Nina and Rachel and Hale all burst into the room at the same time - the Alphas from one door, the Siren from a door on the other side of the room.
"Where's -?" Rachel asked, looking around the room, and not seeing anything there. Not even a droplet of blood in the carpet. Not even a dent in the air conditioning vent.
"What is that?" Nina asked.
Rachel looked at her friend, confusion on her face.
"You don't...?" Nina asked Rachel.
She shook her head. "There's nothing there," Rachel said.
That hurts, Hale thought as he kept up the song he had been singing since the door went down. But at first, he could dismiss it as bravado - some humans lasted longer than others, and a few lied all the way through.
Nina looked at Hale, tried getting him to stop. "Rela- Take it- Calm d-" The song grabbed at your attention, interupted your thoughts, and rocked you to sleep. "You should sto-" Nina starts to say, then blinks and starts over. "I want you to -" "Stop riiii..." and she slumps forwards.
"Nina!" Rachel exclaims, dropping to Nina's side, trying to prop up her friend. She looks up at the whistling man. "Who are you?" Rachel asks him.
Hale stopped whistling and crouched, keeping at eye level with Rachel. "Could ask the same of you," he told her.
"I tossed her my badge, and she did the same," Hale said, standing in the Ash's office, recounting the events which had led to that baffling confrontation.
The Ash looked at him expectantly.
"According to that, she's a US Government employee with high access," Hale said. Too risky to let loose even with minders, too chancey to bend her to us. "Name of Rachel Pirzad."
"Could she be a hypnotist or a related profession?" the Ash asked.
Hale shook his head. "None of them last as long as she did." And as for the one whose ID said her name was Rachel, had been taken into Fae custody the same way Bo had been - same cloth bag for over the head, too.
"They're both human," Lauren said, standing by the door, ready to be dismissed at a moment's notice, and accustomed to exactly that. "I could run a more thorough check-up, just to be sure."
"Ascertain if that is required," the Ash told her. "Talk to one."
"I will speak with this Rachel." He looked at Dyson and Hale and said, "While her motives were basic and benefactive, you will find out why Bo was informed of that building."
Rachel took the cloth off her head, and found herself in an office. She was sitting down.
As was the only other person in the room. "What can you do?" the Ash asked her.
Rachel didn't answer. For one, she had been trained not to answer things like that. For another, life as an Alpha had reinforced that habit. Not even the fact she wasn't tied or restrained in any way, swayed her.
Instead, Rachel listened, taking in the heavy rat-at-at-at-at-at of his heart, the sloshing of digestive juices in his stomach, the vanishing after-scent of something musky like a man who had been holding a wet dog for far too long - and the after-scent of the strange man she and Nina had confronted when - "Where is my friend?" Rachel asked.
"Under observation," the Ash said calmly. "As am I, I note."
"What?" Rachel asked.
"Do not feign ignorance, child," he warned her - it sounded as casual as a discussion of the weather or a recent comedy tv series, yet Rachel couldn't dismiss the feeling that it was a warning.
"Are you with Red Flag?" she asked.
His lips cracked a smile. "Should I be humbled by the conflating?"
"A simple yes or no would suffice."
"I am not part of this Red Flag. In advance of your ensuing questions, nor was the man who you encountered in that building."
You say, Rachel thought. To him, she said, "Whether he is or not, he mentioned something about a 'madbean' - any thoughts what he meant?"
"I know of whom he spoke," the Ash said. The Madbeansidhe is whom he was supposed to have apprehended there. It would prove disappointing should it turn out Bo was instrumental in her disappearance.
"So who are you?"
"I am the Ash."
Please don't tell me you create ash by burning down everything, Rachel thought plaintively. "Do I get a phone call?"
"Should I permit you one?" the Ash inquired.
"Do your plans change any, whether I call someone or not?" Rachel asked.
"That is more dependant upon whom you call, than if you call," the Ash said, enjoying the game with a human - it has been a long time.
"Do any result in my being let go with my friend?"
"That, itself depends more upon what the two of you would do upon being released."
Faint desperation started to come in, held back a while, "I don't suppose you'd let us go if we promise not to tell anyone," Rachel said.
"You will tell - Tell me now, two things, and I will let you both go," the Ash said. "First, your friend's attempt at swaying the man you met today...?"
Chapter 2: We all have headaches
the problems raised by that confrontation, and what's going to happen.
"She's up with the porcelain god, spewing," Kenzi said to Dyson once he showed up at their door.
"Thanks for the warning," Dyson said, coming inside.
"Hey, just so... there wouldn't be a real porcelain god - is there?"
He shrugged. "Above my pay grade to know."
When he got to the bathroom, Dyson asked Bo, "Need a hand? Or an extra stomach?"
Bo held up one hand to keep him back. "I don't think I'm going to be able to eat for a week," she grumbled, then puked one last time before she could wobbly stand upright.
Dyron followed her to the couch, ready to catch her if she stumbled or fell or slid; the couch where Kenzi was waiting for them, perched like a hawk, or a gargoyle, or that Fidget he'd dated a year ago. "What happened?" Dyson asked.
"Alls I've gotten so far," Kenzi said, "is that two guys suprised her and the client; at one point, one of those guys threw a teak desk through a wall."
Bo nodded feebly. "Two walls. One-handed."
"Anyways, Bo jumps him and kisses his head. Thirty seconds later, she falls off and he does a Speedy Gonzalez, carrying his buddy and - for a few steps - our client."
"Fell off?" Dyson repeated.
"That's what I said!"
"Censored," Bo said.
"You know who they were?" Kenzi asked Dyson.
"No, but Hale and I encountered two of their friends elsewhere in the building, and brought them to the Ash."
"Aw, and here I thought I was special," Bo said.
"One of them is deaf to siren song."
Dyson nodded. "You should get presentable -- the Ash may want to question you about your involvement."
"Oh yippee," Bo muttered.
The Ash remained seated, eyeing closely the chair the now-departed Rachel had used. He had found her answers interesting yet incomplete. Hence his sending one of his fact-checkers with Rachel and Nina.
Rachel's chair still wore an after-image of her. Hopes, fears, dreams, terrors, the Ash noted, taking it all in.
"Enter," he said.
Lauren came into his office. I never have to knock - I'm about to, and he does that.
"Your findings, doctor?"
Staying by the door, "Anatomically, Nina's human. Psychologically, she was defensive."
"An understandable reaction to the misbelief she was the captive of her enemies," the Ash said, having felt like that when he was young.
Lauren nodded. "There was one thing - an odd ping in her brain." I didn't have enough time to run a scan. Not that that's something I - or anybody - can say.
The Ash inclined his head, making that allowance. "An avenue of pursuit for the future," he said.
"Yes," taking it.
"You have theories."
"It's possible that her hypnotic abilities stem from - or cause - a novel tissue or abnormality."
The Ash's head swiveled to glare in the direction of the door, and Lauren was afraid: When I was starting out here, I worried about how most of my choices of words would be interpretted...I haven't had to worry about 'abnormality' and such. What changed? Lauren wondered.
And the door opened once more, revealing the arrival of the Morrigan. Despite the near state of war, Lauren felt herself relax, knowing it wasn't herself the Ash was angry at.
To Lauren, the Morrigan said "Leave." Then, almost as a concession to the Ash, "Try not to play in traffic."
Lauren kept her eyes on her boss.
The Ash gave the faintest of nods - sufficient to dismiss Lauren from the room. He looked up at the Morrigan when Lauren walked out from his office. "Once more, you have entered uninvited," he said.
"Yet again, circumstances," the Morrigan replied.
"When do circumstances dictate to you?"
"When the circumstances are our superiors calling us to task."
The Ash nodded: that was a good reason to break a lifetime's habit. "Where will the summons place us?"
"Dead, if I, you, or Bo displease them."
"Naturally. And the location of the disciplinary?"
"I happen to know you'll love it," the Morrigan said with a smile.
"It's nowhere, Dr. Rosen," Gary said. "No caches, no uploads or downloads, no Youtube."
"It makes no sense," Dr. Rosen said. His testimony about the Alphas, about the prospect of an impending war, about the secret prisons for Alphas - it had vanished from the face of the Earth. "Who would do it?"
"Somebody who doesn't want you-know-who running Red Flag?" Hicks guessed.
"Which would mean he didn't kill all those who opposed him," Bill said, applying a cold compress to his head.
"Speaking us, how are you feeling, Bill?" Dr. Rosen asked.
"Like crap, still."
"Bill," Gary said.
"I know, I know, Gary, language."
"Yes, language. And bad language at that."
"It was weird," Hicks said. "We ambushed them - that suspected Red Flag and a friend... And the friend jumped on Bill, and... From where I was, doc, it looked like she planted a big wet one on Bill's head, and trying to suck out his brains."
"That's not possible," Gary said. "Also, language."
"No, Gary," Dr. Rosen said, "I believe Mr. Hicks was speaking figuratively."
"But he wasn't off by much," Bill said. "Whatever she was doing, it took a lot out of me. I was about to black out." I thought of Jeannie. "That's when she let go," sounding like she was throwing up.
"We got out of there fast," Hicks said. Bill's system was hyper-flight or whatever you call it. Though with how my back's feeling, I kinda think there was rebar in some of those walls.
"Without the suspect?" Sullivan asked from the doorway.
"We had her," Bill said.
"Just couldn't hold her - like a greased pig," Hicks said. "And that's not figurative, doc."
"Nina and Rachel are here," Gary said, watching the elevator cameras. "There's someone with them."
In the car, a little later...
Bo and Kenzi were in the car, being driven to the Ash's offices by Dyson, when his cell phone rang. "Dyson," he said, answering it. "No that's not good," Dyson agreed. "We'll be there," he said and hung up.
"If there's a problem, we got no problem walking back," Kenzi volunteered.
"No problem, not as such," Dyson said. "Just a change of plan and change of venue."
"If there's no problem..." Bo invited him to finish the sentance.
"Did the Ash, the Morrigan, or Trick tell you anything about the hierarchy of Fae society?"
"The Morrigan did. Said to think of her as local government."
Dyson nodded. "Well, you're not about to meet the Fae who are her and the Ash's boss -- you're going to be brought before their boss."
"What did I do?" Bo asked. "Does this have to do with the kappa, or the furies?"
"Not directly or entirely, no. But that doesn't make it a safe idea."
"C'mon, what's the worst they could do?" Kenzi asked.
"Eat you for a snack," Dyson said, not taking his eyes off the road.
"Don't worry, Kenzi, I won't let them eat you," Bo said.
"I wasn't talking to Kenzi," Dyson said.
"So there are Fae-eating Fae out there? Or is this just a consequence of my being unaffiliated?"
"They wouldn't care - affiliated, unaffiliated."
"Rank hath privledges," Kenzi said.
"Exactly," Dyson said.
"So how do I keep from getting eaten? Any tips?" Bo asked.
"Don't lie. And pray to them that they aren't angry."
"Pray to them?" Bo asked. "Figuratively speaking, right?"
"Or is that part of the appeal?" Kenzi asked. "Live long enough, kiss the right hands and butts, rise high enough in Fae society to be worshipped?"
"Makes the paperwork seem worthwhile," Dyson said.
I'm not sure if you're joking, Bo thought, and I'm not sure I want to know.
Chapter 3: Talk 'fore Play (with your food)
The Alphas talk to a Fae, and the Fae leaders convene.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titivillus - the patron demon of scribes.
Bill looked at the guy Rachel and Nina had brought back with them. “So who are you? And what did your friends do to my friends?” Bill asked.
“I’m Harold,” the Fae fact-checker said. He didn’t mention that he was a Ti. “I’m here to pass along a message.”
“And what message would that be?” Dr. Rosen asked.
“You are invited,” the Ti said to the Alphas and Dr. Rosen - said it with the voice of the Ash.
“And if we don’t want to come?” Hicks asked.
“You don’t want to do that,” Harold said in his own voice.
“You want to tell us what’s going to happen,” Nina said.
Harold looked at Nina. “Lady, you’ve got really bad luck, and that’s not my fault. Voice stuff doesn’t work on me.”
“Interesting. Would you care to tell us why that is?” Dr. Rosen asked.
In the Ash’s voice, “All questions will be answered once you are in attendance.”
“I just have one question,” Nina said in her normal voice. “Are you with Red Flag?” Rachel was strangely quiet the whole ride back here, and up the elevator - just said we needed to bring Harold with us, in order to be released.
“Doubt it,” Harold said in his own voice. “Can’t be part of something I don’t know.”
Dr. Rosen added up what they had learned so far, and found… nothing that added up to anything.
That was when Harold’s cell phone rang. Answering it in Gary’s voice, he said, “Yes.” In Hick’s voice, “This can’t be good.” In Nina’s voice, “Tell us.” In Bill’s voice, “Got it,” and hung up. To those present, Harold said in Dr. Rosen’s voice, “Message.”
Rachel had on her worried face - Gary wasn’t always good with expressions, but he knew that one well enough. He also knew that the phone call went nowhere - “Your call disappeared,” Gary said. “Three times. I found it twice. I would have found it a third time. But you hung up.”
“Disappeared?” Hicks asked, still wary after hearing Harold quote them all.
“Yes. The signal was transmitting. Then there was no signal. And I found it again. Twice.”
Harold shrugged. “What can I say - we’re cool like that,” in his own voice. “And the boss is sending a car to pick everyone up. Big to-do going on, and you’re all invited. That and there’s assurances of safe passage, no harm, the whole nine yards.”
“And if we chose to remain here?” Dr. Rosen asked.
Harold smiled broadly. “Either you spend the rest of your short lives unable to say anything but Lewis Carroll poetry, or you end up the same way as anyone who meets the boojum.”
-I shall softly and suddenly vanish away- was the line Gary found in relation to that encounter. “Are you a boojum?” Gary said.
“Oh I’m better,” Harold the Ti said.
“How much better?” Bill asked, mentally figuring how little effort it would take to lift Harold to about a foot off the ground.
Harold sighed. “Also been authorized to tell you - and I really wanted to wait for the car for this - that your team’s invitation was issued by the lords of the Fae.”
“Koolaid,” Gary said.
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Hicks said to Gary. To Harold, “You’re telling us you were sent by a bunch of fairy tales, and expect us to buy your story?”
“Then what are you afraid of?” Harold asked, quoting Dyson’s voice and words. Either we’re the big bads who bump in the night, or you just found easy meat.” That was right before a really good meal.
“Rachel?” Bill asked.
“We can trust his boss,” Rachel said at last.
“And you know this how?” Hicks asked.
“Rachel ever lied to you?” Bill asked Hicks. Second best judge of character I know - I married the first best. So if Rachel says the guy‘s assurance is good, that‘s enough for me.
“Bill has good taste,” Gary said. “Judgement. I’ll go with Bill. Can I have a gun?”
“This is a residential neighborhood,” Kensi said as Dyson continued to drive them to their destination - a new destination, after that few-second phone call Dyson’d gotten a minute ago.
“It would look strange if all our gatherings were in abandoned buildings,” Dyson said.
“Yeah, I suppose. You got a sword?”
Bo chuckled, both at the double entrede Kensi probably hadn’t meant at the time, and at the Highlander reference. “So who’s called for us? The Ash again? Wants to know why we’re running a few minutes late, probably.”
“They’ve been summoned as well,” Dyson said. “The Ash, the Morrigan, and you.”
“Yeah, you mentioned that. But who’s their boss’ bosses? And why would they want to talk to me? Or vice versa.”
“I was told to bring you to the court of the Cipati, Light Fae lord of North America; and the court of Cú Chulainn, Dark Fae lord of North America.”
“Sounds like we got ourselves a busy dance card,” Kensi said. “They have a preference about who goes first?”
“Same time,” Dyson said. “So you may want to be sure you know why you were doing whatever you were doing on your last case,” as you didn’t seem to need my help during it.
“She - our client - she said somebody was after her," Bo said. "Slightly chameleonic and parrotty. A t- A ty-"
Dyson nodded. "I know who you mean. They're normally harmless, except to monks, who classed them as hazardous as succubi."
"Not sure if I should be insulted," Bo said.
"Succubi haunted the dreams of monks, while these guys fed on typoes."
“There a lot of them, or could your friend be the one I’m looking for?” Bo asked.
“They’re about as rare as succubi,” Dyson confirmed. “But it can’t be him.”
“Because you got your client to sign that assurance waiver… Bo?”
“I’m not going to ask my clients to sign something that says they aren’t trying to overthrow the Light or Dark Courts,” Bo said. “It’s insulting just to ask.”
“We’re here. And you may regret that,” Dyson said, pulling into the parking lot. On one level, he wasn’t surprised that Bo hadn’t used the wavier. On the other hand, he was disappointed all the same.
“You’re shitting me,” Kensi said, looking out the window.
“Not kidding,” Dyson said.
The meeting-place was a Day Care closed for the day, one of the teachers waiting at the door for the Fae regional leaders. One teacher who split into several guards. “Gemini,” Dyson said under his breath to Bo and Kensi.
All the bodyguards were stripped of their weapons. Even Lauren’s pockets were emptied. Kensi took a bit longer, even once she stopped picking the guard’s pocket.
Then came the leaders and Bo… At first, Bo didn’t mind the roaming hands checking for weapons, since the Morrigan was undergoing the same indignity. But then - “Hey, I don’t have a pouch,” Bo snapped.
“Some do,” the Morrigan said.
“Lucky them. Ex-cuse me, feely, that’s my spine,” Bo addressed to the guard who was inspecting her.
Only then did the guards come back together to re-become the teacher permitting them to enter. “Is it too early for questions?” Bo asked.
“Yes,” Lauren said under her breath.
The guard brought them to the auditorium, and left them alone in there.
“Some tactics never change,” the Ash observed.
“Classics never go out of style,” the Morrigan said.
“O-kay,” Kensi said, getting as far from them as possible. To Bo’s buddies Lauren and Dyson, “So what’s this Cipati and Chu whats-his-name like?” Kensi asked.
“The Cipati tends to be hungry,” Lauren said.
“Well I enjoy a buffet as much as the next girl,” Bo said, “but… Not what you meant?”
Lauren shrugged. “No idea.”
“Your boss seems to know something of him.”
“My boss is also older than my grandfather,” Lauren said. “Besides, some things are commoner knowledge than other things.”
“Huh.” To the Ash and Morrigan, Bo said, "So why am I here? Am I in trouble?”
“That remains to be seen,” the Morrigan said.
“I said I wasn't taking a side," Bo said.
"At the conclusion of your Test, I invited you to chose a side," the Ash said. "You said neither."
"Which means you are responsible for your missteps," the Morrigan said.
“Fine by me. Personal responsibility’s my middle name. So, is this a test?” Bo asked. “Leave us unsupervised, and see how well we behave?”
“In part,” the Morrigan said. “Determine who can be killed out of hand, and who deserves an audience.”
“Nice. You get points for being helpful?”
Dyson let them bicker: Bo wasn’t in danger of being killed by fellow summonees. He was busy thinking about the Gemini who had met them and checked them; group-ones like here were hard to find, so to Dyson it made a degree of sense that the Cipati and Cú Chulainn would flaunt such a possession slash employee.
Before Dyson knew it, Bo had come up alongside him. “Question,” Bo said.
“Go on,” Dyson said.
“You told me that it’s a very personal thing, what kind of Fae a person is, and they don’t tell it to just anyone.”
“So what are the Cipati and the Chu…?”
“Cú Chulainn,” Dyson supplied. “Could be their types. Could be a title. Could be a little of both.”
“Some bonus power to go with the promotion?” Bo asked.
“Stranger things have happened,” the Morrigan said, which shut Dyson up.
Less than a minute later, the auditorium doors opened once more, and the Gemini teacher announced, “O behold! All hail the Cipati! All hail the Cú Chulainn!”
The Ash, the Morrigan, and all of theirs went silent and stiff. For now, Bo and Kenzi followed their example.
Two chairs were carried in by heavyset dudes in Ninja Turtle sweaters. Once the chairs were set down, the dudes took positions in the corners of the room.
Only then did the lords of North America enter the room. En route to their thrones, they stopped in front of Bo.
“Yes?” Bo asked.
“I address Bo now,” the Cipati said. “Do you agree with the course of action undertaken by the Ash?”
“Why do you care what I think about that?” Bo asked. “So you can kill two people if it all ends badly?”
Dyson was trained well enough to hide a wince - Bo had just given the Cipati sufficient pretext to end her here and now. You’re a good fighter, Bo, and you can take on a lot of different types of Fae… but you just dropped a challenge on the toes of him?
But the Cipati gave no outward sign of being troubled by the defiance. He said, in a voice like a gentle tide, “To see if you would be a suitable replacement.”
At first, Bo just stood there. Then she couldn’t stop laughing.
“Something is amusing?” the Cipati inquired.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I guess you didn’t get a heads-up,” Bo said. “I told the Ash and the Morrigan that I don’t want to be on either side. Kinda figured that being in charge of either side was a given in what I said.”
“We were apprised of your stance. Irrational though your choice is.”
Bo shrugged. “Should I care you think I’m nuts?”
“If we believed your mental health was of ill humor, you would have been dispatched at the door,” the Cipati said, deliberately misreading that. Correctly reading her question, he said, “To stand outside the Courts and within the Fae is a delicate balance - it places the onus of knowledge upon your shoulders.”
“I’m pretty smart.”
“While there are many treaties and accords the Courts are obligated to adhere to, I ask you if you agree to abide by the terms of the Concord of Invisibility, Bo.”
“Is that the one that says the Fae should keep out of the public eye, don’t be more than a myth, e t c?” Bo asked.
“It is. And you, Bo,” the Cú Chulainn asked. And from that note to the harmonious next note, “What are you doing to fix the leak?”
“There’s a leak?” Bo asked. “I was hired by my client to find out who’s hunting her.”
“All Fae are hunted. It is our nature. It is why the Courts of Light and Dark exist.”
“To temper and redirect those impulses, to provide redress,” the Cipati said.
So why’re you all on the brink of total war? Bo wondered.
“And that is not the leak,” the Cú Chulainn said to Bo. “There is a leak from time to time - either it provides new members for inclusion, or a field day of…buffet, you could say.”
“So I’m not in trouble?” Bo asked.
“Your unaffiliation places you at risk, endangering those near you. Leaks place us all at risk. Your case involves the leak.”
“You fought one recently,” the Cipati said, holding Bo’s jaw in one hand.
Watching this, Kensi couldn’t believe that Bo didn’t jerk away or make a wisecrack. The guy’s my size, Kenzi thought.
Bo couldn’t break away from the cold leather touch of the Cipati, couldn’t look away from those shark eyes or crocodile smile. “Really?” Bo asked, not sure if the urge to keep from annoying him stemmed from the eyes, the touch, or from herself.
“That leak induced nausea,” the Cipati said.
“Yes,” and let go. Cú Chulainn and Cipati went to their thrones and were seated. “They will be here shortly, to decide their racial future.”
“They are not human. Unless they accept inclusion in our number, they are not Fae. They are nothing which has a name.”
“Riight, because that never ends in tears,” Kenzi muttered.
“All the reason to have it resolved, child,” the Cú Chulainn said to her.
“By force if necessary?” Bo asked.
“Of a sort - Fae sanctions are obeyed by both Courts. The absence of interaction tends to achieve those results most desired.”
“So if I go talk to them once the sanctions are put up… oh, too bad.”
The Cipati said, “You have not yet told us if you are capable of tracking down your own missing client, young Succumbus. We could declare an open season on your client, or you re-find your client yourself.”
“If neither appeals to you, then I advise caution,” the Cú Chulainn also warned, his dusky brown hair changing to a warm crimson. “We could always send you to pursue The Order of Humbaba.”
“The who?” Kenzi asked.
The Cú Chulainn smiled at the Morrigan and told her, “Explain to her.”
“I told you there are Dark and Light Fae,” the Morrigan said to Bo. “We both provide sanctuary and a community for those who join us. In contrast, those Fae who joined The Order of Humbaba cohered around an aim.”
“World peace?” Kenzi asked.
“Were anyone in this room of The Order, both humans would be dead.”
“The Order ceased to exist thousands of years ago,” the Ash said.
“Hard to convince people you don’t exist,” Bo said, “with them out there.”
The auditorium doors opened a crack and someone slid inside. “My lords,” he said. “I, Harold of the Ti, have brought them as I have been told to do. They call themselves Alphas.”
“Presumptuous,” the Cipati said.
“We can humor them this once,” the Cú Chulainn said. “Admit them here.”
Harold slid back out of the room.
“Now, what will be your role in these talks?” the Cipati asked Bo. “Will you stand aside and watch?”
“Perhaps she will take the role an ancient Succubus took during the reign of Gilgamesh,” Cú Chulainn speculated. “Answer us by performing the role you desire when they arrive.”
The doors opened once more, and the Alphas stepped inside.