Did I think it hurt when George ate my music box? Dios, Alcazár, how naïve can you be. But how should I have known. I’ve never had third degree burns. Until now.
Damn. I have to distract myself somehow. Have to try, at least.
It was the middle of the night when we came back to the sweat lodge, so we decided to catch some sleep and meet again the next day. Good plan – in theory at least. If I had been able to get some shuteye, that is. Which I, big surprise, did not. Which is why the previous entry in my journal.
We met in the donut shop, where a strong coffee breathed a little life back into me while we were thinking about what to do next. Alex hadn’t shown up, but that didn’t give us cause for concern, because Alex does tend to get held up by other things every so often. We knew too little about the First Knight’s functions, we realized. And the person who probably was the best source for such information, or at least who was our closest contact in the faerie world, was Sir Anders Thunderstone.
The fae knight was not in Pan’s palace, but at Washington High School – memories. Long time. Well, not all that long, actually, but it felt like it – where we found him coaching a little league baseball team but willing to give us a few minutes.
Just like Antoine, he was not allowed to say anything about, and in particular not against, Ruiz himself, because his oath to Pan forbade it, but he was able to tell us about the First Knight’s office in general. As a faerie duke’s champion, the First Knight receives some of the Duke’s power. Not quite as much as the Summer Knight receives from the Summer Queen herself, but enough.
We asked Anders about the previous First Knight – a ‚Sir Horton‘, as we learned – who was killed by Ruiz in a magic duel, and about his predecessor. Who was a woman, as it turned out. The transfer of power between those two had been all nice and peaceful and had taken place by means of a card game duel.
Since the former knight was said to be in the best of health and since Sir Anders was able to tell us where she lived, we paid her a visit. The lady was a bit suspicious at first, but then politely consented to receiving us on her patio.
But before we drove to her place, Edward contaced his precinct to inquire whether Marshal Martin had found out anything yet. Unfortunately not – she hadn’t even called in yet, and Sergeant Book wanted to have one of his people look into it.
The former knight, Eileen Fabray, had not even heard about the latest developments yet and was pretty shocked when she learned of Sir Horton’s death.
There are three types of duels, said Mrs Fabray, namely weapons, magic, and the mind, with the latter also including battles of words. The level of seriousness, i.e. what it will take to win the duel, must be agreed by the contestants and approved by the Duke.
In principle, the First Knight’s job is to liaise between the Duke and the human world, especially whenever things turn ‚official‘. Apart from that, the Knight serves as the Duke’s champion, i.e. must fight for him or in his stead whenever necessary, and deal with any taks the Duke sends him on. In the case of Pan, I guess that mostly means participating in his parties, cleaning up behind him and generally acting as his nanny. And yes, he does receive part of Pan’s power.
Why ‚Hortie‘ had agreed to a duel of magic, when he as the challenged party could have chosen the means of the duel and when he knew that Ruiz had magical abilities, was something that Mrs Fabray could not quite explain either. Perhaps it was because he was a friendly sort not able to believe that anybody would want to hurt him and because he might have thought that this new duel would be as harmless as the previous one had been.
We had hardly left the former knight when Roberto’s phone rang. It was his aunt, who urgently requested his help because her elderly neighbor had bin found dead in his garden. Frozen to death, in this heat wave. Hah. At the risk of repeating myself, hah.
The place in the garden where the dead man was lying really was ice cold, the flowers withered from frost. A footprint, even colder than the ground around it, and neighbors who had seen an elegantly dressed gentleman with a cane, who had walked into or towards the garden. To me, that sounded suspiciously like there was an antipode to our Lady Fire called Lord Ice oder something. (Most probably not Lord Snow, though. Unless my highly esteemed colleague, Mr Martin, knows something I don’t.)
Frozen = Winter. And Winter = Tanit. But since we mostly can’t get to Tanit that easily, for us it’s usually Winter = Hurricane. He told us that the circumstances of the death in the garden looked a lot like Lord Frost, who sooner or later always turned up where Lady Fire was in order to keep the balance. (Oh all right. ‚Frost‘, then, not ‚Ice‘. Ah well. Fine by me.)
Hurricane also told us that his mother was plenty worried. Summer was planning something, she believed, and she wasn’t sure whether they’d withdraw on midsummer, as they were supposed to. Pan had not deigned to answer Tanit’s letter, and that was a behavior which the Lady of the Storms didn’t react at all well to, Hurricane said. She was going to give him until Midsummer (i.e. the day after tomorrow), but if the Summer Duke hadn’t gotten his act together until then, the Storm Children would teach him a lesson.
Not funny, Romans and countrymen. It’s bad enough when Pan and Tanit fall foul of one another without such a reason, as witness the nights in which Hurricane and his siblings were conceived.
Oh, and by the way, Tanit has a knight too, of course. However, the woman hasn’t been in Miami for a while but can exclusively be found in the Nevernever.
While we were still talking with Hurricane, Roberto had a call. Actually, the call was for Alex. But since the caller was also a casual acquaintance of Roberto’s who knew that Alex and Roberto hang out, she tried Roberto’s number when she couldn’t reach Alex. So he hadn’t only let us hang, but that friend of his, as well. And then Edward’s partner called with the news that there had been some sort of altercation in Dee’s hotel room and that the Marshal herself had vanished.
Of course we drove to the hotel. Dee’s car was still parked there, and her room really showed some signs of a fight – but not as many as you’d have thought, given the no-nonsense, tough U.S. Marshal.
We found Dee’s cell phone under her bed, and Edward said the room was positively reeking of satyr. The phone’s last calls list showed that Dee’s last call had gone to Alex and taken not quite a minute.
Alex‘ house boat next, then. It was empty, as we’d expected, but his (overfull) answering machine also held a message from Dee, which ended abruptly with intruders entering her room. Dee’s yelling „Hey, what do you think you’re doing?!“, then a voice. Ruiz’s voice. Cabrón. I couldn’t understand exactly what he was saying, but it was Lucumi, that much I could tell. The fighting noises stopped abruptly and were followed by a muffled thump, as if a body had fallen to the ground. Mierda.
Where would Ruiz take a woman he’d kidnapped? Probably not to Pan’s palace, but that was the only clue we had. Moreover we also wanted to talk to Pan about Tanit, because we still thought we might prevent the object lesson that the storm children were about to give him.
While Roberto tried to get the Summer Duke alone, I went to take a look around the palace. I didn’t find Ruiz, but ¡Madre mia!, the thing is in the Nevernever. And thus much bigger and much more winding than it has any call being. I found the section where Lady Fire has taken up her residence, the entrance guarded by two of her knights, and I found the wing where we had met Ruiz the last time. But beyond that, the palace turned very labyrinthine and very, very confusing very soon. And no Ruiz anywhere to be seen. Mierda.
At some point I gave it up so as not to get hopelessly lost. And promptly met Totilas on my way back who was on the lookout for me. Turns out he had met George. And George had seen Ruiz with Dee. He was willing to take us there, but not for free. Of course not. Mierda.
As uncreative as I’m feeling at the moment, there was absolutely no way I could think up something entirely new for him. I had to fall back on something I knew. Perhaps that wouldn’t hurt so much, either. I chose that one scene from the „Legend“ movie – the one where Tom Cruise und Mia Sara’s characters are sitting by the lake and are joined by the unicorn. Envisaging the figures for George did make my nose bleed, but when he actually started eating them it didn’t tug on my brain quite as painfully as his devouring the music box had, and seeing Tom Cruise’s moronic smile and Mia Sara’s servile adoration vanish like that was almost worth the nosebleed.
But somehow, my memory of that scene from the movie now is… blunted somehow. I haven’t forgotten it or anything, but the memory has become rather… abstract. In this particular case, it isn’t a problem but a relief, really, but. You have been warned, Alcazár. I’ll have to be extremely careful just what I feed George with, Romans and countrymen. And it definitely shouldn’t turn into a habit, either.
George has gotten a bit better at talking, by the way. He can say our names now, and a few other words as well, at least in some sort of mangled fashion. And even without words the little burro is pretty eloquent. That’s how he got me to envisage him something again, after all. Mierda.
Anyway, my nosebleed bought us another trip through the „shadows“. Pitch-black. And I mean truly pitch-black. No light at all, just smells and sounds. Extremely disquieting smells and sounds. Diverse ones, as if George was taking us through all kinds of different places.
George wasn’t able to follow us from the Nevernever to our own world, but vanished when he’d brought us to an abandoned and commensurately dilapidated car repair shop. Edward could smell Alex und Dee, as well as a the stench of satyrs.
Upstairs, behind a door, Ruiz’s voice. „Now you’ve learned your place, eh?“ Dee’s voice, shaking with anger. „You’ll regret that!“ Then a scornful laugh. Ruiz again. „She’s all yours, boys. Have fun.“
That’s all we needed to hear.
Inside: Alex, unconscious, ignored in a corner. Ruiz, who was just buckling his belt again. Two satyrs, wearing neither their human glamor nor clothes, with broad grins and in the process of playing a game of rock-paper-scissors. Dee, tied to a folding bed, naked, and her eyes blazing with rage. No doubt at all about what had just happened here. Oh, cabrón. No. Much, much more than cabrón. At that moment, I could have killed him without missing a beat.
But I was not the first one through the door. Edward was. He declared Ruiz arrested, while Totilas closed the distance to the First Knight in an instant and clipped the cabrón on the jaw. Unfortunately the punch did not put him out of action, which allowed him to draw two golden revolvers („The Man with the Golden Gun“. Ahahaha. Oh dios.) and fire. And the blasted things did not shoot regular bullets but glaring, blinding rays of sunlight which fanned out and hit everything in the room. Including us.
Searing heat. Unbearable. But just for one heartbeat, then blackness.
Things had gone too quickly for me to think anything the moment I went down, but when I came to, I was downright surprised I was still alive. All of us, including Alex and his sister, were in a traditional fantasy-style dungeon, chained to heavy iron shackles in the dungeon’s rock wall with our arms raised high. And all of us were naked. Again. Which admittedly felt entirely insignificant at that point. Either Ruiz and his goons had undressed us or, which seemed more likely, the rays from the cabrón’s guns had simply burned our clothes away, including everything we’d had in our pockets. At any rate, our skin looked like three days at the beach without sunscreen – even Edward’s. And he’s black, Romans and countrymen.
The dungeon was long and narrow, and somewhat further to the front a fire was burning that allowed us to see the flickering shadows cast by a pair of satyrs. There also seemed to be a few oneirophages there, but whether that really was the case or not was hard to see.
After a while, Ruiz came to the dungeon and said something to the effect of we’d better give him a reason to let us live. None of us deigned to answer him; only Edward let his angry tongue run free, which in turn made Ruiz give him a painful hand-shaped brand on his chest simply by touch. Then he left. Cabrón.
After another while, two of the Lady Fire’s Sidhe knights turned up. Ruiz had sent them to keep us under guard, they said. My question whether the Lady Fire knew what they were doing here was answered in the negative, so I bade them convey my greetings to the Lady and to tell her I was indisposed at the moment, otherwise I would of course have paid her a courtesy visit already. My name made the impression I had hoped it would, and one of them immediately went to inform the Lady.
It did not take five minutes before Lady Fire swept into the dungeon, deeply outraged about the treatment we were subjected to. Let’s be honest. I was subjected to. She was entirely indifferent about the others – with the one exception of Dee, that is. She instructed her men to cover Dee and myself, but I had to point out the guys to her first, because otherwise Lady Fire would have ignored them completely. She almost seemed a little taken aback at my pestering her with my concern for these lesser beings, and it almost felt like she only told her guards to help them too in order to humor me.
You are beating about the bush again, Alcazár.
Yes, dammit. Because what came next… Thinking about it brings it back. More than it’s there anyway, I mean. When I think about it, I am back in that dungeon, and Lady Fire’s eyes blaze when she hears what the cabrón has done to Dee, and she gestures imperiously at the shackles that hold me, and they flare up, first red-hot, then white-hot, then liquefy, and melt off my wrists.
I don’t know whether I screamed. But I can’t imagine how I couldn’t have. Anyway, my next clear memory is me lying on the floor, doubled over in pain, with one of the guards just cutting through Alex’s bonds. The others were already free, so I must have passed out for a few seconds at least.
Roberto, who looked pretty battered himself, helped me up and stayed at my side while Totilas carried Alex and Edward carried Alex’s sister. The Lady’s guards took us to a back exit where they took their leave of us, and somehow we made it back to our own world without anybody noticing us.
At least not Ruiz’s people. Out on the beach we ran into a group of surfers who turned out to be a very nice, helpful bunch. One of them let Edward use his cell phone and stayed with us until the ambulance arrived. While we were waiting, talk somehow got around to Sir Anders, who sometimes works on the beach as a lifeguard and perhaps should be informed about the sort of cabrón that Ruiz is. I myself, however, was only half aware of how Totilas left to find the fae knight or of how Edward made a phone call, cursed and said something about „midsummer tomorrow“. He definitely did not want to go to the hospital, despite his burns and irritated skin, so he also left before the ambulance arrived.
So here I am, lying in a hospital bed and just having written down all this because I can’t sleep. Because my wrists hurt, dammit. Not quite as much as before, thank goodness – the meds are helping, and the thick bandages. And still. I’m grateful to her and everything. But. Mierda.