Okay, I have literally lost my mind. I don't know what has happened to me, or even where this story came from. I may need to get my head checked.

Anyway, this all belongs to Karen Moning, with apologies, because clearly there is some inner part of me that keeps messing about in her sandbox.

Inspired, I guess by the song "Red Lips" by Sky Ferreira, Tennyson's "In Memoriam" and T. S. Elliot's "The Hollow Men". Also, by my cray-cray brain.

Red lips, your ten for a penny

Cheap shot, spreading your legs for the boys

Such a big girl, such big news, such big talk:

Your number is up if you like it or not.

If you were a first timer to Chester's (to Dublin, really, because how else would you not know about Chester's?) then you wouldn't know who the redhead coming down the stairs was.

If you were a first timer, you wouldn't know that something was up. You wouldn't know that something was off. You'd have no idea why everyone turned and looked, saw her, and gasped. You wouldn't know that she'd been missing for weeks, that some had even gone so far as to declare her dead.

You wouldn't know that, at exactly the precise moment that a pair of high-heeled black leather thigh high boots - a shining silver sword peeking out of one - touched the first set of stairs leading down into the club, a separate gathering was happening, about 9 floors below club level. You wouldn't know that, in a small, secure war room with a table, nine chairs, and a set of computer screens so high-tech that they'd give Hollywood CGI a run for their money, sat a group of people who, in one way or another, controlled Dublin.

You wouldn't know that in that room, people - no, beings - who usually would be busy trying to kill each other were working together, heads bent over maps of more than one world, collaborating on how to "find her."

You might sense the tension, especially between three men who only weeks ago were fighting a territory war over the "her" in question. One, a faerie, beautiful and cold and so sexual you'd fall over and come in your jeans, with black hair and blacker eyes and tattoos moving over and through his skin. You would sense that he wasn't full Unseelie Prince, but if you were new to Chester's, you wouldn't know that this Unseelie Prince in question - this Prince who could make you his eternal sex slave with nothing but a toss of his head - once was a human, twenty something college boy from the Scotland Highlands.

You wouldn't know, either, the younger, well-built kid - about 18 - with the glasses and the whole boy genius air about him. You would have no idea that this kid had something in him, so deep, and so dark, that none of the monsters in the room with him gave him a single shiver.

You would have no idea how much he loved the "her" in question, either. Not if you were new to Chester's.

But if you were new to Chester's, it wouldn't take someone telling you to make you aware that the third man in question was in charge. That the very ground you stepped on belonged to him, and, through transverse property, you might belong to him as well. You would look at the largeness of him, the clearness in his eyes, the stillness, the amused half-smile as if he had seen it all before and would, again, and no one would fault you if you wanted to fall to your knees and swear fealty.

And if, while on your knees, you wanted to do something else? Well, no one would fault you for that, either. It's only natural to want to worship a king.

You would learn, and with a quickness, that his name was Ryodan, and that to piss him off was to sign your death warrant.

But if you were smart, you would know that said very stillness was only a layer. A strong one, sure, it but if you were wise and clever you would know that the layer was a veneer was a fence was a cage. Was all of these things, held strong and still and quiet, to keep what was inside from exploding out.

You wouldn't know what was inside of this man, this overlord. But if you were smart you would know that, if you valued your life, you should move still and quiet yourself so as to not wake it.

You wouldn't know that, deep inside where no one could see, where he never let anyone see, was a beast. A mythic beast, one you had never seen before, not even in your dreams. A beast with red eyes and teeth even granny couldn't have warned you about. A beast that couldn't, wouldn't, die. A beast that was, at this very moment, trying to fight his way out and destroy everything in its path in order to find the missing in action female that seemed to be the raison d'ĂȘtre, not only behind this meeting of various characters, but behind a few of these men themselves.

On one side of the table in question, you would see a couple. A man, with a silver cuff matching your overlord's, on an arm thrown carelessly over the chair next to him. And in that chair a woman. Or, perhaps, if you were wise, you would see something more. You'd see beyond the blonde hair, the tits, the ass, the leather encasing the body. You'd see that the body, the mind of this woman was in fact, a weapon on its own; the leather merely a sheath.

Even if you were new to Chester's, you'd see the animosity between the blonde with the tits that encased some sort of weapon, and your Overlord that held a beast within him. Even if you weren't there to witness the arguing going on, the blame game the woman kept leveling at your Overlord, that "her" disappearance was, in fact, his fault, you could tell that it wouldn't take much for the two to engage in a death dance.

And that the other voices weren't doing much to keep them from going at each other's throats. Not the faerie prince's "It's my fault, I scared her," or the teen genius', "can we stop wasting time pointing fingers and figure out where she is?"

IF you could look past it, you'd see in the corner, a gathering of young women. One, regal and cool and quiet, with long brown hair and a lovely face, surveys the room with sad eyes. She says what the rest are afraid to say, that maybe,

"Dani might be dead. We have to explore that poss-"

She is drowned out by the yelling, the denial, the rage. These aren't the type to ignore reality, but it is, as if, by sheer force of will, they can keep this Dani person, this missing in action woman who must be so amazing as to have all these power players willing to sit together, in an uneasy truce, in order to find her.

Sitting next to this young but wise face, is another lovely young thing. Short, pixie cut hair, and glasses, and eyes that look divided. If you were observant, you would see that her eyes would keep darting over to Ryodan's as if she couldn't even control them. That in her own desire to find this, Dani, was something, holding her back, and it was related to Ryodan in some way.

If you were wise, you would see this.

But you don't know these things. This is what you do see:

That at this moment, the black, thigh high stiletto boots, leather and tight and covering what must be supple and sleek legs, are attached to a body that could be 16, could be twenty. A body that is all tight curves and long muscles, sheathed in a short, tight green dress and black leather bomber jacket. You'd see a mass of rioting red curls, a gamine face, and no makeup, save for a pair of noir-red lips.

If you were new to Chester's, you wouldn't know why the whole club went collectively silent. You wouldn't know that the woman in question had never, so far as anyone had known her, dressed this way. You wouldn't know that the woman in question was a girl, last anyone saw her. You wouldn't know that sex had repelled her as much as it had intrigued her. You would have no way of knowing, given that this woman with the auburn curls and wicked red mouth and bright green, green eyes wore sex around her like it was just another layer of clothing, moved with a power only known to women who are no longer girls and understand that their body, that sex, is a weapon, too.

You would have no idea who this woman was. That right now, at this precise moment, at a gathering about 9 levels below the club, there was a war room that was also a search party headquarters that was also a fight to find this woman in question.

You would have no idea that this was Dani. Dani, who had finally, finally accepted the name "Danielle."

If you knew, you would tell them, don't worry, she is here. Trouble yourselves not, she is alive. You might whisper, to a being you had never seen, one both mad and sane, so vast it took multiple bodies to hold him:

(Forgive them where they fail in truth, and in thy wisdom, make them wise.)

Would they even recognize her? The last time they had seen her, she was a girl.

If you were new to Chester's - frankly, even if you weren't - you would have no idea what this Dani, this Danielle, had been through.

You wouldn't know that what had been only a few weeks to the search party below had been years for her.

You wouldn't know about the torture. The literal torture - that is: The warehouse owned by some group called Triton Corp, or the actual cage they kept her in.

You wouldn't know that if there was anything Dani/Danielle, Girl-now-Woman hated, it was a cage.

You wouldn't know about the experiments, the electric shock, the spells or the chanting. You wouldn't know about the pain and the rage and regret.

You wouldn't (thank god!) know that this woman understood sex, but not for the right reasons, not by choice.

You especially wouldn't know that downstairs, in the search party, was a traitor. Was someone the femme fatale in question had trusted, beyond anyone else.

You wouldn't know she was here to kill him.

There are other things you wouldn't know. You wouldn't know that she had escaped the warehouse, killed her captors, and dove headfirst into a mirror that wasn't a mirror.

You wouldn't know about the years of torture that followed. Not the kind of torture where someone holds you down and someone else hurts you. Not the sort of torture that involved lab coats and notepads, hospital beds and cuffs and needles. No, this sort of torture came from the silence of being alone, no people in sight. Only beasts to slaughter so they didn't slaughter you. Only hunger and thirst and burning sun and icy nights.

You wouldn't know the torture that came from a world that felt like an endless video game, where you game - and then began again. And again. And again. And again and again and again, until you weren't sure if you were alive anymore, had ever been alive, weren't sure if you even wanted to be.

You wouldn't know what it took to finally escape. The deals one makes. You wouldn't know that, once Dani/Danielle ended up on the other side of a mirror-that wasn't, she looked into it, and for once, did not recognize what she saw.

If you were new to Chester's, to Dublin, to this world AWC and all of its many player's, you wouldn't know that Dani/Danielle, this Girl-now-Woman, no longer acted on emotion and impulse. No longer controlled by her hormones. No longer freeze framed, when she could walk. You wouldn't know that Dani/Danielle had learned, the hard way, that sometimes it's worth it to slow mo Joe it around, that conserving energy was a tactic in war and that this, right here, was a war.

If you were new, however, if you were new but clever and wise, you might be able to guess that every item of clothing - the leather jacket and the short green silk that matched her eyes and showed thigh, the tight boots and even the red lips - were all chosen, carefully. That they were weapons, too, in this war.

You wouldn't know that below the layers of this slinky, sexual woman, deep inside her, where no one could see, was a beast. A mental beast, one you had never seen before, not even in your dreams. A beast, made of cool calculation and no emotion. A beast, wed and merged with another beast, this one all desire and rage and pain and want, wrapped together. That these two beasts shared a bed, shared a body, and liked it.

If you were standing in Chester's, at this exact moment, here is what you would see.

You'd see a beautiful redhead who wore sex like a weapon, stalk, hip after hip, into the club.

You'd see heads swivel, and turn. A few in particular, who knew this beautiful redhead, would swallow.

You'd hear a collective gasp, then silence.

You'd see her shoot a grin at one man in particular, surveying the club, all muscle and strength, a weapon himself.

You'd see him walk towards her, and her walk towards him, while the men next to him, weapons, too, murmur something into a walkie talkie.

If you were closer, you'd hear what was said. You'd hear: "Boss, she's back."

You'd see the two, weapon and weapon, stop and look at each other. The man would look the woman up and down, and though he would grin at her, sexy and slow, the grin wouldn't reach his eyes. Eyes that were equal parts relieved and worried.

If you were closer, you'd hear what was said.

"Where you been, honey? Boss thought you were dead."

"Did he now."

"Looking good."

"Funny. I feel like shit. Need a drink."

"Not sure you're old enough for one. Last I checked, you were only 15."

The redhead in question takes that in, mulls it over.

"Weird. Last I checked, been about five years since I was Dublin-side. Pretty sure I'm old enough for that drink now, Lor."

Lor, this man-beast-weapon, whistles, low.

"Honey, what have you been through."

She raises an eyebrow at him. The eyebrow says, you sure you want to ask?

He reaches his arms out, places them on her shoulders. It's hard to tell what his eyes say.

Her eyes say, you really want to be touching me right now?

Lor pulls away from her. For a moment he hesitates, then lets her go.

She grins, triumphant, as she saunters away from him, over to the bar, hops onto a stool, orders a scotch.

(Eyes you dare not meet in dreams, in death's dream kingdom...)

You don't have to be a Chester's regular. Don't have to be wise, or even smart, to see that her grin doesn't reach her eyes.

If you were in Chester's this moment, whether or not you were new, you'd know something huge was going down. Because down the stairs - stairs that lead to the owner's office - would come a group. A gathering. Monsters and beasts, superheros and seers and spies. As they walked down the stairs, together, one unit of enemies, they'd all stop and their heads would swivel to the redhead at the bar. The redhead on her third shot, back to them, curls down her back, bomber jacket hugged close, green silk hugging curves that weren't there a few weeks ago.

You'd see their eyes trace her back. Some eyes would go dark with desire, others with amusement, others with worry and concern.

It wouldn't matter who else or what else was there in Chester's that night. All that mattered, at this moment, was the redhead at the bar who should have been only 15, still short, with younger curves and younger eyes. All that mattered was the redhead who should have been sprightly to the point of being annoying, chatty and filled with joy, unable to sit still, in loose-ish jeans and a t-shirt and a long leather jacket and a sword at her side.

All that mattered was that this redhead, who should have been 15, and spilling out with energy and joy, who should have been Dani, was now sex and rage and quiet, all bottled up tight, who was closer to 20.

If you were in Chester's, you'd see the owner, that Overlord that you would swear fealty to on your knees, if you were wise, stop at the top of the stairs. You'd see his head swivel to the redhead in question. You'd see him go very, very, still.

If you were wise, or if you were closer, or if you knew him at all, you would know that, at this moment, the beast inside was roaring to be let out, to crush everything and everyone in his path, and lay claim to what was his. You'd know that this man, a man with clear eyes who never, ever suffered ambivalence, was right now in an internal battle, because while part of him was glad about the change in the redhead in question, the other wanted to rip apart whomever and whatever had caused it.

If you were watching, you'd see the redhead turn, swing around, so that all of her - thigh high boots and curves and green eyes and a face that now had seen more than it should - was visible. You might wonder why she turned, because you wouldn't know about the pull that Ryodan had on Dani. That she had on him. Had, in fact, always had. Magnets, the two of them. She turned, and faced him, and cocked her head, and the smile she gave him didn't reach her eyes.

Then her eyes trailed over the rest. The fae prince who no longer had the same sort of sexual power he used to have, but packed a punch, all the same.

"Oh, Dani, darling, what did they do to you," the once-Highlander mutters, but you aren't close enough to hear it.

The two seers, both strong, both soft, gasp when they see her. One has tears in her eyes, which she closes as if she can feel everything Dani/Danielle has been through, and can't handle it.

The other - short haired and lovely - is telegraphing two very separate, warring thoughts with her eyes. One thought says, thank god you're safe, I was so worried. The other says something, very, very different, but it screams jealousy and insecurity and at once turn, as if beyond her control, to the Overlord at the top of the stairs.

He doesn't look at her. He only has eyes for the redhead in question.

Her eyes pass over the other man-beast-weapons, and they stare back, and in their eyes is a mixture of surprise and shock and hunger. It is a look that the rest of the men, and some of the women, are giving her now. Their eyes promise things that the girl Dani wouldn't have understood; had she, she would have turned and ran. Their eyes promise things that the woman Danielle swallows up and laughs at and spits back out. She makes these man-beast-weapons do something they haven't done, not for maybe a million years: They both swallow, hard.

Her eyes then pass the man-beast with his hand on a woman he would call his, his mouth sardonic but his eyes pitying. They land on the woman next to him: The blonde with the tits and the ass who, once, not long ago, also learned the hard way that her body was a weapon. Whose eyes, no matter the joy in them, always hold some sadness in them.

She doesn't speak, but smiles, sadly, and the smile that Dani gives her back is real. They don't need words, and if you knew them, you would know that the wordless conversation they are having says, I know. I know you know, and I wish you didn't. I'm so sorry. Don't be. I'm just glad you're safe. Safe is relative. I didn't want you to grow up like this. Was never a kid to begin with, Mac. Who did this to you?

Dani/Danielle's eyes trail over the boy genius with the Superman shoulders and the Clark Kent glasses and the Spiderman brain. Once upon a time, there was nothing Dani liked better than to just spend time with this boy, sun reflected from the window onto his skin, warming it. Cutting his hair and watching movies and being young. Pretending as if she didn't stand on the edge of some cliff and wasn't about to fall off.

Once upon a time is not now.

The boy genius looks back, and his eyes are deep, and dark, and fae-touched blue.

If you were new to Chester's, you would be too transfixed by his eyes to see his hand disappear into his jacket pocket.

You wouldn't see him reach for a gun. You would only hear the shot, as the bullet sailed out, past the rest of the Chester's patrons, and straight into the shoulder of the redhead in question.

You'd only see the smirk in the eyes of Dani/Danielle when the bullet reached its mark, and lodged itself into her heart.

If you were wise, or you were smart, you would know what the smirk in her eyes said. The smirk would say, I knew. I see you. I know what you are. The smirk would say, I knew there was a spy. And behind the smirk, you'd see the pain, the question that girl-Dani poses and woman-Danielle can't hide. The question that asks, why. Why did it have to be you.

If you were quick as well as wise, you'd see her eyes glance away at the man at the top of the stairs. You'd ignore the rest of the man-beast-weapons closing their arms around Dancer, and hauling him off. You'd ignore Barrons holding a screaming and crying and raging Mac back. You'd ignore the screaming, or the roar coming from the man called Lor, or the quickness with which Christian moved towards Dani as she went, down, down. You'd ignore all of this and see the look between the Ryodan and Dani, who at this moment, is only and ever Dani. You'd ignore the rest of the distractions, and you would see, so slight it could almost not have happened, Dani the girl-woman, soul so pure and pain so vast, nod at him. Just once. You wouldn't know what the nod meant. But you would see it.

If you were quick and clever and wise, you'd then see him smile. You might wonder why, at this moment, he is smiling. But you'd see it.

But you'd have to be really quick to catch this, because in only moments later, Dani-Danielle, the girl-turned-woman, the weapon that wasn't, is dead, and Chester's is in chaos.

And, my dear, my guess is that, if you are only coming to Chester's now, you are neither quick, or clever, or wise. So you would miss all of this.

All you would have seen was a beautiful woman, dressed in silk and leather and sex, hair so bright that only a crimson sky would camouflage it, enter a club.

All you would have seen were the club's patrons all turning their heads towards her, and gasping, and going silent. Maybe, perhaps, overwhelmed by how stunning she was.

All you would notice was a man, in leather and muscle, approach her and carry on a conversation.

A group, coming down the stairs, also overwhelmed by the woman, standing still.

A gunshot.


And the redhead, so brilliant it might hurt to look at her, especially in that moment, dying.

(You have but faith, you cannot know, for knowledge is but things you see...)

These are the things, my dear, you would have seen, but you weren't clever or smart or wise enough to look.

Luckily enough, for all of us, your Overlord is clever, and smart, and wise. He knows something we don't.

So he takes the man called Barrons, and the man called Lor, and they leave this world for a time, and go somewhere with sand and wind and a sun so hot it would melt your skin off, and they wait.

(Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow, for this is his kingdom)

They wait for a beast, mythic and terrifying, one you had never seen before, not even in your dreams. A beast with red eyes and teeth even granny couldn't have warned you about. A beast that can't, that won't, die.

Even if she wanted to.

When the beast emerges, all rage and desire and pain and joy, baying and shaking, so hideous it's beautiful, so beautiful it's hideous, the man who calls himself Ryodan and the man who calls himself Barrons and the man who calls himself Lor begin murmuring words together, and as they murmur, the beast, the nightmare of a creature, changes. Shifts, in anguish and pain, so much so, that the man called Ryodan's eyes go red, himself.

And then, standing before them, is a girl. Or a woman. Take your pick. All tight curves and long muscles and vibrant red hair, as stubborn as its owner. She is naked. And she is shaking.

"Well, well, this is convenient," drawls the one called Lor, giving the naked girl a once over.

"Get." Says the one called Ryodan, whose eyes are now full red when he turns to look at Lor and at the same time shields the girl-woman-beast-weapon-jewel's body from them, "Out."

"Hey, dude!" Yells Dani, more girl than woman at this moment, and pokes him. "Maybe I don't care if he looks."

The one called Barrons, laughs. "Lor, much as I always enjoy watching you die, might be best if we leave, you idiot."

He grumbles, and she protests, and then they leave and it is only the man-beast-weapon-king who these days, calls himself Ryodan, and the woman who these days goes by Danielle but has always been Dani, always will be, Dani, stare at each other. She is naked, and she is glorious, but she has been through too much, grown up too much, to even feel the urge to hide her body from his eyes.

(Between the emotion and the response falls the shadow. Life is very long)

"What'd you do to Dancer?" She asks.

"What do you think." His eyes tell her the things he doesn't say, and those things are pain and retribution and in the end, death and mercy.

She takes this in, processes it.

"You didn't think for a moment, I would want to kill him?"

"You don't."

"How do you know?"

"Kid. I know everything about you."

"Not a kid anymore."

He takes this in, processes it. Looks her over. She stands straighter, juts a hip, her hair streams out behind her in the wind. She looks back, and maybe she isn't a kid anymore.

"How'd you know about me?"

"You really want me to repeat myself."


"So. Can I get some clothes?"

He considers. Then the man called Ryodan smiles at the woman called Dani, and she is so many things, at once.

(Between the desire and the spasm falls the shadow. This is her kingdom, after all.)


Even if you were new to Chester's, even if you weren't clever, or weren't smart, or weren't wise, you would know that the world here in Dublin was a very different place than it used to be. You would know that mythical creatures walked with people, and sometimes the ones who looked like monsters weren't, and the ones who didn't, were.

Even if you weren't new to Chester's, you'd know enough to not be so surprised when the club owner entered with the redhead you had seen shot and dead recently, with your own eyes.

Different world these days, stranger things had happened. You'd probably just shrug and go back to your drink and then return to living your life, fucking and eating and making stupid decisions involving the fae.

However, if you were clever, and you were smart, and you were wise, you'd notice something else. You'd see the club owner, and you'd see the redhead who shouldn't be alive, but was, and you'd know something huge had changed. That for the first time, in perhaps a million years, Ryodan - the man-beast-king who was your overlord, whom, if you were smart, you would swear fealty to, on your knees, and if you did something else on your knees no one would hold it against you except for the redhead in question, who might actually cut you off at your knees while your overlord watched and laughed - knew peace.

But, my dear, you aren't smart, or clever, or wise, are you?

So I'm not sure why I'm telling you this. Just drink your drink. Go eat your Unseelie. Don't worry about it. Your life is short, anyway.

(Men may rise on stepping-stones of their dead selves to higher things)

(This is the way the world ends)

See you in faerie.