After the bedroom door closed behind him, Reid took a half-second to evaluate his most recent encounter with his liege. It wasn’t difficult for him to wrap his head around the extremes of her personality: being fae, he was familiar with the ease by which emotions could be manipulated and directed when someone had direct access to an aura. That she could go from being absolutely terrifying and viciously greedy to, well, flustered and harmless didn’t give him pause.
What did was that Abigail didn’t seem to actually have control over it. Half of Reid considered that problem while the other half dealt with Abigail’s most recent instructions. From what he’d seen, he suspected he’d badly misjudged Abigail while he had held her during her confrontation with Sir Etienne, before Archarel’s knight had been redefined as Abigail’s butler. Now, though, he didn’t know if he should be less afraid of her, or more.
On the one hand, as long as she was well fed Reid doubted he would have to worry about her destroying him or anyone else. On the other: if she did get hungry for essence again, that went out the window. It’s a good thing we are empaths by nature, Reid thought. Misjudging her moods could mean a permanent death if we aren’t careful about putting in safety nets.
“Tammy, Donovan, Rickson,” Reid called out three of the goblins currently guarding Lady Abigail’s door. “The three of you will serve as Lady Abigail’s next donors, should she call on us to provide blood for her again.” Reid swept his gaze over the three in question; they nodded acknowledgement of the order. “She intends to move on to a warded location. You will keep yourselves near at hand. If I call for you, it will because she has called me through the wards and I am opening a way for you to follow. Everyone else? She has awarded us some leisure, it seems. I will not be so arrogant as to give you orders on how to spend that time, so long as you do not ward yourselves off so thoroughly that you cannot be called for should your presence be desired by Lady Abigail or obligated by our shared oaths. I will, however, say this: Lady Abigail gave each of us a not inconsiderable share of the power she took from Archarel when she destroyed him. She also means to feed on us, and there is nothing we can do to gainsay her. Were I you, I would not spend that power frivolously, but would hold it in reserve for her.”
Most of Lady Abigail’s fae — Reid’s fae, for practical purposes — nodded, though some did so more reluctantly than others. Reid had little doubt that some of them would only keep a portion of the bounty Lady Abigail had granted them unstructured. The rest they would twist into new forms: perhaps establishing personal sanctuaries, or other permanent glamours. Reid couldn’t really blame them: after so long of being a troll he was looking forward to changing forms, himself. At least for a while.
His immediate orders taken care of, Reid opened the way back to faerie lands for himself. Traveling to the fae realms was a simple task: that so many other fae in his immediate vicinity were doing the same thing only made it that much easier. It was only coming back, against the flow of where he belonged, that Reid required a proper portal — or, at the very least, an invitation and a good reason to spend the essence it would require of him to follow that connection to Earth.
The location Reid pulled himself to was an antechamber to the grand banquet clearing of Lord Archarel. The faerie lord would summon his forces from the mortal world here in order to draw essence from them and reinforce his holdings; then Lord Archarel would throw the hapless exiles back out to Earth. Most of the rest of Reid’s knights — Archarel’s one time exiles — materialized there as well. Few of their number had been anywhere else in the fae realms recently enough and frequently enough to find their way there instead. Reid doubted that his personal sanctuary even still existed. Without his presence to reinforce it, it would have collapsed and been subsumed into Lord Archarel’s holdings decades ago.
But that was a matter for another time. Reid had not given orders to his people, but Lady Abby had given orders to him, whether she realized it or not, and now that he had made arrangements for her feeding he had to follow through on the rest. But first, he needed to take on a form that was not so grotesque as the trollish figure Lord Archarel had cursed him with. Reid needed a form he would actually be recognized in.
Shifting shape was not difficult. There were some rules to it that the weave enforced, but those mostly pertained to taking on the shapes of others. The shape Reid had in mind was his own — the form he had worn before he had antagonized Lord Archarel and been effectively banished to Earth.
Reid closed his eyes and focused, bringing up all the details he could remember; finding the places in his soul where they had been imprinted. He had kept his shape intact by focusing on it every day — Lord Archarel had forbade him from using it, but the faerie lord’s geas couldn’t prevent Reid from remembering it. At least, not without spending far more energy than Archarel would have bothered with. Especially since Archarel’s punishments required Reid to remember everything he had lost in order to maximize his suffering.
A second later, though, and Reid was himself again.
Oh, he still felt strange: he was in a body he hadn’t used for… he couldn’t even remember how long. And it was wildly different than the hulking troll he had been instead for all that time. But it was still his from: Reid was once again who he had chosen to be before Lord Archarel had taken that choice away from him.
Now Reid was anything but hulking. In fact, he was positively tiny.
At two inches tall, Reid had to admit he was a bit large for a sprite — but the difference between his proper shape and the troll he had been stretched into made that a meaningless distinction. And it wasn’t the only difference between the two, by far. Now he had a short torso, with spindly arms and legs. His ears were much, much longer, and his face was defined by slim angles instead of bulbous mounds and dents. His skin, rather than being gnarled and leathery, was smooth and speckled: tans and greys that would blend remarkably well with bark. Over it he wore a simple tabard with two slits in its back; his wings were similar to a dragonfly’s, but shaped like long, elliptic leaves. He buzzed them once, reveling in the feeling, and then threw his head back and let his antennae wave through the air. Oh, bliss, he thought. To be able to smell again! And to hear without relying on just his ears! He’d remembered his form, but had forgotten just how much more vibrant the world was supposed to be!
With a sudden, joyous laugh, Reid launched himself into the air. His wings hummed and the speed of his ascent plastered his antennae backward. He made two loops to judge how much his dexterity had diminished, then swept around the room once just to feel the speed of flying flat out. Then he swerved through a portal, unable to further justify putting off his last instructions from Lady Abigail.
The destination Reid had in mind was one he had only been to once: the clearing that led to the prison Lady Emma had been secured in at Sir Etienne’s command. It was also the gathering place for those of Archarel’s former court who had chosen to swear their allegiance to Megan.
For a moment, Reid hovered, studying the gathered fae. When he approached the faeries who were waiting to swear their allegiance to Megan he did so with only a hint of trepidation. His emotions were firmly locked down, or he suspected he would be at least as nervous as Lady Abigail had been over that other vampire, Lord Benjamin. And that would have been a laugh — if it hadn’t been a situation involving two beings that were inherently terrifying. On the other hand, though, seeing Lady Abigail like that had given Reid considerably more insight into his new liege.
Lady Abigail was genuinely terrified last night, not presenting a facade in her aura. She wasn’t just messing with Sir Etienne, or with me. It was a disconcerting thought, but one that Reid had to conclude was accurate. It was also surprisingly alarming for the very simple reason that it meant she really had no idea what she was capable of — or how to properly defend herself from people who could read her aura at will.
I’ll have to see to it that she receives some training in shielding her aura from empaths, Reid thought. Hell, I’ll have to see to it that she receives training in everything faerie related. She was passing actual thoughts with her emotions last night! Mortals cannot do that.
Providing Abigail that level of assistance would, strictly speaking, fall in a grey area in regards to the oaths that bound Reid. Since she did not command or ask for such assistance, Reid was under no obligation to volunteer it. On the other hand, since he had sworn his loyalty to her it was unlikely that the weave would indebt her to him if he offered it. In essence, giving Lady Abigail more help than his oath strictly required would not benefit him directly.
For many faeries, that would have been enough reason not to offer it. For that matter, many faeries would have begun laying very different plans as soon as they realized their liege was so incredibly vulnerable to emotional manipulation. Reid, however, had spent the last few decades on earth, exposed to the expectations of humanity and soaking up human emotions for sustenance. Greed and selfishness were among those, yes, but so too was another one that Reid felt far more strongly: gratitude.
Lady Abigail hadn’t tried to place any sort of debt on him when she had instructed him to reconnect with those that Archarel had separated him from. She hadn’t even asked who it was he’d been exiled away from. And for all that Lady Abigail was clearly inexperienced in dealing with faeries, the way she’d managed to turn everything around and come out on top showed that she was scarily smart. Reid had no doubt that she’d realized she could have further indebted him to her, bound him even more tightly than his own oaths already did, just by using the same leverage Archarel had been punishing him with.
She had chosen not to. And for that — and for freeing him from Archarel’s restrictions — Reid was grateful. And he felt that gratitude in a purely human fashion: it motivated him to repay her in kind, without the weave’s binding traditions weighing in to force him to.
Reid wove amongst the gathered supplicants until he found the individual he sought. She was watching for him, and when he saw her eyes light up and felt what she did through their shared leyline, his own heart soared as well. He darted forward and landed in her cupped hands.
Now he felt that the world was right again.
“Hello again, Reid,” Prudence murmured. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. “I’ve been well, save having missed my favorite huntsman. But then again, I was never allowed to put myself so at risk as to have a chance of finding you. I am glad to see you have survived, but are you well? How have you fared throughout Lord Archarel’s exile?”