The world I grew up in is one that goes largely unnoticed by human society. Some know of its existence, but their numbers have dwindled in recent centuries and many of those who do know don't believe. But it is there, working in and around what humans have built. Once the superior order, it has become a sub-society that lives alongside the cities, towns, forests, and all else that is nowadays considered "human land".
We call it Falcut.
It is a vast society created by the fae, or "Faery People", as some call us. But those who live within Falcut are not faeries as human kind has portrayed them. Many of the fae are grotesque, cruel beings with a taste for trickery. Most even use a magic called glamour to wear human faces and blend in among the throngs of the human realm.
And though it is a part of the human realm, Falcut has three major regions of its own, and thus three rulers with them that hold themselves separate from the governments of man. The first is a region is called Fuiluir. In large it encompasses the whole of Europe and much of Africa. All fae who live there are lead by the Faery Queen. The second is that which belongs to the Unseelie Court and its lord. It is a nasty realm called Malrea, where all dark things reside. The Unseelie is one of the oldest and most powerful of the courts. Their claim lies to the Americas and Australia. The third goes to Ateon, ruled by Elfish kind and the Seelie Court. They too are old and powerful, concurring all of Asia and what of Africa that the Faery Queen does not hold claim to. Though do not be comforted by the Seelie's good-nature. Their fae are as deadly as the others.
But even with so many variations of fae, there are those of us who are rejected by the courts, be it because of bad blood or magic. There are some that are exiled to live among human kind unless some substantial connection to any certain territory can be provided. And there are those that, even with a connection, are exiled simply out of convenience.
There are those like me.
My pale eyes stared emotionless out the too-large front picture window of my new flat. Beyond the glass the twinkling lights of London shone against the evening sky.
I hated cities. I hated crowds and people and the constant over-excited bustle that came with it. I hated the way business people walked around in their ridiculously expensive suits like they were better than everyone else. I hated stupid tourists with their ever-flashing cameras. But most of all, I hated this apartment.
Off in the kitchen I could heard Leo shuffling about, opening and closing cabinets and occasionally the fridge as he hurried to finish putting away the groceries he'd picked up for me earlier in the day.
It had been just over a week since my coming to London, England. But I still hadn't done much about settling in. The boxes that held what few possessions I had still lined the blank walls, neat and sealed as the day they had arrived.
I didn't want to unpack. I didn't want to live here.
"Lace? Where do you want me to put the jam?" Leo called. I didn't answer him. I wrapped my arms around myself as I continued to watch as the sun finally laid to rest and the stars came out to play.
Most fae would call me lucky the way I was now. I had a home given to me, a job set up for my arrival, and an exile that looked more like freedom to the untrained eye. But I knew better. Everything that I had here was my mother's way of keeping me quiet. She already had more on her plate than she needed without have to worry about her illegitimate blood mutt daughter.
She did love me, in a way, I knew. Though I had spent only a small portion of my childhood with her and among her court. She had tried to look after me, but I was frowned upon my most that I meet there. So, when I was old enough, I was taken by my father to live in Maine, America among his kind and within his court. That was the last time I'd heard from her. Until now, that is.
I hadn't really minded the separation though. It didn't take me long to find that I got on much better with my father's courts than I ever had with my mother's. There, I was not looked at with distain, but instead with curiosity. I was a jewel, the likes of which they had never seen before, with untapped potential, though my father did his best to keep me out of unwanted hands. He had been good man, though of no noble blood. His only claim to political power came from the marriage between his elder cousin, Demetri, and the only child and daughter of the ruling family.
"Lace?" Leo called again, this time from the archway between the kitchen and sitting room. He took a few steps toward me and paused.
I let my arms rest back at my sides as I watched him through the reflection. He was taller than me by nearly a head and stood with a mixture of apprehension and concern in his mix-matched eyes. After a moment his shoulders and stance relaxed as he waited for some sign from me that told him I was approachable. But I didn't give him one.
We stood there in silence for minutes on end. It was not in my nature to leave myself open, and not in Leo's nature to comfort. It had scared him greatly the first time he had seen me cry as a child. His kind was not naturally caring, but he tried his best for me, and right now that was all I needed.
After another moment his impatience got the best of him and he closed the gap between us before putting a hesitant arm around my shoulders and giving me a quick squeeze.
"You can't keep doing this to yourself, Lace." he said. "It's not healthy. Everything will be fine here, you'll see."
I let my head fall to his shoulder. "I don't want to be here," I whispered, "I want to go home." Leo's head came to rest atop mine as we both watched the city lights.
Leo would be leaving me the next morning - an event I knew neither of us was looking forward to. It had taken a great deal of effort for him to be allowed to come at all. He had duties his to own court that were vastly more important than my troubles. He belonged there, among the highest ranks of nobles, not squandering with me the in the human realm of my mother's territory.
He gave my shoulder another squeeze and suddenly it felt as though there was a rock in my belly.
"Leo…" I said in a quiet voice. But this time it was him that chose not to answer. I took a step closer to him nuzzled my head deeper against his neck, needing the safe feeling it gave me.
"Valmont…" I whispered. Beside me, Leo tensed. I knew I was playing with fire by calling him by his true name, but I didn't want his human face right now. I wanted the real him.
"Valmont," I said again, with a little more confidence. Fae are very touchy about names. To know one's true name was to hold power over them. Thus they do not give them away very willingly. Most fae had false names, and many of them. Leonardo was one of many false names and title's I had come to associate with my friend. It was his favorite and out of respect it was the one I used most often. In return he called me by Lace, the human name I had chosen for myself many years ago. He knew my true name, but had told me once that, to him, it felt wrong for me, like the taste of too much salt on his lips.
"What do you want me to do?" he said in a distant voice. "I'd pack you up and bring you back with me if I could, you know I would. But you also know that I can't." And I did know. Leo had been my best friend since my first coming to the Unseelie Court. We had been an odd pair, yes, but part of me secretly hoped that he was having as much a hard time right now as I was. Not only was I now without my father, but my only real companion too.
"Will you come to visit me?" I asked. Leo let out a long breath.
"As often as my lord and lady will allow," he said. "As I get older, Mother and Father grow stricter on my comings and goings."
"What does it matter?" I said without thinking. "You are not going to inherit the throne, why do they care?" But as soon as the words were out of my mouth I wished I could take them back.
Leo dropped his hand from my shoulder and took a step away from me. I had hit a still-open wound, and I had hit it hard. His temper had been on the frits already today with all the stress of my moving, and I had just made things that much harder.
He didn't need me to remind him that he would never have the Unseelie throne; that he was not the crowned prince of his court. It was his younger brother instead who was to be the next Lord. It hurt him, but was necessary. Because, even though Leo was the older of the two, he was not actually a blood heir of the Unseelie lord and lady. He was not even the same breed of fae. In truth, he had been adopted out of a surprising act of kindness by the lord back when I had been only five years old.
For as long as history held, the Unseelie court has been ruled by the same clan of préacháns, or crow fae. They are generally nasty creatures, whose true faces consisted of frightening black feathers and a set of fangs that had inspired the first tales of vampires. My father had been one, and a particularly nasty one when he wanted to be. And had Leo been Demetri's true blood son, he too would have been a crow and heir.
But no matter how hard he tried - tried to look like the lord and lady through the use of his glamour, tried to learn the magic of the préacháns, and all the skills of a proper Unseelie prince - he would never be heir.
Leo clenched and unclenched his first three time before running a hand through his messy black mop of hair. The lights of the city reflected off the various loops and bars in the ears, and for a second his true nature was all too easy to read.
"I am well aware of that, Ruuna Luz," he hissed. I flinched back at his hostile use of my own name. A shaky breath escaped his lips and his shoulders slacked again. When he looked back at me all anger was drained from his eyes.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, not allowing my eyes to meet his. I had been stupid. I knew better than to bring up inheritance between us; it was a touchy subject to both involved.
"No…" he said, sounding distant again, "I am. You are only speaking the truth." But his words didn't make me feel any better.
With a sigh, Leo sat himself on the bare hardwood floor with a thud. Once he was comfortable he held his hand out for me to join him. Taking it, I sat beside him and returned my head to his shoulder. His hand snaked its way around my waist and gave me another squeeze.
"Everything will be alright here, Lace," he said. "You'll see."
As we turned our attentions back to my new home city, part of me dared to believe him.
It rained all the next day. Monstrous black clouds blanketed the morning sky, blocking out nearly all signs of light.
Leo was already gone by the time I woke up. He was bad with emotions and even worse with goodbyes. I couldn't blame him though; I didn't feel like saying any more goodbyes either. I'd had had enough of them for a while.
Flipping on the kitchen lights I rummaged through the cabinets until I found the one Leo had filled with cereal boxes. Without looking I grabbed the first box my hand landed on and picked a clean bowl out of the dishwasher.
When I sat down I found a sealed envelope waiting for me on the table, my mother's unmistakable elegant scrawl leaving no doubt as to whom it was from. I decided that whatever she had to say to me could wait until after I ate, and maybe even until after I had showered. It wasn't a particularly large-looking letter and there was nothing about it that screamed 'urgent!'
I took my sweet time eating, though I hardly tasted any of what I ate. When I was done, I tossed my dirty bowl in the sink and headed for the bathroom. If I timed it just right, I would get out of the shower with only enough time to get ready for work and the letter would have to wait until this evening.
I had a feeling that my mother had had to pull quite a few strings in order to have a job ready for me by the time I stepped foot in England, and for the most part I was thankful.
But sometimes I really wasn't.
The Lord's Library was a nice, quaint little building and it must have looked like the cutest little bookstore to just about anyone that came in. But I was loosing patients with it very quickly. It wasn't really the store itself that I was having a hard time getting on with as it was the people who worked there. I had had my fair share of dealing with snobby bitches and ditzy valley girls back home, but this was another thing all together.
It was obvious from my first day that, just because these girls worked in a book store, didn't mean they read. It wasn't that they were stupid, but their incessant blabber of trivial matters was like a nails on a chalkboard to my ears. If there wasn't drama with one girl, there was drama with another.
"I just can't believe he said that!" Alexa announced for the third time. "What an utter arse!"
"I know!" squealed Bridget. "What a vile man!"
I just rolled my eyes and thanked whatever deity was watching over that Cameron had called in sick.
"Isn't he the worst, Lace?" Alexa chirped.
"Oh yes," I said with mock enthusiasm. "As bad as they come. You aught drop him like a sock." Both girls nodded vigorously in agreement before they began ranting amongst themselves once more.
At the other end of the shop the front door bell chimed with the coming of a new customer.
She was a tall, slender girl with flawless skin, big blue doe eyes, and long locks of wavy blonde hair.
And she was fae.
All my guards went up at once as I watched her make her way around the store. Her eyes followed my own as she browsed the shelves for something of interest.
I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end when her scent reached my nose. Under her sharp perfume she held the odor of new blossoms and honey. The smell alone made my stomach lurch.
Like any creature, fae carry a certain scent depending on their breed. And though it had been a long while, this woman's scent was one I knew very well.
She was a bean álainn; one of my mother's kind.
To the human tongue, bean álainns go by many names. They are called nymphs, fairies, pixies, and even veela on occasion. But to Falcut they are known as lovely ladies – humanoid fae with a beauty unrivaled by that of any human woman. They are known as protectors of the forests and for their nasty habit of stealing, using, and then killing handsome men.
"Look at the way she walks, she looks like such a bitch," whispered Alexa, and for once I agreed with her. It was only the four of us in the shop, but by the way she moved it was easy to tell that the she-fae was looking for attention.
My stomach gave another lurch as I watched her glamour flicker for a split second. Beneath her flawless cover was a creature with limbs too long and slender to pass as human. Her eyes flashed from their brilliant blue to the sort of see-through-your-soul pale grey glass that was specific only to the lovely ladies. Her glance caught mine again and she smiled at me in the way a cat would smile at a mouse. A shiver went down my spine.
At once she grabbed a book from the shelf with her long, delicate fingers and began to make her way to the counter, swishing her hips in a predatory manner.
I kept my eyes on her the whole while, not looking away even as I rang up her purchase.
When it all was through she gave me a sickly sweet, "Thank you," before turning and walking back to the door with the same sway of her hips. I stood dazed for a second, wondering what on earth had just happened.
What the hell was that?
By the time I punch out of work it was already dark and London was once again shining just as it had the night before. I didn't mind the night so much. In fact, I liked it much better than the daylight hours. There was something oddly comforting about it that spoke that side of me given to me by my father.
I watched the stars as I walked the quick three blocks back to my flat. The stars in England looked so much like those back home, though something in my heart told me they shouldn't. But they did, and I couldn't help thinking of my father every time I looked at them.
He really had been a great man, despite his breed. He had always been kind and gentle, only ever seeming to want to make me happy. "You will always be my little princess, no matter what mommy's court says," he'd tell me.
"Always my little princess," I whispered, looking up at the sky for one last moment before heading inside.
With the door shut tight behind me I make my way into the main room. I hung my coat in the closet in the hall before placing my bag down on the kitchen table. My mother's letter caught my eye and I picked it up with a frown. I flipped it over in my hands a few time before finally looking down at the name inscribed on the back.
How my mother knew my false name was beyond me, but I chose not to linger on it. Heading back to my room, I tore the envelope open and pulled out a heavy piece of parchment.
My Dearest Lace, it began.
I am very pleased to have you home and can only hope that you are settling in well. I have missed you these many years and, though our past has been scattered, I look forward with a new light that we may begin anew
I was very upset to hear of your father's death. In my heart I cared for him and would have never wish for such a thing to happen. He was a too good a man for his court and did not disserve what became of him. I do hope you are dealing alright and send all the comfort I can that the pain of his passing will leave you soon.
I frowned at my mother's words. She had no clue what I was going through, where did she get the right to act all upset when she had almost nothing to do with him once I was born? It set my blood to simmer.
I would also like you to know of an upcoming event I shall be holding. As you are now of the age of eighteen, I feel that as my daughter you have the right and duty to attend all events of our court.
This month I shall be holding a ball in celebration of the Spring Equinox as I and those who have ruled before me have done for as long as our court has existed. I believe this to be a great opportunity to reintroduce you to the hierarchy of Fuiluir. It would mean so much to me if you were to attend. I have already scheduled for my ladies to take your sizes this Thursday for your gown. We can't have you in anything less than what would be acceptable for someone of our line.
I shall send you another letter soon detailing the hour and location of your fitting. Until then I wish you the best of luck with London.
All my love,
I could hardly believe the nerve of that woman. Crumpling up the letter, I threw it into the small trash bin by my bedside table.
She wasn't there for me at all while I was with Dad, I seethed. She didn't send letters or call. And now she wants me to play perfect daughter when she won't even allow me to live under Falcut?
With an exaggerated groan I threw myself down on my bed. I didn't want to deal with her and I most certainly didn't want to deal with her "hierarchy".
I turned my head to the side and watched the stars out my window with a frown still on my face. My last few days had been an emotional roller coaster and I didn't need this on top of it.
I sighed and curled up on my bed, not caring that I was still in my t-shirt and jeans. What I wouldn't give to be home, safe, with Leo and my father still alive. After all, home is where the heart is, and my heart was far, far from here.