How To Save A Mockingbird
Footsteps echoing in the otherwise silent hallway, Dyson headed for the Throne Room, to which he had been summoned. His long black trench coat flowed out behind him. Noise echoed through a closed door that led to the ballroom as he passed, mostly likely the final preparations for the Ball being held that evening. He was not looking forward to it, but attendance was mandatory. If it wasn't for the fact that the celebration was for his friend Hale, he would've considered skipping out on the less than optional invite and deal with the consequences that would come. But Hale had practically begged him to be there as 'moral support', as he put it, having almost a strong dislike for parties as the shifter.
Dyson could smell the guards before he could see them, rounding the last bend in the hallway, two huge, toned humanoids dressed in tight black pants, little else and holding long, heavy pikes; they reeked of troll. The one on the left gave him a singular glance before they simultaneously opened the double doors to admit him to the chamber.
Inside, tall glass doors were open to admit the early spring breeze. Waves of multi-colored sheer fabric waved around their frames, dancing to unheard tunes. Piles of cushions were heaped in one corner, near a door that led to an equally luxurious bedroom. In the center of the room a settee rested on a Persian rug and was also piled with pillows. A teak end table was piled with books, a lit cone of incense, a small bronze bell, and a chilled glass with something white and alcoholic.
A lean yet curvy, dark-skinned female Fae reclined against the pillows, a book open in her lap. Her black hair was done up in ringlets at the top of her head, with a couple teased down around her angular face. Black kohl lined her sharp, black eyes, that were focused on her book. She wore a sheer amber dress with a plunging neckline and a high leg slit, which gave Dyson a good view of her warm chocolate colored legs. Gold and silver bangles were looped around her ankles and wrists, jingling softly when she would turn a page. This was Mhaykii, a Jaguar Light Fae with all of her nine lives still her own. She was cold, calculating and brutal, but also fair, for the most part. But she could also be vindictive. She had taken the title of Ash, though by everyone, Light and Dark, she was simply referred to as the Empress.
Dyson knelt some feet away, hands clasped in front of him, waiting for her to acknowledge him. It took a couple of minutes, but finally with a sigh she marked her place in the book and set it down. She raised a single eyebrow at him. "Dyson, my dearest wolf. I didn't think you were going to show. I was beginning to worry that you'd forgotten about my request for your presence."
"No, my lady. I was organizing the guards for the celebration tonight. I don't want any interruptions from anyone whose presence wasn't requested, as per your orders."
Mhaykii sat up and clapped her hands, causing the bangles to jingle wildly. "Ah, yes. That is true." She beckoned him to rise and approach, handing him a blank, sealed envelope.
Dyson looked at in confusion. "May I ask what this is for, my lady?"
The Empress didn't answer him at first, instead ringing the small bell on the end table. Immediately a young girl appeared from a hallway opposite of the bedroom and knelt. "Yes, Empress?"
"A new drink, and make sure the glass is well chilled this time." Mhaykii ordered. The girl nodded, her eyes never leaving the floor and left as quickly as she had come. The woman watched her leave before turning her dark eyes back to the wolf shifter. "You are to go to The Market, and deliver it to The Johnson. It is the payment for the gift I am giving to Commander Hale tonight at the Masquerade. A birthday gift, you might say. Something to thank him for all his service to me."
Dyson frowned inwardly. The Market was neutral Fae ground, a place where they could sell anything from goods to power to services. Some of the more wild rumors said there was even the sale of live humans.
In the end, all he could do was bow and say, "Yes, my lady."
The Empress waved him off, saying only, "Make sure to be back in time for the celebration."
Pulling up to the huge warehouse parking lot, Dyson found a spot near one of the doors in the middle of the building, parking between a sleek black BMW and a twenty year old rusted out green Ford pickup. He sat in his car for a moment, trying to fathom what the Empress could possibly be getting for Hale from a place like this. For the most part he didn't question her motives, though she had odd ideas she had implemented, such as inserting Fae into both military and political power spots even more than before. And that was just some of the things he was privy to. Who knew what went on that he hadn't heard of, between her and the Council.
Glancing at his watch he sighed and got out of his car, snagging the envelope off of the passenger seat. The afternoon wasn't getting any younger, and the sun was lowering towards the horizon at an alarming rate.
Inside the building his sensitive nose was accosted by a barrage of smells of Fae, humans, herbs, potions, and countless other things. Florescent lighting flicked overhead, in desperate need of cleaning and replacement in many spots. A guard tried to stop him once inside, grabbing his arm roughly. The wolf's head whipped around, eyes dilating and shifting to yellow as his canine teeth elongated, a snarl ripping itself from his throat. Grabbing the guard he threw him into the wall, causing a minor tremor. The guard got to his feet and lunged forward again, but another one stopped him, nodding to the Empress insignia on his jacket's sleeve.
With one last growl at the pair of them, Dyson readjusting his jacket. Not wanting to have anything to do with the guard, but aware of the impending time limit, he approached the retreating guards. "Where might I find The Johnson?"
The guard who had stopped the other from attacking him again looked at him oddly for a moment, eyes drifting from his face, down to the insignia and back up. Finally he pointed towards the far corner of the building, where it was closed off. "Back there," he said, his voice heavily accented. "just tell them you wish to see The Johnson."
Not even bothering to say thank you, Dyson headed for the back corner. On his way, he saw countless black market and back room deals between the light and dark, Fae Prostitutes, assassins, potions being made to order, and food booths that sometimes smelled like dead humans. After a female Gemini caught his eye and tried to drag him into a small tent, he kept his eyes straight forward.
The guard at the next door was a spitting image of the ones at the front. He nodded once when Dyson said who he was there to see. Dyson opened the door, entered, and the door swung shut behind him. What he saw halted him in his tracks.
All around the room, humans, mostly female, were lined up around the walls. All wore a silver collar half an inch thick, and two inch cuffs on their wrists and ankles. A fine chain of the same material attached ankle to ankle, wrist to wrist, wrists to neck, and neck to the wall. They were clean, for the most part, though many bore scars on their backs, arms, and hands.
"Welcome, welcome, welcome!" cried a short, fat man in a faded brown suit, bouncing on the balls of his feet in front of Dyson. "And what may I do for a member of the Empress Guard? A full human to chase? A thrall to pleasure you, keep house for you? Name it, and The Johnson has it, or will find it for you!"
Dyson looked around him at the humans chained, most standing still, emotionless. Well, the Thrall part explained that much. Some, the ones The Johnson was referring to as full human, remained very much aware of their surroundings. Finally he asked, "Where do you get the humans from?"
The Johnson was only too happy to explain. "The Empress and the Morrigan both have their lovely fingers in several pies. We help out the human justice system with their criminals. Murders, rapists and the like go the Butcher-" he winked at Dyson "-others, like the thieves, extortionists, prostitutes, drug dealers and the like get sent to me for… re-education. Some take more training than others, but once they are trained, they come with a lifelong guarantee!" the dark fae looked so excited he was about to wet himself. "So, what are you looking for, good sir?"
Dyson swallowed a growl and handed the envelope to the fae. "I'm her on behalf of the Empress herself, on a purchase she made."
The Johnson took in greedily. "Ahh, I love the smell of big bills, don't you?" He grinned. "If you'll follow me, I'll take you to the purchase."
Dyson followed the fae, half believing and half hoping the this was all a joke, either at his expense or Hale's, something like a fae exotic dancer. Something where the Empress could get a good laugh from her followers at his or their expense.
The short man stopped suddenly, causing Dyson to almost run into him. He motioned to the figure to their left. "Well, here it is! As you can see, two X brands on each hand for stealing, and for attacking a fae. It was one of the ones that took longer than usual to break," he added almost apologetically. "I tried to explain as much to your Empress, so it's not in such of fine condition as some of my others, but she insisted on this one. Please remind her of this, will you? I don't want to sell damaged goods to such a good client. She can exchange up to sixty days, no charge at all! On the way out, I'll give you the controlling stone. This one still might cause trouble, though I'm sure you and the Empress know how to use the stone. Well, what do you think?" the Dark fae motioned to the figure against the wall.
Dyson looked, at felt his jaw drop. It was a young woman wearing little more than a thigh length, thin strapped black satin dress. Her arms were scarred from what looked like beating and a suicide attempt. Her back was most likely pretty bad off as well. Her dark hair fell forward, masking her face. But he didn't need to see it. It had been two and a half, almost three years, but he still knew that scent.
"Oh, my God."
The party was in full swing as the moon started to rise. Nearly all of the rich, powerful, or noble Fae were present, revolving around the room. Laughter echoed, toasts were raised, and the occasional fight started to break out, only to be broken up by the posted guards. Hale, the center of attention, kept shaking his head and laughing, enjoying the party but not all the attention being paid to him. He stood near the center of the room, next to the seated Mhaykii, looking stunning in a rose pink gown. She turned to say something to Hale and the fae speaking with him when the serving girl knelt next to her and whispered something in her ear.
"Good. Tell him to put it behind the purple banner by the far wall. Have the guard there lower it on my command."
The girl rose, bowed, and fled.
The Empress rose to her feet, and the room fell silent. She held out her hand to Hale. "It is time for the final gift to be given, from myself to the captain of my Empress Guard!"
Those present cheered, drowning out Hale's comment of, "you didn't need to go through the trouble, my lady!"
She led him over to where the purple banner of her House, a crouching Jaguar on a purple field, hung over one of the hidden doors. By the time they crossed the room the girl had returned, carefully holding a black pouch in her hands, which she presented to the Empress. Hale saw Dyson finally sneaking in, and gave him a quizzical look, but his shifter friend shook his head slightly, jaw tightly clenched. When the Empress started speaking again, Hale shifted his attention back to her.
"Here is my gift to Hale, may it bring him satisfaction for many years to come!" She handed it to Hale, who opened the pouch, and drew out an oval crystal made of a pale, cloudy blue stone.
He looked at it in confusion, running his thumb over it. "My lady, what is-"
The Empress raised her champagne glass, and the curtain fell.
Hale turned, and stared.
A pale, dark haired woman stood in a sleeveless, sheer black dress, a silver collar around her neck and a chain attached to it, the end in her hand. Pale eyes stared blankly ahead, void of any emotion
Hale looked from the female to the Empress in confusion, his hands unconsciously clenched. "I
The Empress just smiled as the young woman approached him, knelt and offered him the leash
her collar was attached to. "My lord. I live to serve you and obey your every command."
Hale took it uncertainly. Up close, he could see her face plainly. He stepped back in shock, jerking the chain and knocking the woman off balance. She righted herself, eyes flitting momentarily to his face and then back to the floor.
Distantly, Hale could hear peals of laughter as the Empress laughed at his expression, and that of
Dyson, across the room. Many of the present Fae joined the humor, understanding the joke as those close enough to see spread the word throughout the room. But that didn't matter. None of it.
Hale took a hesitant step forward, and knelt in front of the woman. Gingerly, he put a hand beneath her chin and raised it so she would meet his eyes. Dark, emotion-filled eyes met pale, blank ones. Carefully, as if he feared she would break or vanish at his touch, Hale touch her cheek.