is that?"

Trill stared too. That was no human. Well, maybe part human. What was it with humans breeding with everything they came across? Though he supposed he really couldn't complain in this instance. The end result was remarkably attractive.

The man wasn't that tall; he'd probably be shorter than Trill if Trill was still in his natural shape, though it was hard to tell from this angle. He had large, ink-black curls cascading around his head like a wild lion's mane and deep red eyes that almost seemed to burn with some strange inner fire. His toned body was compact in a way that didn't make him seem particularly bulky even as Trill could visually trace each and every line of muscle through the man's clothes. Most interesting, however, was the darkly tanned skin with its greenish tinge that made Trill wonder if perhaps he had goblin blood in him. Hard to tell with his ears hidden beneath all that hair.

"Isn't he neat?" the boy, Eli, apparently, was saying. "I found him in the woods while I was picking mushrooms for dinner. How come you think he's got wings, Rudan? Kitties don't have wings."

The hot, greenish man contemplated Trill for a long moment, prodding curiously at one of Trill's glittering, gossamer wings. Trill hissed and shifted his wings out of the way. Even if this 'Rudan' was hot, that was no excuse for touching his wings!

"Huh," Rudan mused thoughtfully, scratching his head somewhere underneath those glorious curls. "Never seen wings like that before except on a faerie, and I didn't think faeries had cats..."

Trill resisted the urge to snort indecorously. Were all humans this stupid, or did he just happen to meet the dumbest of the lot?

"How come?" Eli inquired curiously. "What kind of pets do faeries have if they don't have kitties?"

Rudan shrugged, tightly-packed muscles rippling. "Birds, maybe. I think some of them ride horses too..."

"Horses, really?" Eli asked, bouncing just enough to make Trill want to throw up as he was jostled about. "I thought only rich people had horses. Are faeries rich, Rudan?"

Rudan grinned, flashing a row of very white, very sharp teeth. Definitely goblin blood. There was no mistaking those teeth. "Faeries don't need to be rich, Eli," he replied, ushering the child inside the house and closing the door behind them, "They've got magic. A real faerie can summon a wild beast out of the forest and have it tame at their feet."

"Woooowwwww..." Eli breathed.

Trill decided they were both stupid and squirmed until the boy finally dropped him. He hit the floor somewhat ungracefully, not being particularly accustomed to having four feet yet, and growled low in his throat. I am so sick of being a cat!

A pair of very shapely, well-muscled legs appeared in his field of vision and then Rudan was crouching down next to him, looking both surprised and thoughtful.

"You haven't always been a cat, then?" he asked.

Of course not! Trill yowled, lashing his tail in annoyance. As the grabby child already pointed out, normal cats do not have... he stopped, startled. Wait... you can understand me?

He got an up-close view of those teeth again as Rudan chuckled. "You're a cat," he pointed out. "I'm... good with animals."

Trill eyed the man cautiously. That was a very ambiguous statement, especially for a goblin, as those weren't known for being overly bright. Neither were humans, for that matter. Maybe there was more to the man than he'd originally thought.

Well then... he said slowly, I happen to be under a curse, which would be the reason I look like this.

Red eyes watched him intently, their owner appearing more curious than anything.

"What's he saying, Rudan? What's he saying?" Eli demanded, jumping up on Rudan's back to peer at Trill from over the man's shoulder.

"He's not really a cat; he's under a curse," Rudan translated for the boy, not appearing to mind the extra weight at all as he contemplated Trill. "So, since you're not a cat," he asked, "What are you really?"

Trill snorted inelegantly and shifted his wings back. I should think that would be obvious, he stated dryly.

Rudan's eyes flicked to the wings contemplatively as he tugged on a handful of ebony curls. "So you are a faerie, then..."

"Wooowww..." Eli breathed, staring in awe at Trill who privately thought the boy was going to start drooling if he kept his jaw slack like that for much longer.

Yes, I am a faerie, Trill replied with a mental sigh. My name is Trill.

Rudan smirked. "Funny, I thought it was Catnip."

Trill glared, his orange and white fur standing on end as he puffed up in annoyance. Don't even think it, human, he hissed. Or whatever you are.

"Half-human," Rudan said helpfully, not seeming particularly concerned about the implied insult. Then again, if he did have goblin blood as Trill suspected, he probably heard far worse insults on a daily basis.

Amongst other things, I would guess... Goblin? And... something else?

Rudan's expression shuttered, abruptly making him appear far more menacing simply because he wasn't smiling like an idiot any more. Trill suppressed the urge to shiver and instead studiously washed his front paw, seriously annoyed with himself when he realized just what he was doing.

"Rudan...?" Eli ventured timidly.

"It's okay, Eli," Rudan reassured the boy.

Eli frowned at Trill who endeavored to look nonchalant. "Bad kitty. Naughty kitty. Don't upset big brother Rudan," he scolded.

You don't look a thing alike, Trill pointed out.

A little of Rudan's humor returned as he regarded the small winged feline. "We share a mother, but both Eli and I seem to take after our fathers." He grinned, and there were those teeth again. "A pity, really. Mother is quite lovely."

"Really really really lovely," Eli added, bouncing up and down on Rudan's back, then sliding off to go running toward one of the back rooms. "Mama, mama!" he called, "Come show how pretty you are to Catnip!"

Just as he reached the cloth-covered doorway there came a knock at the front door. Eli skidded to a stop and spun around, pelting back the way he'd come. "IIII'LLLLLLL get it!"

Eli flung open the door, staring up at the man who stood there. He was on the older end of middle-aged, his face and hands weathered in the manner of one who is accustomed to hard work. "Hello, Eli," he greeted, smiling faintly, "Is your brother... ah."

Rudan moved into sight, frowning slightly as he took in their guest. "Evening, Mayor Fen. Is something wrong?"

Fen grimaced. "Jens spotted Redcaps at the north end of the village. He and a few others are up there now, but..."

All at once Rudan lost the casual, easygoing aura and abruptly became all business. He pulled various pieces of light leather armor off a row of hooks Trill hadn't previously noticed and began efficiently strapping them on. When he was done he stuffed a single long knife in the sash at his waist and nodded to his brother.

"Mind the house, Eli. Take care of mother while I'm gone, okay?"

"Okay!" Eli chirped, dashing off into the back room again. Trill considered for a moment, then got up and followed Rudan out the door. Maybe it wasn't the best of ideas, but he was curious. To the best of his knowledge goblins, be they half or full blooded, weren't particularly well thought of amongst the humans. Yet that Mayor Fen fellow hadn't seemed at all upset to be asking Rudan for help.

Therefore, Trill was investigating.

Once outside he tested his wings, gratified to sense that those at least were still working properly even if the rest of his body was all wrong. A moment later he rose lazily into the air and cruised in a zig-zag pattern overhead as he watched Rudan stride purposefully through the small town.

From his aloft vantage point he could see the Redcaps, their blood-soaked caps like beacons from the air, and three or four men watching them anxiously. If he'd had lips to do so, Trill would have whistled. He counted a good thirty to forty Redcaps, no doubt heavily armed as such creatures always were. Not particularly good odds, even if Rudan did have goblin blood.

When Rudan reached the outer edge of the village the other men fell back gratefully, leaving him to face the encroaching Redcaps. Alone. Trill gaped. Goblin or whatever, did he really think to take them all on with no backup?

"Ho there," Rudan called out into the deepening shadows. "I would like to ask you all to leave, as this is not your territory and the people of this town do not wish you to come any further."

The creatures stilled for a moment, likely caught by surprise as much as Trill had been by the bold statement, then there came a tittering of menacing laughter.

"Foolish man," the voices taunted. "What can you hope to do, one mortal against all of us? A few drops of immortal blood will not save you; we will spill all your blood, mortal and immortal, and dip our caps in it as we feast."

Trill blinked. Immortal? Goblins weren't immortal... What were the sensitive noses of the Redcaps picking up that he hadn't noticed?

Meanwhile Rudan simply shrugged and stood there, calmly considering the sea of blood-red caps confronting him. He glanced around at the area, stepping a few feet to his left, then nodding to himself. Facing the Redcaps, Rudan opened his mouth... and flame spewed forth.

Startled, Trill circled higher as the gushing fire incinerated everything in its path. Even from a distance he could feel the heat. That was no ordinary fire! In Trill's admittedly limited experience only baelfire got so hot, but only the Fae could summon baelfire... right?

The flames vanished as quickly as they'd come, leaving only a blackened patch of smoldering earth where before had been scrub, trees, and a small army of Redcaps. Trill stared for a moment before dropping down, backwinging to land somewhat awkwardly on Rudan's shoulder.

Okay, that is so not a goblin ability, he observed, trying to figure out where all of his legs were supposed to fit on the limited landing room of Rudan's shoulder. And when the Fae do their similar thing it doesn't come out of our mouths, so what gives?

Rudan watched him bemusedly out of the corner of his eyes, turning and walking nonchalantly back into the village as though he'd not just turned an army of bloodthirsty Redcaps into a few bits of smoke and ash. "I have complicated parentage," he said simply.

You mean you're a mutt, Trill snorted.

"I suppose you could put it that way, yes," Rudan chuckled. "Eli's and my mother is as human as they come. She was attracted to my father's... uniqueness, and thus I was born. He died while I was young."

So your father had goblin blood and...?

Rudan eyed him, one brow arched. "You don't give up, do you?"

Trill smirked, tail flicking in amusement. No.

Rudan rolled his eyes, walking in silence for several moments more. He stopped a short distance away from the house he shared with Eli and the yet-as-unseen mother and sighed.


Trill blinked. Er, what?

"My father's father. Was a chimera."

For a long moment Trill simply stared at him, nearly falling off when Rudan crossed his arms. Wow. Okay. But... you're not...

"A monster?" Rudan finished with a slight chuckle, "No. Fortunately it seems all I inherited from my grandfather was a tail and the ability to breathe fire."

Trill blinked again and twisted about on Rudan's shoulder so he could peer down the man's back. A tail?

Rudan laughed. "I'll show you later. For now, perhaps, I think we should be thinking of how to solve your particular dilemma."

I'm open to ideas, Trill said dryly, hunching down and lashing his tail in annoyance. Stupid curse.

"Well, I was thinking. Usually the people most prone to casting curses are witches, right?" At Trill's wary nod, Rudan beamed. "Well then, we'll go see Tru!"

... Tru.

Sharp teeth flashed as Rudan grinned at him. "Yeah. Tru's a friend of mine. She lives in the middle of the misty swamp," he explained.

We're going to see a witch who lives in the middle of a swamp, Trill stated, nonplussed.

"Did you have any better ideas?" Rudan asked.

Trill sighed. No, not really.

Rudan grinned. "Then lets go!"

Rudan made a brief stop at home to check in, letting Eli know that he was going to have to 'look after Mama' for a couple days while Rudan was away. He also managed to strap on, tuck in, conceal, and carry the largest assortment of weapons Trill had ever seen.

"Trophies," Rudan explained when he caught Trill staring, sounding rather pleased with himself. "Can't really afford to buy weapons, so I take 'em from others before they do something stupid like try to stab me with them."

Looks like that occurs quite frequently, Trill observed, watching two slender blades disappear into Rudan's hair.

"Yeah, well..." Rudan shrugged. "Most humans aren't real fond of goblins, and goblins don't like humans and everybody else just figures that halfbreeds are easy targets."

Trill sat up straighter and folded his wings back, trying not to sound disbelieving. Built like you are? I know I'd bring backup...

Rudan drooped slightly, curls somehow managing to droop with him. "I scare you too?"

Trill tipped his head to one side and considered, the very tip of his tail twitching back and forth. Well, no, not really, he admitted. More like... He paused. How did you put 'you make me want to tie you down and jump you and I don't even like humans' into polite wording?

Call me cautiously impressed. You've proven yourself to be quite dangerous in that situation with the Redcaps, but I'm honestly more worried about getting accidentally stepped on than anything malicious.

For a moment Rudan simply blinked at him, then a ripple spread from the muscles of his chest outward to his shoulders and down his arms and then he was laughing. "Ohh... yes, I can see that... you aren't used to being so small!"

No, Trill retorted, miffed that he was being laughed at. Nobody laughed at him when he was in his proper shape! Well, his siblings did, but siblings did things like that. Are you done primping or can we leave yet?

Rudan grinned. "Almost..." He fished a thin leather cord out from somewhere and tied his hair back, exposing the long pointed ears that Trill had been wondering about since he'd first arrived. Goblin ears, though the shape was slightly off. Not as elegant as Fae ears, of course, but not unattractive. Trill wanted to lick them.

"Now we can leave," Rudan announced, scooping Trill up off the floor and walking out the door. Trill yowled his protest at the abrupt treatment, digging his claws into Rudan's armor and growling his displeasure.

"What?" Rudan inquired, peering at the spitting ball of fur in his arms. "You have small legs. I didn't think you'd want to walk."

I have wings, you idiot! Trill snarled, flapping the aforementioned appendages for emphasis. I can fly!

Rudan rolled his eyes. "I know. But we're going into the swamp, and the things in the swamp like to eat things that fly."

Trill grumbled but didn't argue, climbing up Rudan's arm to his shoulder and sinking his claws into the thick leather again so that he wouldn't fall off if his ride decided to make any... sudden moves. Stupid swamp. Stupid witch. Stupid curse.

The grumbling continued on until they reached the swamp, Rudan resisting the urge to smile as Trill's litany of stupids continued. He had to pay less attention to the snarky feline and more attention to his surroundings as they proceeded into the misty swamp. Creatures of the particularly dangerous variety tended to make their homes here and most of them were not overly fond of visitors.

Case in point the freshwater kraken in the scummy pond just up ahead. He remembered it being a lot smaller the last time he'd passed through on his way to see Tru. Unfortunately it now had the reach to disrupt the path he normally took, meaning he was going to have to detour.

He'd just ducked under a low-hanging vine and detoured around a tangle tree when something snagged his ankle. In moments Rudan was hanging upside-down a good twenty feet off the ground.

Helloooo, dinnerrrrr... something hissed. Without waiting to see just what it was that had him, Rudan shoved one of his smaller knives into the source of the voice. Whatever it was screamed and then suddenly the ground was descending far too quickly.

Aw, crap!

Rather than crashing into the ground as he'd anticipated, Rudan merely landed with a little more force than if he'd jumped. He blinked, twisting his head to peer at the cat still firmly attached to his shoulder.

"Did you do that?" he asked.

Faeries are stronger than we look, Trill retorted, easing back a little on where he was clinging to Rudan's armor with a deathgrip.

Rudan grinned. "So I see. Thanks."

Trill blinked, then looked pointedly away from him. Rudan laughed and shook his head, continuing on through the swamp. By the time they finally made it to Tru's cottage he'd dispatched two more tree snakes, a juvenile wyvern, eight bloodsucking flying things, and four R.O.U.S.

Is it always this much of a pain to visit this witch of yours? Trill inquired dryly as he meticulously cleaned the blood off his claws from one of the bloodsucking flying things.

"Actually, this was actually pretty easy," Rudan replied with a laugh, the look Trill gave him only serving to make him laugh harder.

The cottage door opened and a short, brown-haired woman in glasses peered out at them, her expression bemused. "Are you going to stay out there all day, Rudan, or are you going to come inside?" she asked.

Rudan grinned, traversing the rickety bridge over the brackish moat surrounding Tru's cottage. "Nice to see you too, Tru," he greeted. "This is Trill, or Catnip as Eli has thus dubbed him. He's kinda got a problem we'd like you to look at."

My name is not Catnip, Trill hissed.

"Ooh, quite the temper," Tru observed, hazel eyes glittering in amusement. "Well, bring Catnip inside and we'll see what we can do."


"Shush, Catnip," Tru admonished, ushering Rudan inside and shutting the door firmly behind them. "You come to me for help, I get to call you whatever I want. Besides, I like Eli."

Rudan snickered. "You only like Eli when you can feed him sweets and then send him home before the sugar hits his system.

Tru widened her eyes innocently. "Of course."

Trill hopped down from Rudan's shoulder in disgust, stalking off in the hopes of finding a nice corner to sulk in. Unfortunately, the corner he found was already occupied.

Why hello there, the enormous orange cat greeted, stubby tail swishing as he looked over Trill. Where'd you come from, beautiful?

Outside, Trill stated flatly, trying to figure out how to back away without it being obvious that he was retreating.

Don't go, pretty one, the orange cat protested, getting up and twining around Trill, a low purr building up in his chest. Lovelies such as you should be appropriately appreciated.

Look, I'm just here for some help with a curse so if you don't mind I'd kind of like to get back to that, okay? Trill snapped.

It'll keep. Tru can talk for hours when Rudan comes by, the orange cat assured him, rubbing up close and nearly knocking Trill over. This was so undignified!

Must you hit on every four-legged creature that comes in the front door, Kyo? a new voice inquired, slightly higher than that of the orange cat. The orange cat looked up, drooping slightly.

I like making new friends, Nickel. Besides, not all of them have four legs. That blue rabbit, for one...

Nickel snorted. It doesn't count if they managed to get a leg bitten off.

Trill looked up at the tortoiseshell sitting calmly on the chair, then back at the big orange tom. He began to slowly inch away, only to be defeated as Kyo pounced him.

Ack! Getitoffgetitoff!! he wheezed, flailing uselessly beneath the orange cat's massive bulk.

Nickel laughed, fluffy tail swishing back and forth as he watched them. He didn't appear at all disposed to help; rather, he seemed to find the whole fiasco quite amusing.

Rudan! Trill screeched with what little breath he had left, Your friend's pets are sitting on me!

There were approaching footsteps, two differently pitched chuckles, then the horrible weight was lifted from his much-abused body. He tested each limb one at a time to make certain they still worked and was on the right hind leg when Rudan picked him up.

"Nickel, Kyo, play nice now," Rudan admonished, though he seemed more amused than anything.

I was, Kyo replied, bewildered. Wasn't I?

"Yes, be nice to poor Catnip," Tru added, smirking when Trill glared at her.

Are they leaving yet? Nickel inquired.

Tru laughed. "Not just yet, Nickel. Sorry."

Nickel yawned and leapt from the chair to the top of a bookshelf. I think I'll take a nap then. Wake me if you need me.

Tru smiled and led Rudan, still carrying Trill, into a cozy little kitchen and had them sit down at the table. The big orange cat followed a few moments later. "Now then, Catnip, Rudan says you've some sort of curse on you," she announced. "Let's have a look and see what we can do about it."

My name is Trill, Trill muttered sullenly, hunching down in Rudan's lap and wondering just how much trouble he'd get in if he clawed the witch the next time she called him Catnip.

"Mmm... hmm..." Tru mumbled, poking thoughtfully at Trill and peering at him over the lenses of her glasses. She frowned. "That's odd..."

"What's odd?" Rudan and Trill asked simultaneously.

"Rudan," Tru asked, not looking up, "You did say he was a faerie, right?"

"Yeah," Rudan replied. "Why?"

Tru peered at Trill. "Because the curse on him is pretty heavy-duty faerie magic. You'd think he'd have been able to break it himself."

Trill muttered something beneath his breath, earning an odd glance from Tru. "What was that?" she asked.

I said, I'm kinda lousy at doing magic, Trill muttered sullenly.

Both humans blinked at him.

"You're a faerie," Tru pointed out. "Faeries are just about the most magical creatures there are."

Trill glared. Yeah, well, so I'm some sort of anomaly. It happens.

"A faerie," Tru repeated, hazel eyes gleaming. "A faerie that's bad at magic." In moments she was laughing helplessly, oblivious to the nasty glares being sent her way.

It's official, Trill sighed, My life sucks.

"There isn't anything you can do, Tru?" Rudan asked when the witch finally stopped laughing. She eyed him thoughtfully for a long moment, then looked at Trill.

"Well... I suppose I could take a shot at modifying the curse to a more familiar one with a known cursebreaker..." She shrugged. "Might not work, though. And then he'd be stuck with two curses."

Trill frowned. You're a witch. Witches can't do spell-modification...

Tru grinned. "True, normal witches can't. But I'm studying to be a Black Sorceress, so I know a few things..." She winked.

That... wasn't nearly as reassuring as it ought to be. Granted, it meant there was actually a chance she might be able to do something useful, but a Black Sorceress? Was Rudan mad?

Glancing from one to the other, Trill finally sighed. Fine, whatever. I don't think things could possibly get any worse.

Tru laughed. "Things can always get worse, cupcake. You just sit tight and we'll see how worse, mmkay?"

Trill winced. On second thought, maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Too late, though, as Tru had already begun to murmur arcane words over the hideously ugly cast-iron pot sitting atop her equally-hideous brick oven. The liquid inside burbled and popped as she spoke in an less-than-reassuring manner. From a nearby countertop the orange cat watched, appearing rather fascinated, particularly as she lowered a teaspoon into the mixture and withdrew a faintly-glowing sample.

Why did he feel as though his doom were approaching? Trill winced again as Tru dribbled the liquid onto his head, then yawned. What... what was... that?

"Hopefully the solution to your problem," Tru stated matter-of-factly. "Now then, Rudan, would you do the honors?"

Rudan blinked. "What honors?"

Tru grinned in gleeful delight. "The most common cursebreaker is, of course, a kiss!" she announced.

Rudan's cheeks flushed scarlet. Trill tried to summon up the energy to be indignant, but he appeared to be having trouble staying awake. You... nasty...

"C'mon, go on now," Tru cooed, quite obviously having to restrain herself from laughing. Rudan drew in a deep breath, closed his eyes, and kissed Trill rather awkwardly on his furry muzzle.

For a single instant it seemed as though all of his insides were going out and vice versa, making him want to hurl, then Trill felt nothing at all. He winced. "Owwww..."

A familiar deep voice exclaimed in surprise, "Hey, it worked!"

Trill opened his eyes, shut them again when the room spun, then opened them a little more slowly. "Note to self. While useful, Black Witch potions are bloody obnoxious..."

He sat up, examining his hands, quite thrilled that he had them again, then twisted to make certain his wings were still there. That confirmed, he slowly became aware of two things. One, he was still in Rudan's lap. Two, he was stark naked.

Trill screeched, leaping up out of the half-goblin's lap and darting behind the chair, glaring flushedly at the wall. He crooked a finger and wove himself a quick bit of fabric to drape about himself, wondering not for the first time why he was the only faerie he knew that couldn't summon a complete wardrobe complete with accessories on a moment's notice.

The essentials covered, Trill glared first at Tru, then at Rudan who was still red and contemplating the table something fierce.

"Huh..." Tru blinked. "That's not just any fairy, that's Prince Pfiloneastrill."

Trill sighed. "Trill's fine."

"Who?" Rudan asked, some of the color leaving his cheeks as he blinked at Tru.

"Eighth child of the King of Light, High King of the faerie courts," Tru elaborated. "Honestly, Rudan."

Rudan grinned. "You're the scholar, not me, Tru," he pointed out.

"Point," Tru said, grinning.

"Um, you guys wouldn't happen to have some clothing that might fit me, would you?" Trill asked plaintively.

Tru smirked.

"Your hair is red," Rudan pointed out, sounding somewhat quizzical.

"Yes, it is," Trill replied absently, picking at the translucent, glittery, blue-green shirt he'd been given to wear.

"With gold streaks."

Trill sighed. "I already told you, I'm something of an aberration. Believe me, it's not easy being the only one in the family who isn't blond haired and green eyed."

Rudan blinked. "Your eyes are green, though..."

Trill blew hair out of his face and walked over to straddle Rudan's lap, bringing them nose to nose. "Look again."

"Um," Rudan managed, face heating rapidly. "Right. There's gold in those too."

"Exactly," Trill agreed with a sigh. "Weird hair, weird eyes, magically abysmal... I'm a disgrace to the royal family."

"I, ah..." Rudan held perfectly still. "I don't think you're a disgrace... just... um... unique."

Trill snorted and slid off his lap, muttering as he had to adjust his shiny, silver pants afterward. "Really, did she have to give me pants that are so tight?"

"I'm a girl," Tru pointed out, arriving with a pair of equally girly slip-on shoes. "I have girl clothes. Don't like it, don't wear them."

"You're evil."

"I'm a witch."

Trill sighed and donned the newly-arrived shoes, glancing over himself and sighing again. "I look like a fairy."

"You are a faerie," Rudan pointed out.

"Yeah, well now I look like one," Trill sulked.

"I like the spandex," Tru said with a shrug.

"You're wearing black," Trill pointed out.

Tru grinned. "I know."

Muttering several choices phrases about evil, sadistic witches, Trill dropped down into an unoccupied chair. "So... now what?"

"Well I for one would like to know why someone would want to curse you," Tru replied, pulling up a chair for herself. "It seems like it would be pretty pointless to curse the black sheep of the High King's brood."

"No kidding," Trill agreed.

"So then..." Rudan ventured hesitantly.

"What would someone have to gain from cursing Catnip?" Tru mused aloud, patiently ignoring the nasty look Trill shot in her direction. "Binding his magic would be pointless since he can't use it anyway, he kept his wings so it obviously didn't render him earthbound..." She considered. "All it really did was make him small and unable to speak. More or less."

Rudan frowned. "That would mean he couldn't ask for help from anyone who didn't speak animal languages."

Trill regarded them both, brow furrowed. "So I get turned into a helpless, speechless cat... for what?"

No one got the chance to venture any possible hypotheses, for at that moment Kyo, who had been nosing around on the counter, accidentally knocked a large container of greenish goo into the still-simmering cauldron. There was a tremendous explosion, complete with requisite billowing of thick black smoke, and a startled yelp from the hapless feline.

"What the... KYO!" Tru jumped up, snapping off several sharp words that took care of the smoke, revealing a rather bewildered purple cat with large orange spots dripping cauldron goo.


"Oh you... come here," Tru ordered, hitching up her long black skirts so they wouldn't drag in the puddle on the floor. Before she could reach him, however, Kyo jumped up and dashed away, making a flying leap for the table and scrambling up before making a second leap for Nickel's bookshelf. The commotion woke the tortoiseshell who blinked sleepily at the purple and orange creature assaulting his napping place, screeched bloody murder, and promptly swatted Kyo across the room with his big fluffy tail o' doom.

Somewhat dazed, Kyo remained where he'd landed upside-down against a wall and whined pitifully that his beloved Nickel hated him now...

Tru sighed, looking around at the wreck of her house. "Maybe you boys had better go now," she said finally. "I'm going to clean up this mess and de-spell Kyo before something else happens."

"Err... you don't need... um... help?" Trill asked, glancing around at the chaos. Rudan touched his arm and grinned.

"Trust me, you don't want to be anywhere near here," he assured the faerie.

Tru smirked in an entirely unsettling way. "Yes. Shoo," she reaffirmed, then turned around. "Now then... heeeeere kitty kitty..."

Rudan gulped, grabbing Trill's wrist and dragging the startled faerie out the front door. They'd just made it across the moat bridge when the screeching began, interspersed with yowls and massive crashes.

Trill stared. Rudan grinned. "You don't want to know," he intoned.

From the sound of things, Trill had to agree.

The trip back out of the swamp was remarkably similar to the trip in. Creatures of all shapes and sizes attempted to bite, maim, claw, or otherwise attack them and Rudan calmly dispatched each one, including the boggart that had actually managed to snatch Trill up into the trees before finding its head separated from the rest of its body.

"I think that stupid thing put a hole in my new shirt..." Trill muttered as they approached the edge of the swamp. "Stupid boggarts."

"You don't even like the clothes Tru gave you," Rudan observed.

"That's not the point," Trill retorted. "The point is it put a hole in my shirt! How rude!"

Rudan hid a smile. "Well, it's dead now."

"Good," Trill muttered, so intent upon the small hole in his diaphanous shirt that he didn't notice the group of Sluagh waiting for them until after he'd been grabbed and his arms pinned.

"Don't move," the nearest one hissed, eyes on the startled Rudan. "You either. Back off, goblin trash." A moment later it gurgled and fell over, followed shortly by three more of its companions, gleaming knives sticking out of their throats.

Trill yelped as one of the Sluagh groped him, smacking its hands away and causing enough of a commotion to distract Rudan long enough for another of the creatures to slip up behind him and bash him over the head with a large rock. A moment later the trick was repeated on Trill, and the world went black.

When they woke some time later Rudan had a throbbing headache that was only made worse by the constant and highly creative stream of cussing coming from Trill. He opened his eyes slowly, wincing at the torchlight, and glanced around the large empty room they were in.

He and Trill were seated in sturdy wooden chairs, facing one another. The floor beneath them was black marble, heavily cracked and showing signs of age. All around was a sort of ruined glory, as though once whoever had dwelled here had been both rich and powerful and now it was all gone.

There were a number of Sluagh and other creatures hovering nearby, watching. Waiting. For what?

Footsteps approached from behind him. Trill ceased his litany of curses, blinking once and gaping.

"Myrtle?" he exclaimed. "Why you sorry, misbegotten excuse for a faerie..."

"Nice to see you too, Pfiloneastrill," Myrtle purred, coming around to stand far too close to the bound Trill. Like most fae, he had silky blond hair and gossamer wings. Rudan thought Trill was much prettier.

"Don't call me that," Trill snapped. "What do you want?"

Myrtle ran a hand through Trill's hair, tugging on it a little. "Why you, of course," he cooed. "You have no idea how long it's taken us to find you, Trill. And how much longer before that it took to figure it out."

"Get away from me you psycho!" Trill demanded, trying to get as far away from Myrtle as his bonds would allow.

"Figure what out?" Rudan asked, frowning, displeased to discover that most of his weapons appeared to have been removed while he was unconscious. "Why do you want Trill?"

The blond faerie glanced at him briefly, hands still in Trill's hair. "Because of his mother, of course."

Trill blinked. "My mother? My mother's long gone. Wanderlust from hell or something."

Myrtle laughed and petted him, prompting another futile escape attempt. "Not really. She just figured out that her hiding place wasn't so secret anymore. Unfortunately, she killed herself before we could capture her." He pouted.

"Killed herself?" Rudan repeated, somewhat startled.

"Why?" Trill demanded.

Myrtle grinned, stroking the side of Trill's face, apparently pleased by the faerie prince's queasy expression. "So we wouldn't get her power, of course," he replied, beaming. "But that's fine. Her son will work just as well. Better, even, as he doesn't know how to fight back..."

"Work for what?" Rudan asked, puzzled. None of this really made any sense to him, though he supposed he should be used to that by now. Nothing seemed to make sense when Trill was involved.

"To take over the fairylands!" Myrtle exclaimed gleefully, spinning around and positively beaming at Trill.

"You're insane," Trill said flatly.

"Oh no," Myrtle assured him, "I'm quite sane. You see, your mother was one of the last of the sacred phoenixes. With her power we could have ruled the world, but she managed to hide from us for years..." He smiled darkly. "Eventually we found her, but she ran again, and killed herself before we could spring our trap. Nobody realized for years that she'd produced a half-blood child..."

"Me. Right," Trill stated, patent disbelief in his voice.

"You do have red hair," Rudan pointed out helpfully.

"And with no other phoenixes around to teach you how to use your power, you were perfect!" Myrtle gushed. "All that legendary power that you don't know how to use, just waiting for us to tap. Absolutely perfect. The High King will never know what hit him."

Trill glanced briefly at Rudan, then rolled his eyes and twisted his neck to look up at Myrtle. "You know," he pointed out, "There's just one tiny flaw in your plans."

"Oh?" Myrtle inquired, bemused, "What's that?"

"By telling us what you planned, you made a very stupid mistake."

Myrtle frowned. "What do you mean?" he asked.

Trill grinned. "You gave us the tactical advantage."

"If you hadn't noticed," Myrtle pointed out, "Both of you are tied up and helpless in my power, and therefore in no position to make any use of that knowledge."

"That's what you think," Trill said happily. "Rudan, fry 'em."

Rudan blinked. "But..."

Myrtle snorted. "Right. I've heard all about the goblin boy's fire trick. Sure, go ahead goblin, incinerate us. I'm sure nobody will mind if Pfiloneastrill gets caught in the middle of it."

Trill smirked. "Go ahead," he urged, "Do it, Rudan."

With one last, uncertain look at Trill, Rudan complied. The fire came as it always did, searing hot, engulfing the room in an instant. When he snapped his mouth shut he kept his eyes closed for a moment, not entirely certain what he would see. Slowly he cracked one open, then the other, then stared.

As expected, the room was nothing more than a blackened, smoldering husk. However, standing a few feet away and dusting ash off his butt was a very alive, very stark-naked Trill.

"Well, that worked quite nicely," the faerie beamed, bouncing over to untie Rudan. "Stupid Myrtle. I knew there was a reason I didn't like him."

"Guh," Rudan managed.

"Still, for an evil villain he was awfully stupid," Trill continued, getting the ropes at Rudan's feet now that the goblin's hands were free. "What is it with evil guys feeling the need to spill all their plans to their captives? How stupid can you get?"

Rudan still couldn't quite manage a coherent answer, which Trill finally noticed. He blinked for a moment, then smirked as he realized that Rudan was staring openly at him. Before the goblin could get up out of the chair Trill straddled the man's legs, wrapped his arms around Rudan's neck, and kissed him soundly.

For someone as generically clueless as Rudan, the goblin kissed quite nicely. In Trill's not-insignificant opinion, anyway.

"I have been wanting to do that ever since you first stepped out of that door and rippled those delicious muscles right in front of me," Trill announced when they parted for air, wriggling delightly in Rudan's lap and smirking contentedly when the man's arms came up and around him, playing over smooth faerie skin.

"Myrtle's biggest mistake was telling me about my mother," Trill concluded as he deftly undid the fastenings on Rudan's armor, annoyed that there were so bloody many of them. "I already knew I was immune to most fires, but without knowing why I'd never have trusted it would hold up against Baelfire and do you really have to wear quite so much clothing?"

Rudan blinked slowly. "Um. Sorry?" he managed, freeing one hand from where it was caressing the soft curve of Trill's backside to assist in the removal of his clothes. "Um, so, why did it work against my fire?" he asked finally after his brain managed to process Trill's words.

Trill rolled his eyes. "You really haven't studied much, have you?" he asked. "But then again, neither did Myrtle." Trill beamed. "Phoenixfire is the only thing hotter than Baelfire!"

"Oh," Rudan blinked.

"Now then," Trill said, sliding his hands across the broad expanse of the half-goblin's well-defined chest and down into the waist of his pants, "I believe you were going to show me your tail...?"