Illustrations for the story The Fae Queen and the Seventh Warrior
An urban fantasy story set in an alternate world of dark cityscapes and magic. The story follows a warrior who is given to the Fae Queen in a deal made out of desperation. Now that he is bound to her side he must learn what it means to belong to one of the fae who are as unpredictable as they are powerful. The story is based loosely on the classic Beauty and the Beast tale where the Fae Queen takes the place of the Beast and the Seventh Warrior is her Beauty.
(You can read the prologue for the story under the cut.)
Prologue The Underworld Court
“Don’t look to the others,” their guide says, “she’s the one to fear.”
With that warning he turns away from the group of seven warriors that he has come to guide, as the knowledge keeper of their city, leading them to the double doors that are the entrance into a large brick building. The night seems to loom in from the shadows that shroud all around the building. The single light that hangs above the double doors almost silhouettes the Queen’s two guards standing before it.
The group approaches, wary, but confident in their skills and in the guns and knives hidden under their clothes. They were told this underworld court allows weapons, an allowance they take comfort in. The guardsmen pull themselves up and look them over barring the way.
The guide of the group is at the front and he steps up to the men to speak. “We come to ask a boon.”
The guards move aside as one and the doors open untouched before them. The youngest of the group fingers the hilt of a knife at his hip but steps with the others into the dim empty room beyond. It is quickly apparent this room is a foyer and that the real chambers of the underworld court are beyond the far more impressive doors that tower above them, twenty feet from where they stand. The doors are intricately carved with spiraling patterns that twist and wrap like vines. Two large knockers in the shape of horned beasts seem to almost be watching the newly entered group.
Suddenly the two doors part and beyond is the underworld court, but not as they expected. There are masses of people within. Music plays and there is drink and food that many of the occupants are partaking in as they line the edges of the room and move or dance in and across the center. They do not pay any mind to the newly entered group seemingly caught up in their own entertainments. However as the group walks across the foyer to enter they quickly realize many of the people within are not people at all. Claw, fur, fang, horn, tail and many other things that belong on no human seem commonplace here. As the group enters they find no person within is marked as human, they are alone now amongst the supernatural of the court.
Their guide walks with purpose through the crowd and the room is revealed to go further than it first appeared. The further from the doors they venture the darker and quieter the room becomes and the air seems charged. Supernatural beings still line the walls but they are watching the group and they murmur or growl and shift amongst each other like oily water until it seems only as if the walls themselves are alive with moving shadows and reflective eyes.
The guide slows as they reach this darker point near the back of the room and it is then that candles and torches begin to flicker to life of their own accord. The lighting leads their eyes to a throne that sits upon the floor and a delicate figure half sitting, half crouched atop it. Her feet are bare and they’re set against what appears to be rough rock hidden in shadow at the foot of the throne. Her hair is long and dark and her eyes bright even in the dim light as if lit from within. Feathers emerge from her hair on both sides just behind her ears and there are tiny stones strung through her hair that seem to almost form a circlet crown around her head.
The guide bows his head and tilts his upper body downwards, holding still for a moment, until she shifts her head just slightly and he pulls back upright. Her eyes flicker to each member of the group before returning to the guide, dismissing the rest as unimportant for the moment. He reaches to his side and pulls a small box from a pouch which he holds out in offering to her. She beckons him forward and he places it in an out-held palm, before returning to the head of the group.
The Queen opens the box and smirks before throwing her head back in a laugh that echoes in the silent chamber. Although to look back you could see the still milling crowd they had just passed through but they can no longer be heard and appear distant now. She pulls from the box a salted honey cake, the honey across the top glistening in the firelight as she brings it to her lips and licks it, then sets it back in the box. She holds it out to the side of the throne where a shadowed figure pulls it away out of sight.
“How very traditional,” she finally speaks, her smile gentle but also a little mocking, “I’m used to receiving slightly more modern offerings.”
“An old offering for an old boon,” speaks the guide again.
“Oh? And what favor do you come to beg?” She leans slightly to one side of the throne, her smile still gently mocking, her eyes filled with wicked mirth.
“A threat we wish defeated. One we do not have the strength to overpower.”
“And what enemy do you face that these strong men cannot defeat?” Her voice turns laughing when she speaks of them as strong and one of the members glares, his hand tensing with a need to reach for a weapon.
“A dragon of the deep, grown mad and sickened in the city’s underbelly.”
“And you cannot defeat this sickened foe.”
“It is of twisted mind and body, unlike any I have seen. No means we know have stopped it.”
The Queen pauses, twisting a lock of hair about one finger and she looks on each of them again this time her eyes lingering. The guide remains silent and the others, following his action, attempt to still themselves but her silence lingers and the awkwardness of it grows until they are all trying not to shift in impatience and anxiety. Finally, her eyes set again on their guide.
“What do you have worthy of this boon?” Her smile still light but her tone is icy beneath its false sweetness.
He begins to speak as one recites words memorized from a song or poem:
Each of these seven are warriors well
Each has been through seven hells
Each has memory, stories long
Each has learned the seven songs
All deemed worthy, though they few
One of them belongs to you.
As he finishes the final word her smile drops for the first time and she sits straight upon her throne, fury in her eyes. The flames flare around her, and all of her throne is illuminated for the first time. The stones at her feet are revealed to be skulls, the top of her throne, blood tipped spears, and the shadows behind her throne, that the light should have shown through, writhe and twist still dark and impenetrable as the night.
Her lips pull back in a soundless snarl that has all of them tensing to keep from flinching. Her eyes once seeming simply odd in the light now seem entirely inhuman, the whites turned to black and irises a glowing silver.
“You would invoke the old rights?” She speaks at the same volume but it seems a deafening echo in the room.
“You may take whichever of the seven you wish in payment for this boon. I can tell you their stor-”
Suddenly she is inches before him, letting out a wild scream that sounds as if a forest full of animals has risen to cry out all at once. The guide cannot control his flinch then and his eyes are wide, showing white around the edges in the face of the full fury of the Fae Queen. His body shakes as her scream continues on and on, his eyes watering from the pain of it. It cuts off and there is no echo in the chamber, only utter silence. The revelers behind them and the watchers against the wall are still as statues and what they thought was silence they now know is merely muffled quiet, for now the sound of their hearts seems to echo in the room and their harsh breathing is a background symphony.
“Rescind your claim to such a boon and I will let you live,” she hisses through clenched teeth that appear more as fangs now.
“No.” He looks straight into her eyes, confident in the ritual words once more. She shakes with contained rage and all seven warriors have hands hovering above their weapons waiting to see if she will strike out to kill their guide.
She steps back and many breathe out heavily with relief, seeing that the binding ritual words the guide spoke hold true and she cannot harm them. Her head turns with a snap and her eyes bore into the youngest of the group. He has long dark brown hair pulled back into a pony tail and light green eyes that contrasts with his darker tan skin tone. On his face there is only a small scar that disappears into his hair but his arms bear warriors’ scars, some old but most newer, another mark of his age. She looks deeper into his eyes, to the very core of him, and sees a mother and brother who depend on him, a city that longs to welcome him home from his quest, six warriors that consider him theirs to mentor and protect. The man who stands closest to him closes his eyes for a single moment in despair, for the youngest only came because they needed the seven greatest warriors of their city. He is their seventh and they know that he is the one they will now be forced to leave behind.
She steps before him and half her jaw seems to snap as if on a hinge hanging loosely down from one side. Her skin peels and rots, spreading down from her face across her visible flesh, until her bare arms and one of her legs is black and falling apart from it. One of her eyes seems to half dissolve to drip down her face. She breathes out in a gurgling hiss into his face and the gagging sound he makes behind thinly pressed lips and harshly clenched teeth is deafening. Her hand reaches out and when it touches the side of his face his whole frame shudders violently. She drags it gently across his cheek, a parody of a lover’s caress and something thick and sticky pulls away from her hand and stays. His hands clench hard against where they are now pressed into his pant leg as he struggles not reach up and try to wipe it away or step back from her new revolting form.
“Are you sure you wish for your young one to be left behind with me? Are you sure you wish for your little one here to face the punishment for your sins?” She stands again before the guide, her voice deep and still revoltingly wet.
“Is he the warrior you choose to take for this boon?” he asks in a tight voice, his eyes looking pained. She snarls and it is dull and ordinary, her form returned between the blink of an eye to her previous state, a corpse no longer. In her eyes her fury is now banked with a kind of resignation but as they look deep into the guide’s eyes they also promise vengeance.
“Yes. That one is mine.” She steps away from the guide and stands before her throne once more, her hand reaches out and she beckons to her now claimed warrior with a crooked finger. He looks to the guide who nods resigned and the youngest of their number steels himself, finally wiping his cheek roughly with a single stroke before walking to stand before the Queen.
She bids him to turn to face his brothers in arms and she rests her head upon his shoulder from behind him. One arm curls around to rest against his stomach while the other pulls his wrist and moves his arm as if to wave goodbye to his fellow warriors as one might do with the arm of a child or pet. Then she pushes him down to his knees, forcing his head to face toward the floor. Her hand is a claw digging into his shoulder as he kneels at her feet. She stands tall, her head held high in contrast. It is the last sight they will have of him.
“You have your boon. Now get out.” Her voice falls to a whisper and suddenly those who had fallen still on the edges of the room begin to move again. At first it seems the walls are moving in on them, but it is the creatures of court moving closer, snarling and growling. All eyes are on them and the queen’s anger is reflected in all of them. The guide is moving again, walking toward the entrance and the warriors move to follow.
“I SAID GET OUT!” The walls lurch forward, teeth and claws reaching for them and they run for the doors. They burst into the foyer with the writhing pack of monsters biting at their heels.
The warriors seem almost to fly out the final double doors onto the street, the clean cold air sharp in their lungs. They turn, weapons drawn, but behind them the brick wall is now empty. They are alone on the street, the six warriors and their guide. The light that was above the doors in the wall flickers and goes out.