Prelude

Aliza entered the forest. She might have looked an adult, but at heart she was still just a child, naive and ignorant, and still afraid of the dark. When you spent most of your life living underground, you knew about the things that hid in the shadows — and Aliza Adel knew those things better than anyone. 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 their shadows out until they merged into an all-consuming darkness.

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, all too aware of the eyes upon her. Some of them, she knew, were not of this world, and others worse, for not all of Torhout Forest was as natural as it once was. She caught a glimpse of silver out of the corner of her eye, a twinkling trunk of mercury capped with turquoise leaves. They said they were there to heal the forest after the fires four years ago, but Aliza knew you couldn’t trust the City. Clutching her pale arms around herself, she wondered who might be watching, and why.

“Who indeed!” said the voice. “And, though I have nothing to fear from such invasions of privacy, I still find their — how should we put this? — determination rather unsettling. A world without its secrets is a dull world indeed, wouldn’t you agree?”

The voice was all around her and it was there in front of her. Though she knew much of the other worlds and had so often hidden herself within them, the presence of the Sidhe still sent a shiver up her spine. They were beyond human understanding, and yet they were so very simple. They were 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 as well, but Aliza knew not to 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. He smiled at her, and 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 here. 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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