I realized it was time for more than breaking up with my boyfriend when he threw me through the window. It was then I realized he had passed some line, far beyond simple human relationships, and that perhaps he had to die before he destroyed himself, myself, and everyone else around him. It was a very hard realization to make and I must admit how shocked I was when my mind quietly realized this, as I picked myself up and ran, hearing him howling in rage as I clutched the crown in hands, mortal blood spilling over metal that was not forged in this world. Some things are unavoidable, I suppose.
It started with a ghost story. An urban myth, really. Every town has them and ours was no exception. I lived in a fairly nice neighborhood, renting the upstairs of an old house and Brad lived on the other side of town where all the new apartment complexes were. We had been dating for almost six months now and I was content. Marriage was something far in the back of our heads but he didn't bring it up and I was happy where we were and so we just… existed. Things could have gone on that way indefinitely and knowing what I know now I wish they had.
He always thirsted for something a bit more. There was some wild, unrestrained part of his soul to him that I didn't quite understand and there were nights where he would pace his apartment, frustrated, searching for something more than just what we saw and understood. I don't think the myth was what started it. I think it was just the catalyst, the first step down the path of destruction.
I stopped by his place after work in early spring, when the river was swollen from melting snow and the world was wet. He had a feverish look in his eyes and urged me in, just saying he had found something I had to see. I just set my purse down on the sofa and calmly removed my jacket and he blundered about on the table. There were lots of scribbling on paper and he was shoving this into a binder, talking about having found something. Maybe it was real, maybe not, but it'd be worth a try. I just let him go until finally he turned, brandishing a print-out from the computer, and his lean face broke into a grin.
He'd been growing scrawny and his greasy brown hair was long and his jaw unshaven. If it weren't for his excitement I'd be scolding him for his appearance.
"Sarah, I really think this is worth a try," he said, gesturing for me to come over, "You've got to come with me."
I walked over and glanced at what he held. It was a generated route to a house number I didn't recognize as significant.
"I've been looking through the basement of the library," he said, "You know, where they keep the books no one ever checks out. I found one someone had written early 1700's about local legends of the town. Most of them are bunk – I checked them out, but I think this one may be the real deal. The house is still standing. I stopped by last night – did you notice the moon is almost full – and it just felt strange. I swear I saw them."
He was rambling in his pitched excitement. Ghost stories. I took a calm breath.
"Come with me tomorrow night. I'll tell you – no – you'll see. Just meet me here at sundown, right?"
He passed me the map. I glanced at it for a moment. It wasn't too far from where I lived and I figured I could spend an hour or so in the dark with him waiting for whatever he wanted to see to fail to manifest. There was just our world, our reality, and no matter how hard he looked he would always be disappointed. At the least I could indulge him and be there when he resigned himself to yet another failure.
"Alight," I said.
"There's rules," he continued, "Give them nothing. Eat nothing. Drink nothing. Take nothing from them, even as a gift. Speak as little as you can and pick your words very carefully – do not insult anyone, even by accident."
He took a deep breath and for a moment I saw doubt flicker in his eyes, as if he were contemplating if this were too dangerous to bring me along.
"Yeah, I think that's it," he finally said, the moment passing and his gaze returning to mine, "I'll keep you safe. I promise."
"You promise? Keep me safe from the ghosts?"
And he just grinned and kissed me on the cheek.
He was waiting for me. The sunset was short and dull, just a red horizon with a dappling of purple before darkness descended and the full moon started to rise. Brad gave me one hesitant glance, looking me over for a moment.
"You got any iron on you?"
"Put the necklace under your shirt… I don't think they object to holy symbols but I don't want to take chances."
I quietly slid the silver cross under my jacket. It wasn't that cold so I had only brought a thin zip-up as I did not expect to be here that long. Then we started hiking through the overgrown weeds on what used to be a cobblestone path leading to the house.
It was made of wood and brick and had long ago crumbled into ruin. Only part of the roof still stood on one side of the building. We climbed over the broken wall and stood among the fallen timbers and weeds. The hair on my arms tingled and Brad seemed almost on fire, unable to keep still and kept glancing at the rising moon and our surroundings. I looked at my watch. Half an hour had gone by since the sun set. I was about to open my mouth when Brad froze.
"Yes..," he hissed softly, "I was right."
I opened my mouth to ask what he meant when I felt a hand on my shoulder, firm and bony fingers gripping my shoulder. I screamed and then choked it off as a thin and cold piece of metal was placed at my neck. I held my breath.
I had never had a knife held to my neck before. Brad had turned to look at me at my cry and was just looking, a faint expression of disbelief and delight on his face. I was trembling from fear for there was undoubtedly a knife at my neck and I did not know what to do. I just waited and slowly became aware of shadows moving around the corners of the walls. Of lights flickering, as if lanterns were being lit one by one, and the fading of the full moon.
And slowly, the thing that Brad had been searching for unfolded before us. The house was fully rebuilt, a hall with tables in the center, a great feast upon them and all around us they walked, lighting the lanterns and laughing among themselves, save for a small group that clustered around us. Three stood just behind Brad, knives in their hands as well, watching him, and just the one that held my shoulder and a knife at my neck by me. They were nothing like the stories had described.
Bare-chested humanoids, adorned in bright metals wherever they could. Gold woven into hair of all styles. Rings on their fingers, bright necklaces and armbands of brass and silver, earrings that chimed with their movements, and cuffs around ankles that were not human. From the waist down they sported the legs of an animal, their steps high and strange, their hooves cloven and their fur varying from the dull brown of a deer to the dappled markings of the finest horse. Their ears were pointed, only slightly, and their eyes were bright. Some bore horns, goat horns, ram horns, and other variations I could not name. But I knew what they were: satyrs. Many of them.
Brad spread his hands and inclined his head.
"We have done you no harm."
That was all he said. No request to release me or anything. I remembered what he had said about taking nothing and minding my words while here. This was a game he was playing, a very dangerous game. He had not told me all the rules.
"That you have not," the satyr holding me captive said, "It has been long since a mortal has entered our household, much less two."
"Is this the manner of the House of Satyrs?"
The knife was removed from my neck and he laughed and stepped out from behind me, his hand still on my shoulder but the touch light, no longer a vice. I let out a breath and tried to keep from swaying from the sudden rush to my head that sent the room spinning.
"Indeed not," he replied, "But as I have said, we have not had visitors among us. Normally they come announced but… I suppose since you mortals have lost the means to contact us other than to be in the right place at the right time… we can excuse this. Come."
He let go of me and gestured for us to follow. Brad was by my side within moments, taking my arm and whispering in my ear.
"Sorry about that," he said urgently, "I honestly didn't think they'd react like that. I was so scared but I had to remain calm… I'm sorry."
"We're in their land. The other world – where the fae reside. The building was caught between and since the Hose of the Satyrs is meeting tonight we got caught in the pull and are in their land now. Until dawn. That's the legend, but it said ghosts. The author just never stayed long enough other than to write her little book."
He stopped talking and let go of my arm, focusing his attention on the front of the hall. There was a raised platform and two thrones on it, carved from wood with banners hung behind each. One of the satyrs walked up onto the platform and raised a horn made from horn and blew a single note on it, at which point the hall fell silent. Then he cried something in a language I did not recognize.
The satyrs fell to one knee, one and all, until only Brad and I remained standing. From the entrance to the hall came a procession, walking between the two sets of tables. At the head were two satyrs, armored and armed, and behind them were creatures of incredible beauty. I was speechless. He most closely resembled a goat and a cloak of purple was draped over his shoulders. He glittered with gold adornments and his crown rested between his horns. But it was the Queen that caught my eye the most, for she shone in silver and white, her legs pure white with fine fur and her hair was pale and her eyes blue. She looked at me, briefly, and smiled, then turned her gaze back to the thrones. The procession spread out, taking their places around the throne, and the King and Queen glanced at each other and sat as one. The assembled satyrs rose and started to take places along the benches for the feast. The King stood again and surveyed the hall.
"We have visitors among us. Bring them forth."
"Come," the satyr that had first accosted me said in my ear, his voice brimming with excitement. It was different from what I'd heard with Brad though, as his was always burning for… something. This one spoke with just an excitement of being.
We were led to stand before the Queen and King of the House of Satyrs. Brad bowed and I quickly mimicked his actions. Part of me wanted to yell at him for dragging me along. Another part of me wanted to flee from him, to the safety of the Queen and beg for her to stop this, to send us home and make him forget he had ever wanted this, ever wanted to find something beyond the mortal realm.
"Welcome to our hall," the King said, "It has been long since mortals set foot in it. I see you bring no offense and so none shall be taken. Indeed, we are honored that some among your kind would remember the old ways."
"There are very few that do," Brad replied, "I am grateful for your hospitality."
"Pray, tell me your names," the Queen said and her voice was soft and light, like she might burst into laughter at any moment.
"Sarah," I replied and beside me I felt Brad stiffen.
She nodded and turned her quiet and inquisitive eyes on Brad. He remained silent.
"As you wish, mortal," the King said when it became apparent Brad was going to say nothing. He gestured. "Please, make yourselves at home in my hall."
And he sat down and we were dismissed. Brad walked away, not speaking a word to me and I started after him, only to have both my arms grabbed and drug back by two of the satyrs, the group that had accosted us to being with.
"Oh no," one said, "You leave that one alone now. He's playing by the rules and you don't want to get involved in that."
"What?" I pulled at their grasp, trying to reach my boyfriend. He seemed to be wandering aimlessly, touching nothing, speaking to no one.
"You gave us your name," another said, "That gives us power over you now, you know?"
"What?" I asked, in an even smaller voice.
"Shh, it's alright!" The satyr let go of my arm and stepped in front me, beaming. "It means you're a guest and since you're under the Queen's power she is also responsible for what happens to a guest in her hall. Your friend has given us nothing and so…"
The satyr narrowed his eyes and stared at Brad for a moment, a calculating look coming across his strangely angular face. Then it lightened and he turned to me again.
"He told you not to take anything, not to give anything, and not to eat, right?"
I mutely nodded. I didn't understand but there was something about this that all seemed wrong. Brad was supposed to be the one I trusted. But the more I saw the more I was afraid of him and what he was doing.
"Those rules are gone now. He plays a dangerous game, the mortal does, but you've forfeited from the start. Sarah, you're going to leave here at sunup with nothing but your memories of this night. And a full stomach, if you wish."
He smiled and gestured at the table. I hesitated and saw Brad turn and look at me from the opposite side of the hall. His eyes were cold and then he turned away, refusing to acknowledge me.
"What's he trying to do?" I whispered.
"Get something out of us," the satyr said dourly, "If he avoids our hospitality and gives us nothing we must give him something in return at the end of the night to appease the fact a guest in our house has not been treated as such. You gave us your name and so we're already even. See? Enjoy our feast."
They pulled me along and I balked. Then I heard laughter and everyone froze, turning to glance at the Queen. She smiled at me, the one who had laughed.
"Seat yourself, Sarah," she said, "It's been long since we've had a mortal guest."
And the satyrs let go of me and I walked to the table and sat myself down, my legs moving almost against my will. Suddenly I understood what they meant by my name giving them power over me. Whatever she said would be my will as well as hers. I felt drowsy for a moment and then it lifted and the satyrs had seated themselves beside me and were already eating. There was food before me and I didn't remember how it got there.
The night passed in a half-haze. I ate with them, drank, and listened to their chatter. After the feast the tables were shoved to the walls and they danced. I watched for a time until my hands were seized and I was pulled into their circle. They laughed and I laughed too until I lost my footing and fell, at which point the dance stopped but the music continued, and with my head spinning I was lead aside to sit on a bench among the other satyrs, laughing as the dancing started up again. I felt light-headed and nothing mattered. I had no idea where Brad was.
In time the hall started to grow silent the satyrs were reluctantly breaking up. The lanterns were growing dim. I wondered what time it was and glanced at my watch. It had stopped the moment we entered the hall.
When I looked up the Queen was before me, smiling.
"It was good to have a mortal guest, dear Sarah," she said, "I believe you should leave though. You do not want to be here after the sun rises. But now that you know how to find this place…"
She hesitated, a worried expression suddenly on her face.
"You can come again, full moon or no. At night. Whenever you wish. Now go, little mortal, before the sun rises."
I started to speak, to ask where Brad was. But she knelt and gently kissed my forehead.
I woke in my own bed. My alarm was going off. I staggered over and shut it off, rubbing blearily at my eyes. Brad… there was something he had wanted to show me. I swore. Last night. He had wanted me there last night and I had forgotten. I would have to call on my lunch hour and apologize. I made for the shower and then stopped as I looked in the mirror. Underneath my pajamas was my necklace. Why would it be there? I always took it off before bed.
I called in sick that day. Then I sat for a long time on the edge of my bed, shifting through my memories. I had eaten and danced with the satyrs and was welcome back as a guest in their hall. But what of Brad? The Queen had sent me away before I knew what had become of him. I jumped up and ran for my phone again, my hands trembling as I dialed his number. He was playing a game with them and I didn't know if he had won, if he had gotten out of there before sunrise.
His voice was surly.
"Brad. It's Sarah."
There was a long pause. My heart beat in my throat.
"Oh. Yeah. Nice job on giving them your name, by the way."
I exhaled slowly. At least he was safe. Annoyed, but safe.
"I didn't know… but I don't think I should have been doing what you were, anyway. Are you alright?"
"Yeah. I got what I wanted. You actually helped some, believe it or not. Your car is still by the house. I'll come by in the afternoon to drive you down there to get it. I'll talk to you later – I've got stuff I need to do now."
And then I only had a dial tone. I listened to it for a moment before putting the phone down again.
That was when things changed. On some nights I felt the temptation to return to the House of Satyrs but I remembered how my memory had been, how I went through the night in almost a trance because they held my name. That kept me away. Brad kept me away from him. He did not return my calls and when I visited him he was distracted. His appearance was growing worse and I wondered if he was sleeping.
Finally, I confronted him about it.
"So if I went back there," I said one day, sitting on his sofa as he read some book I couldn't identify, "what would happen?"
"They won't be so fond of you this time."
"Why is that?"
He just shrugged. I stood up.
"Brad," I said in as even a tone as I could muster, "I've put up with your crazy ideas for a while now. And now that one had turned out to be real I don't like being kept in the dark. Tell me what happened after I was taken from the hall."
"I was given a gift in compensation for not taking of their food, their drink, or anything else," he said mildly, "And since you had been threatened when we entered I was able to ask for something more than I deserved."
"What did you ask for?" I whispered this. I wasn't sure I wanted to know.
"The crown of the Queen of the satyrs."
My hands were trembling and I was suddenly very, very afraid and I wasn't sure why.
"You have it," I said.
"I do. It's very powerful… I just need to figure out how to use it."
"Please… I don't think you should."
And he stood as well, knocking the chair over and slamming the book shut.
"Oh!?" His voice was raised and harsh. I stepped back in surprise. "You think that? You think they should just hoard all that power for themselves? I may be mortal but I won't be denied the power I won! You get that?"
"Yeah," I said, "I think I do."
I turned, took my jacket, and left.
I returned to the house that night. As the sun set and the moon came up it changed and I was again in the hall. There were very few lanterns lit and the hall was empty. I stood alone, looking around, wondering if I had just made a horrible mistake. But I had to know some things and Brad was not going to give me the answers.
There was a soft noise of surprise from one of the entrances to the hall. I turned and saw the satyr that had first accosted me when Brad had… won… the crown of the Queen. He hurried over, his hooves clicking on the wooden floor.
"You shouldn't be here," he said hastily, glancing about the room, "No one is happy."
"Because of my boyfriend, right?"
He nodded glumly.
"It was barely within his rights to ask for it but the Queen permitted it. It's a poor state of affairs. We've lost a great treasure and your friend…"
He trailed off and shook his head.
"Yeah, that's why I'm here," I replied, "He's changing. I mean, he's not the same. I need answers."
He looked up at me with very sad and tired eyes. Then glanced down again at the ground.
"I can't give them," he finally said, "It has to be an even exchange. What will you give us in return?"
I was a bit taken aback by this and for a moment had no idea what to say. Then the satyr leaned in close, pressing something cold and metal into my palm. It was the hilt of a knife.
"Here," he said, "Take this. It means you're obliged to us now and honestly, it's a stretch for me to ask this of you but… I think you need it. I think we need you to be in debt to us and you'll need that knife. Take it."
He looked me in the eyes and they were so solemn. I saw something in them. Desperation. The same kind of look I had seen when I looked in the rearview mirror of my car after leaving Brad's apartment. I nodded and took the knife.
"Now go. I'll return you back to your world. Don't come back here without it. You can save him and put things right."
I read. I found the old fairytales and read them. Some were silly but from each one I read that seemed to have a bit of reality to them I learned something. Debts. Power taken unfairly. What happened. And some of the stories had no happy endings.
I knew what it was I needed to do.
I went to Brad's apartment on the day where there would be a full moon. He almost didn't let me in. It took a lot of knocking and when he finally answered he didn't say a word, just glanced at me and silently let me in. I took a deep breath. The satyr's knife was tucked on the inside of my jeans, hidden, where I could get at it easily. I had no idea what to do with it.
"Brad," I said, "I've had enough of this. You've changed. You're not who I used to know and honestly, I don't like what you've become."
He turned his back to me. When he spoke his voice was hollow.
"You're breaking up with me."
"More than that. The crown. It has to be returned. It's corrupting you."
He whirled on me and the lights of the apartment dimmed. I felt my throat constrict with fear.
"Are you jealous?!" he roared, "That I have power now? Me, of all the mortals?! Or have they put some spell on you that turns you against me?"
"No, I just don't want to see you hurt yourself!" I cried, "You're changing, can't you see it?"
"I… have power…"
"It's wrong. Where is the crown?"
I stepped forwards, walking towards the backroom. He'd keep it in his bedroom. I knew where he kept his valuables.
He roared in anger, more an animal's cry than that of a human, and slammed me against the wall, his hands around my neck.
"No one will have it," he hissed, "You leave. And do not come back."
I saw in his eyes the corruption then. Why the satyr had given me a dagger and why he wanted me in debt to them. Why it was best for both of us. Brad was changing and it was his relentless pursuit to unlock the crown's power that was doing it. He had played the game and then manipulated it… pushed the rules… and his greed was turning against him. He was turning into a monster. I saw it in his eyes, an insane lust for power and I knew as his hands crushed the breath out of me that he would not stop with just this. He wouldn't let anything stop him.
I had the knife out and I stabbed him in the gut. My wrist was weak and the blow was poorly aimed but he jerked back and hit the wall as if I had put in his heart. I didn't even to stop to see if he was badly hurt, just ran down the hall and into the bedroom. Behind me I heard him howling, cursing in some other language that turned my blood to ice.
If only the neighbors could hear this…
They too, may be in danger. This thought ran through my head at that ironic thought as I scrambled across his dresser, searching for the crown. If he destroyed me over this – if he destroyed himself bit by bit and lost his humanity – we would all be in danger. This world was not prepared to deal with what the corruption of the fae could unleash.
My hands closed over something silver and metal. I held it tight in one hand, the dagger in the other. Then I turned and Brad's shadow was covering the door. The lights were going out around me and I backed away.
"I'll kill you if you don't let it go," he said, utterly calm, "It's mine. I won it."
"That's not a game you should ever play," I whispered, "I-I've done some reading too… it only corrupts and you twisted the game further than you should have."
Even then, I thought I could save him.
But he lunged at me and I swiped at him at with the dagger, clumsy, and again he recoiled, howling as if burned. And he shouted something and I was picked up by an invisible force and thrown through the window.
I hit the ground and rolled, pain shooting through my body as the glass of the window bit into my torso and arms. I struggled to my feet and heard a crunch and a car alarm as Brad jumped out behind me, landing on a car and fairly crushing the top of it beneath him. He was changing quickly now. I ran.
There must have been some sort of power in that crown for I was able to stay ahead of him. I was shrouded in shadow and I could hear him cursing my name. My breath was coming hard and there was a stitch in my side and worse from the glass that I had been thrown through. I saw the crown in the corner of my eye and for a second my heart broke. There was blood on it, my own blood, sliding down my arm from a cut and onto the ornate metal. It was stained.
I stopped running, panting, and leaned up against a tree. I had no idea where I was. There really weren't forests in our town, especially not so close to Brad's apartment. The sun had set though and the moon was full and I was holding fae artifacts. I wasn't in our world anymore, surely.
I heard Brad moving about, hunting for me. His breath came more like that of an animal than a human. I kept still, barely able to breath for fear of giving away where I was.
This was why the satyr had given me a dagger. He knew what was going to happen. I closed my eyes and let tears slide down my cheeks. Fine then. I owed them a debt – that was their rules – and Brad was no longer human. He wasn't the person I once loved. He wasn't human.
"I'm here," I said, stepping away from the tree, "Come then, and if you kill me remember that you once loved me."
He came for me. His form was scrawny, twisted and hunched and his eyes were pools of shadow. His hands were claws. I stood my ground and he leapt at me, shrieking, and I gripped the crown so tightly I felt its points pierce the skin of my hands and I lunged to meet his own, leading with the dagger and all the weight of my body.
His knee struck me in the gut. I was lifted into the air and thrown, slammed against a tree and then I hit the ground. The knife was no longer in my hand but somehow; I'd kept hold of the crown. I tried to move but nothing seemed to cooperate. Something was broken.
I turned my eyes towards where Brad and I had met. He was on his knees, gasping, and I could see in the light of the full moon the dagger protruding from his heart. I had made my mark. I started to sob as his labored breathing echoed through the silent forest and finally he took one last rattling gasp and slumped to the side and was still.
Mortal blood spilt for an immortal's crown. The King and Queen and all their retainers found me, treading softly around Brad's body. He seemed more at peace in death than he had ever been in life and I wondered if this would be comfort in the days to come or not. They removed the dagger and bore his body away. Then the Queen knelt by my side and gently took the crown from my hands. She touched the blood, her fine hands stained with red.
"You do not have to return this," she said, "The knife was a debt and stopping the corruption of your own and avenging this slight upon us fulfilled that. The crown has mortal blood on it and I have no claim to it."
"Take it," I managed to say. My ribs hurt. "We can't control the power within it. It belongs here."
She wiped the blood away with the hem of her cloak. Then she passed her hand across my face, over my eyes, and I slid into a dreamless sleep.
The police investigated Brad's disappearance but never found anything out. There was no trace of me being there this night and the neighbors said they heard a window shatter but nothing else. They couldn't ever find a resolution as to what had happened to him. I told them some things and was left alone.
I wore a belt under my clothing that held the satyr's knife close to me at all times. There were some properties to it that I didn't fully understand but I trusted that they would be enough. Once, I had a man staring at me while I walked home one night, and I only had to glance in his way for a moment, let our eyes meet, and he turned and quickly walked away.
I did not return to the House of the Satyrs. They had returned me to my own home, free of the injuries I had sustained that night and with the dagger resting on my chest when I woke. I knew what it meant. All debts were paid off. Everything was made right. Not all stories ended with a good ending. I would spend many nights mourning Brad not for his death, but for what he had become.
And even though I knew I would be welcome as a guest in their hall I never returned. That was a game that was not meant to be played and our worlds were just not meant to meet. I had the knife and that was enough. I was content with that.