Prelude

Aliza entered the forest. She might have looked an adult, but at heart she was just a child, naïve and ignorant, and still afraid of the dark. When you spent your life living underground, you knew better than to trust the shadows, and Aliza Adel knew better than most what horrors they held. That was why she was here.

She rubbed her shoulder. The words still came to her. Whenever she was alone, whenever she was afraid, a cold, gentle wind whispered in her ear. Twelve notes for twelve wings. Even in the forest, with its walls of wild foliage and trees reaching for the distant heavens, she could not escape it. Behind her, Theia hung low on the horizon, its full face casting a bluish-white light through the trees, stretching out their shadows until they merged into an all-consuming blot of ignorance.

But Aliza had seen worse. She had braved nightmares and survived. Compared to them, this was a trivial test. Ignoring the whispers and the shadows, blocking the ache in her shoulder out of her mind, she trudged onward. This was the only way forward. This was her only way out.

Catching a glimpse of silver out of the corner of her eye, she shivered. Several hundred feet to her left, night gave way to a cool cerulean luminance, where twinkling trunks of mercury capped with turquoise leaves stood in opposition to Torhout’s ageing columns. Malkuth’s handiwork. According to them, it was to help rejuvenate the forest after the fires four years ago, but you couldn’t trust the City. Wary of their ever-watching eyes, Aliza pulled her pale arms around her.

Maybe she was wrong. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe there really was nowhere left to hide in this world except—

“They really are quite—how should we put this?—persistent, aren’t they?” said the voice. “Yet the more they strive to expose the world’s secrets, the more the world endeavours to hide them. And the world would be a very dull place without its share of secrets, wouldn’t you agree, my dear Aliza?”

The voice was all around her and it was there in front of her. Despite all her mother had taught her of the world’s many layers, and for all her experience dealing with their various denizens, the presence of the Sidhe still gave Aliza goosebumps. They were an existence beyond human understanding, ideas made manifest, dreams given form, gods and demons both and yet neither. Some called them the ‘Fair Folk’, others the ‘Good People’. Aliza’s mother referred to them as ‘phantasias’, souls refined through the dance of life and death, ideals. There were other terms, too, but Aliza knew not use those, or even to think them, because the Sidhe were of the aether, and thoughts were to the aether like droplets of colour in a bowl of water.

And it was because of the aether that the Sidhe before her took a shape wrenched from her imagination. He was as tall as a man could be and more handsome still, with an impossible bough of green hair framing the sharp features of his face, and when he smiled at her, it was the smile of a wolf. He was chaos and he was anarchy, he was beauty and he was hope.

Her only hope. That was why she had summoned him. Lord Freyr Venris, of the Court of Queen Áine Echraide was the only one who could help her escape the cursed shadow of Aliza Adel and live a normal life. The price no longer mattered to her. She would pay, and she would be free.

~*~

She left the forest another person, a new person. Yet, even as she stepped out from beneath the canopy of leaves, it was still there waiting for her: a single, cracked eye, ignorant of illusions and unhindered by lies. An eternal curse upon the world. And, every day, moving closer, ever closer.

This is a footnote! It’s where I am snarky and/or informative.

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