Deprivation, Part 11.

Even without opening his eyes, Allistair could tell by scent and by touch that he lay in Devin's bed. He could also immediately tell that Devin himself was not there. Unthinkingly, he tried to sit up, but as soon as his abdominal muscles tensed, he felt a bitter jolt of pain that actually made him writhe in a vain attempt to find relief. 

The fiery agony brought the night's events back into full focus in Allistair's mind, and that was almost as painful as his now bandaged wounds. Was Devin safe? He certainly was not in this room, and the vampire's keen hearing detected nothing from the rest of the small house. And if Devin wasn't here... who had brought Allistair? Luciel, come too late to save his protιgι?

As if summoned by that thought, the angel appeared, his expression as grave as Allistair could ever remember seeing it.

"You're awake." It was more of a statement than a question.

Allistair nodded slightly, afraid to twinge his abs again. "Is Devin...?"

The angel shook his head, his expression fading into one of desperation. "Where is he, Allistair? What happened?"

Trying not to wince at the pain in Luciel's voice, which raked his already guilty conscience like thorns, Allistair recounted the past night's events, wondering what the Faerie were going to do with Devin. Did they simply want him to join them? Would they punish him for "consorting with the undead"? It had seemed that the only reason they had "come through", as Devin had called it, was to investigate the spilling of blood in their ceremonial site — that probably meant that they had not specifically come for Devin, though it had sounded like they knew who he was...

As he finished his tale, he looked up at Luciel, whose expression had softened slightly in sympathy. "You've done a very foolish thing," he said gently, "but you know that, and I think this is quite punishment enough. Now," the angel said, sitting on the edge of the bed in a doctor-like manner, "to ease your mind, I do not think that they will harm Devin."

Allistair chewed on his thumbnail uncertainly. "They were so angry..."

"Unfortunately for you, it was primarily you who they were angry with," the angel said sympathetically. "From everything I've seen, the Faerie do not abduct people simply to harm them. The steal them away because... well, because they want them."

"Want them how?" Allistair asked in alarm.

"That, I truly don't know," Luciel replied ruefully. "Sometimes they dally with mortals for a while, then let them return to this world when they've grown tired of them... but sometimes the mortals never come back."

The vampire shuddered, feeling cold. "And he's already part-Faerie... they could try to get him to join them, couldn't they?"

Luciel smiled thinly. "Come now. You know Devin better than anyone, save myself — do you really think he'd let himself be persuaded to do so?"

Allistair had to snort at that — Devin's stubbornness was one of his most salient traits. No, he wouldn't take well to being abducted and then asked to stay...

But was that even what had truly happened? He unthinkingly tried to raise his hand to rub his face, and hissed at the sudden pain in his arm.

"Their weapons are bespelled," Luciel said, somewhat unnecessarily, as that had been quite obvious to Allistair when the weapons had struck him. "Your wounds aren't healing as quickly or as cleanly as they would otherwise."

Allistair nodded wearily, closing his eyes for a long moment. When all was said and done, the physical pain didn't really matter. It was the mental hurts that were the worst. "What can we do?" he asked finally, looking up at the angel.

"...I don't know," Luciel admitted, looking pained. "I can't reach him. I can only hope, knowing how his mind works, that he'll try with all his wit and strength to come back."

Devin floated slowly into consciousness, his mind gradually becoming clearer, like morning fog burned away by the sun. By degrees, he realized that he was not tucked comfortably in his own bed, and that there was no companionable warm body next to him. His eyes flew open then as he remembered what he had just witnessed, and his hand went instinctively to the cross around his neck.

But he could not hear Luciel; he couldn't hear anything besides a sort of white noise, or the magical equivalent. Cursing under his breath, he sat up, struggling out of strangely soft blankets, only to realize he had no clothes.

—No, he could not start panicking now. He took a deep breath and looked around carefully. The bed on which he lay was a bit like a futon: a thick, comfortable pallet laid upon the floor. The silky covers in which he was currently tangled were in tastefully muted hues — roses, lavenders and blues that reminded him of late spring evenings. Likewise, the walls of the room, which seemed to be made of fabric, were soft shades of relaxing blue and green. Was he in a tent? A moment's inspection showed that he did, indeed, seem to be in some sort of large tent or pavilion. There was one doorway, little more than a curtain, out of his current room, but from what he could tell, all that lay beyond was another room.

Light glowed through the fabric of the walls; it must have been daylight outside. Was it actually the day of Midsummer, or had more time passed? Where, precisely, was he now? Certainly, this... dwelling... was something Faerie, but had they taken him into their own remote realm, or were they still on the Physical Plane somewhere? His inability to contact Luciel would normally make him suspect the former, but his communication had also been blocked inside the ceremonial circle, which lay quite plainly in the physical realm... 

Thinking of the circle brought Allistair to mind; Devin steeled himself against the surprising wave of emotional pain that came with that thought. Had they killed him? And if not... what would he have to do in order to heal? There was no conveniently willing victim nearby this time, if he still needed blood...

The mage shivered miserably. There was little, in his experience, worse than being in deadly peril, knowing someone you cared about was also in deadly peril, and being powerless to do anything about either situation.

The sound of soft, muffled footsteps came from the next room; Devin didn't have time to lie down and feign sleep before a figure parted the door-curtain and paused, eyeing him as warily as he eyed it in return.

"Ah... you're awake," the Faerie man said, smiling slightly. He looked at Devin measuringly for a moment, giving the mage the chance to do the same. He recognized the man as one of his attackers from the night before; the combination of amber eyes and impossibly black hair was hard to forget. Last night, the Faerie had been crowned with a fantastical headdress of iridescent black and dark blue feathers, but now, his dark hair spilled, unbound, in a waterfall over his shoulders, the longest of it reaching his waist. Long black shimmers seemed to be slender feathers, cleverly woven in so that they moved along with the rest of his hair. Small beads and charms adorned hair and feathers alike, winking intermittently in the soft light, and making tiny tinkling sounds as the man moved his head.

Devin carefully avoided meeting the man's gaze, but he could tell the Faerie was amused. After his initial surprise at seeing Devin awake, his posture had relaxed into the deceptively lazy slouch of a resting cat. Indeed, it was very easy to see the almost predatory lines of his body, as the only clothing he currently wore was a sort of kilt of soft black leather that looked like something from ancient Crete by way of the Aztec empire. Sheaths of the same material covered his forearms and calves, embroidered or embossed with silvery twisting vines. Various bracelets, necklaces, anklets and a complex pair of earrings, all made of silver and miscellaneous stones, jingled lightly with the man's tiniest motions; he must have made a veritable song when he walked. Altogether, he seemed to be a relic from the earliest times of recorded human history, but Devin knew that for all the archaic fashion, the Faerie were a culture sophisticated and complex enough to rival any on Earth, past or present.

His curiosity satisfied for the moment, Devin met the man's eyes, his own eyebrows pulling together in a scowl. He said nothing, however, keeping his sullen silence.

The Faerie simply smiled slightly at the mage's irritation. "And merry meet to you, too, Devin Mercure. My name is Yrien i'Varaen." He inclined his head slightly in polite greeting.

After that string of speech, Devin finally realized that the man was not speaking English — but the mage could understand him perfectly. A translation spell? Or something... deeper? With skill honed by years of studying foreign — even non-human — languages, he let his mind relax slightly and focused on his thoughts, rather than his words, hoping he could subconsciously bring them forth in the correct tongue.

"Am I being held prisoner here?" he asked bluntly. As he has hoped, his words seemed to spill out in the half-familiar language.

Yrien clearly understood him, and regarded him with a raised eyebrow, though whether that was for the question Devin had posed, or the use of the Faerie-tongue, the mage couldn't tell. "No," was the reply, accompanied by a smile that was nearly a smirk, "you are not a 'prisoner', per se, Devin. However, certain individuals have an interest in having you here as a guest."

"A 'guest'..." Devin repeated in disgust. "And what of Allistair?" he said with a growl, hiding his fear that the "rehabilitated" vampire may have simply been killed outright.

The Faerie wrinkled his nose in distaste. "I could care less what's happened to that night-creeping filth, and you'd do well to take the same stance — but we've done nothing further to him. As far as I know, he could be lying dead in the circle, and if so, good riddance."

Devin found that he was clenching his teeth, and with some difficulty, took a deep breath. At least they hadn't "finished him off", but from the sound of it, their first attack may have been enough in itself.

Yrien must have noticed Devin's agitation; he sighed like an adult forced to listen to a child retelling the exploits of an imaginary friend. "It was foolish to be tempted by such a creature," he said finally, but his tone was unexpectedly kind. "Any ending with one of them is never a happy one."

Hearing his own reservations echoed back at him, Devin had to smirk bitterly. "I'm perfectly aware of that. But he wasn't what you think." Not anymore.

The Faerie gave him that mildly amused, curious look again. "Experimenting with the nature of a vampire seems a bit risky, don't you think?" Judging the mage to be a bit more at ease, he stepped further into the room, jingling quietly with each step.

"There are some risks that are worthwhile," Devin said lowly, his eyes narrowing. The last thing he needed at the moment was a lecture on monsters from a murderous sprite.

"Perhaps," Yrien said with an indifferent shrug, seeming unwilling to argue further. He simply regarded the mage with a steady gaze that was perhaps meant to be mildly intimidating, or at least, quelling. Devin, however, was not one to be quelled.

"If I'm not a prisoner, I want to leave. Who are these 'interested parties', and what do they want?"

Yrien smiled in an annoyingly tranquil way. "When and if they wish to make themselves known, they will. As to what they want... it is not for a lowly youngster such as myself to guess."

Devin stared hard at the man; he seemed somewhat older than the mage, perhaps in his late twenties by mortal counting, but who could know how old he really was? "A 'lowly youngster'? Is that how you got stuck shepherding the mortal?" he asked with heavy sarcasm.

"Not at all. As I said, you are a guest — but being a stranger here, you need an escort. I was the... hmm... highest-ranked... person in the scouting party that found you, so you have been in my charge." As he spoke, Yrien stepped outside of the room and shortly returned with a porcelain pitcher and a delicately tinted green drinking glass. "Water?" he offered.

Devin frowned; it seemed unlikely they would wish to poison him — but drugging him might not be out of the question. "You drink it first," he said, crossing his arms.

"As you wish," the other man replied with an amiable, but slightly mocking, smile. Devin watched sullenly as he poured water in to the glass and took a long drink, then topped off the glass again. "Do you feel that your life is in danger?" the Faerie asked curiously, offering Devin the glass.

"I don't think you'd try to kill me, no," the mage mumbled as he took the glass. Despite Yrien's demonstration, he still sniffed suspiciously at the water before taking a careful sip. He tasted nothing but cold, clear water that had the tang of rocks and deep underground springs.

"And yet you distrust refreshments given to you?" the Faerie said with a little foxlike grin. He seemed to be pressing his "guest" to admit his paranoia. "Or is this taste-testing a ritual now revived in modern society?"

Devin scowled deeply. "I don't trust you — any of you." He took another sip of water, this one no less deliberate. "I haven't been given any reason to trust you, and a couple of good reasons not to."

Yrien raised an eyebrow in seeming amusement, but he nodded in understanding. "You are right in that you've seen little reason to trust us, but how long have you been here?" he pointed out. "Still, I imagine it may ease your busy scholar's mind to have a few questions answered. Do you have some things you wish to ask?" This last was punctuated with a faint smirk; of course he had questions! He probably had more questions than the Faerie had strands of inky black hair on his head.

The mage was silent for a moment as he tried to think of a sensible place to start. "All right... Where, precisely, am I?"

"A good question," Yrien said with a slight nod. "Of course, to be very precise, this is my home, but I think you guessed as much. More generally, you are within the realm of Faerie."

"'The other side of the mirror'," Devin quoted from a verse he had found in his research. Faerie was commonly believed to be a sub-plane, parallel to the Physical Plane, and intersecting it at several points, like that ill-omened clearing in the woods. It was as if the two planes occupied the same space in slightly different ways.

Yrien nodded, smiling slightly. "I have to admit, I didn't figure you for a poetic soul, Devin... but this place is in your blood, after all. Does it feel familiar, in any way?"

The mage thought that over, frowning. The miasma of fae-magic that hung over everything wasn't as disconcerting here as it had been in the ceremonial circle, perhaps because that energy belonged here, as it did not belong in the Scottish countryside — at least, not in this modern age. Still, this particular setting held no uneasy sense of dιjΰ vu for him.

"Not this place," he said, pointing down at the floor, "but since I haven't been outside or anything..."

"Ah, true..." That seemed to remind the Faerie of something, and he turned to rummage in a cloth container that seemed to be something like a hamper. After a moment, he withdrew a folded bundle of stormy-sky blue fabric. "And in order to do that, you probably would like some clothing, hmm?" With a little flourish, he unfurled a light, knee-length robe, a highly stylized wolf pattern evident on the embroidered hems. A strange, rather abstract (at least, to Devin's eyes) sigil dominated the center of the robe's back.

"What's the significance of that?" the mage asked, pointing.

"You're not familiar with the House seals?" Yrien looked mildly surprised when Devin shook his head. "This is the sign of Rukath, the Wolf House — and the house of your ancestry," he explained.

"My — " The realization left Devin dumbstruck for a moment, but he finally found his tongue to ask, "Then you know who... I'm related to?" He avoided saying "who my parents are", because for all he knew, he could be a measly one-sixteenth Faerie or some such, and he somehow doubted that the otherworldly fae tracked such distant descendants.

Yrien's lips pressed together in a thin line, as if he realized he had said too much. "I do... but I do not feel at liberty to discuss it, Devin. I'm sorry." He had the grace to look embarrassed at his — what, powerlessness? — as he handed the robe, and a pair of soft linen pants, to Devin.

"Over your head, huh?" the mage snorted, as he shrugged the robe on. "All right, then, next question. You said you were the highest-ranked person in that... hunting party —"

"'Scouting party' is probably a better term," Yrien interjected.

"Not as far as Allistair was concerned," Devin snapped back, not bothering to check his anger.

The Faerie simply dropped his gaze. "As you say."

It took a couple of deep breaths for Devin to resume his questioning. "You said you were the highest-ranked. How is that, if you're too young to have a say in things?"

Yrien looked up and gave him a small, self-mocking smile. "I am the fifth son of the Lord and Lady of Varaen," he explained, "and so while I am what mortals might call a prince, I'm young enough, and far enough down the line of succession, to be fairly... superfluous."

Devin wished he had been able to find information on Faerie society in the course of his research; this was beginning to sound like a typical medieval hierarchy, and he knew nothing of the players involved. Unfortunately, the ins and outs of Sidhe politics were not particularly well-documented by mere mortals.

"What house is... Varaen?" he asked, as Yrien's garments gave him no hint.

"Deer," the man replied with a shrug. "The Varaen are the current High House."

"Meaning...? They rule the Faerie?" If Devin's "keeper" was the son of the monarchs of the realm, it was indeed a high honor being accorded to him.

"Something like that," Yrien hedged. "It is not quite the same thing as a human monarchy, though I wouldn't call it a democracy, either. It's... a monarchy open to discussion," he tried to explain.

"In other words, the 'rulers' have to listen to the input of everyone else?" Devin asked as he struggled into the pants while trying to keep himself concealed under the blanket. At Yrien's nod of confirmation, he continued, "What happens if they don't?"

The Faerie smiled faintly. "In and of themselves, the Lord and Lady are no more powerful than the leaders of the other houses. They would be asked to relinquish the crowns, or else be forced to."

The prince's thin smile told Devin that a forced abdication was not something to be taken lightly. "...Does that happen very often?"

"Not at all. It's very unusual for a Lord and Lady to be asked to step down, actually."

"So... do the same people stay in power for a really long time?" Devin knew he was being distracted, but when else would he get the opportunity to ask these questions? And it wasn't as if they were going to let him leave, anyway...

"Define 'a really long time'," Yrien said dryly. "It is not a position that people wish to serve in for their entire lives. Generally, after several decades, the Lord and Lady will express a wish to step down, and a council is held to decide who will take up the crowns."

Devin had much more to ask on the subject, but his stomach chose that moment to protest its state of emptiness. Yrien grinned and gestured for Devin to follow him. "Come. We can speak more later, but obviously, your innards wish to speak now."

"...How long have I been here?" the mage suddenly thought to ask. He stood, and grimaced as his joints crackled.

"A night, only — it is the day of Midsummer," Yrien reassured him as he led him out of the tent... house... whatever. Devin had to wince away from the sunlight, but as his eyes adjusted, he saw a handful of Faerie-folk who had paused in their goings-on to look at him curiously. At his scowl, most of them went on with their affairs, but the mage heard quiet laughter, and glanced over at two women, who looked young enough to be teenagers, talking to each other behind their hands. When they noticed him watching, instead of turning away and giggling, they gave him matching inviting looks, and then laughed at his startled expression.

"You're going to be quite popular here," Yrien informed him quietly, his eyes dancing. "The allure of the exotic, you understand."

The mage just snorted in disbelief. Maybe he was passingly attractive, but next to these graceful fae... Then again, maybe those girls liked the contrast.

Yrien seemed to follow his thought, but he guided Devin onto a neat little path, paved with pine needles, before speaking. "You've just enough human blood to look exciting and different, but just enough of our blood to be attractive, and not a 'hulking hairy human'," the prince explained in an amused tone.

Devin restrained the urge to smack his forehead. Well, he was used to occasional female gawking... just not in quite such a frank manner. "Don't they know that I..." he gestured vaguely.

"That you prefer males?" Yrien shrugged, or at least, that was how Devin interpreted the twist of his head. "That's no reason not to be able to admire you. Though... most of us are not so strict in our preferences." The Faerie gave him a coy smile.

Great. Was he going to spend his entire time here being hit on? Annoyed, the mage looked away from his guide, to the woodland around them. Despite the mind-boggling immensity of some of the trees, plenty of light still filtered down to the forest floor. The kinds of trees were familiar: oaks, ash, beech... but each massive trunk stood gracefully alone, like a stately monarch. As a lifelong native of a humming city, Devin had never imagined anything quite like it.

"It's magnificent, isn't it?" Yrien murmured. "Hmm... actually..." he seemed to catch a new thought. "There's a spot that I think you'll appreciate; we can sit there and break our fast. Come."

Those words reminded Devin sharply of the terrible night before; he bowed his head as he followed Yrien, struggling to hold back his anger and fear for Allistair. It had been half a day or more since the attack... either Allistair had made it, or he was already...

No, the mage didn't even want to think it. He looked up at Yrien's back. If the Faerie sensed his guest's agitation, he made no sign.

"...Can I ask another question?" Devin said finally.

"Of course." Yrien glanced back at him, an eyebrow raised in curiosity.

"Why do you people hate vampires so much?"

"Ah." The prince turned back around and resumed walking. "I was wondering when that would come up..."

Then why wait for me to ask? Devin thought bitterly, but he said nothing.

"It's very simple, really... We have a great... reverence, I suppose, for life and the creation of life. Creatures like vampires... they are a mockery of the Great Cycle in and of themselves, and worse yet, they can pass that un-life to others." Yrien walked in silence for several moments, whether to let that sink in, or to gather his thoughts, Devin couldn't tell. "They're also almost all mad," the Faerie continued finally, his tone grave. "Raving mad or just quietly warped... being changed that way poisons their minds."

Devin held his tongue and actually thought hard about that. Yes, Jason had certainly been mad, like a serial killer with delusions of grandeur. But Allistair? Chronically depressed, perhaps, but insane? Or would that still fit into Yrien's definition of madness?

"What if they could be cured?" the mage asked cautiously, unsure of how much any of the Faerie knew about what he had been doing lately.

"You should not raise your hopes so high," was the oblique answer. Yrien had stopped walking; at first, Devin thought the man was going to turn and give him an earful, but then he realized that they had come to the grassy shore of a broad lake or pond, its surface clotted in places with patches of white and pink water lilies. The dome of the sky was reflected perfectly on the water's surface, catching Devin's attention for a long moment, until a sudden splash and a series of ripples destroyed the image. At 9 o'clock from where they stood, a heron was shaking a fish down its gullet.

"They say that heron's been fishing in that spot longer than we've been in this land," Yrien said with a wry smile.

Devin snorted incredulously as he watched both the water and the heron return to total stillness again. "A Faerie fairy-tale?"

"You are simply asking to be hit," the prince said with a laugh. "Do you mind staying here for a few minutes, while I find some food?"

"That's fine," Devin replied, shaking his head. Some time alone to think would be welcome right now, anyway.

"I'll return shortly, then." Yrien patted his shoulder and turned back to the trail, his chiming footsteps soon receding.

The mage sat down on the slightly damp grass, his knees drawn up to his chest. Alone, with the stone-still heron his only witness, he rested his forehead against his knees and silently shed a few hot, bitter tears of misery and frustration.  There had been a time in his life, not too long ago, when he would have had nothing and no one to cry for, but things were different now...

Part 10 Back to the Office Part 12

Hmm...  This is getting a bit dry, isn't it? ;)  Don't worry, I don't think there will be any more Q and A sessions any time soon ;D

Is anyone relieved to hear from Allistair? ;)  An angel and a vampire hanging out... sounds like a sitcom gone all wrong.  They're going to have to sit tight for a bit, though, it looks like; Devin's on his own, and he'd better suck it up and start thinking a little faster, eh?