Grey couldn’t believe she was actually here.
The entrance to the fairy club had been concealed in a brick wall; the tunnel itself led from the river and winded deep beneath the city. There were a number of legends surrounding this particular tunnel, stemming from the South’s dependency on slavery as a trade. It was said that at one point, there had been so little room available that they had taken to putting their slaves here right off the boat, and they would wait (and die) in here until they were given to a master.
But as always, the fairies had taken something dark, something with terrible history, and made it beautiful. Floating fairy lights danced up and down the passage, creating a soft, beautiful glow that Grey could follow all the way down. There were dozens of hidden off-shoots, smaller passages that were clearly newer that led somewhere else, but they were dark and had an air of foreboding about them. If she followed those, there was no telling where she would end up or if she would ever make it back.
If the lights hadn’t been enough, though, Grey could have easily found the club by the pounding of music coming down the tunnel. The song felt familiar but different at the same time, as if she’d been hearing the song all along but couldn’t quite remember what it was or how long she’d been listening. It was quite powerful, making her want to stay and listen longer so she could actually put her finger on what the song was and why it sounded so familiar to her.
“Fairy magic,” Alex explained. “It’s harmless. As long as we don’t accept food or drink from the fairies, we’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, I remember the stories. Eat or drink from them and you’re theirs forever.”
“Indeed. A kept pet for them to play with. Good news, you’re immortal. Bad news, you’re no longer your own person.”
Grey shivered. “Are you sure it’s okay for us to go down there?”
“Absolutely,” Alex said. “I come here pretty often. It’s meant as a trap, but as long as you don’t allow yourself to get snared, it’s always a good time. Stay by my side.”
Wordlessly, Grey intertwined her fingers in Alex’s the way he’d slipped his hand in hers outside of the student center. It was an unconscious gesture, a way of seeking (and accepting) comfort without thought. Immediately, she felt bolstered by the feeling. She felt safe. Her worries about her mother and the plot, about Julian and his treatment, drifted away to the edge of her consciousness
The music got louder, and Grey felt her heart start to thump in time to the beat. Adrenaline coursed through her veins; she knew she could dance all night long if given half a chance; possibly even longer. “Is this part of their magic, too?” Grey asked.
“The energy? Yes. The longer you’re there, the more you dance, the more you want a drink or something to eat. There’s even stories about people who have been dancing for years and years at a time.”
“Years?” Grey said, feeling her heart shudder at the thought.
“We won’t be down here for years, Grey,” Alex said, sounding amused. “The longest I’ve been down here is three days.”
“Three whole days!?”
“Yeah, it was a rough time for me. I wanted to forget. So I did.”
“How did you manage not to eat or drink?”
“Malik. He kept the fairies away from me while I danced, kept threatening to turn them into ugly toads if they didn’t leave me alone. When we left, I was dehydrated and starving, but I’d never felt so free. If Malik hadn’t come, I’d probably have wasted away down here.”
Grey squeezed his hand more tightly. “What happened that made you want to forget so badly?”
“A dear friend of mine,” Alex answered, “She died.”
Grey didn’t miss the raw emotion in his voice, nor the way he kept looking anywhere but at her when he said ‘she.’ “You loved her,” Grey said.
“As much as you can love anyone when you’re fifteen,” Alex admitted. “There was a fire. Her whole family perished. Without Malik, I probably would have danced until I died and that tragedy would have taken one more life.”
Grey felt his loss then; felt it almost as surely as her own when she allowed herself to think of Teddy or Julian dying suddenly. She’d been so worried about Shepherd and that whole situation that she hadn’t stopped to consider what Malik meant to Alex, if they had a shared history or not.
Before she could apologize, however, the tunnel opened into a massive room, the roof soaring so high above that she couldn’t see the top. Lights flashed, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once, and that music—the sweet, tantalizing music which defied categorization and danced just at the edge of her consciousness—became all-consuming. Bodies writhed against one another on the dancefloor; some were naked; some had flowers and branches growing out of their bodies; some were green, blue, purple…a rainbow of diversity. There were normal kids too, teenagers with sweat dampening their hair and clothes, expressions of pure, rapturous joy on their too-young faces. There was something odd about a few of them—they looked out of place, sepia-toned photographs of times long past but live and in person. She couldn’t explain how she knew it, but she could tell that they were thralls; they’d probably been dancing here for years and years
“Fun fact, that One Direction song, where they’re saying they danced all night to the best song ever but can’t remember it? It’s based on this.” Alex’s voice sent a shock through her and she turned her head to face him. Gone was the sadness that had been present in his voice just a moment before, replaced by a half-smile as he bobbed his head in time to the music.
“That explains it,” Grey said, returning the smile. “It’s like…I know the lyrics and I want to sing along, but the second I think about it too much, the words dance just out of reach.”
“Speaking of dancing…” Alex stepped back and bowed at her in invitation. “Shall we?”
“Let’s!” Grey said, allowing him to pull her to the dance floor. Normally, Grey would be self-conscious. She had never been particularly confident in herself, feeling pulled in every direction by both of her parents and what her friends wanted and needed. She found it difficult to voice strong opinions, even knowing that it was expected of her as a Lycan. Dancing, too, was a point of insecurity for her, and the fact that half of the people here should be dead and more than half were naked should have made this whole thing quite uncomfortable.
But somehow, she couldn’t dredge up any of those feelings. All she felt was the music coursing through her and Alex’s body pressing against hers. She was dimly aware of strangers coming up and asking if she wanted a drink, but she paid them no more mind than she had her worries and they eventually went away.
She kept on catching Alex’s eye as they danced, and she became aware that she was laughing and that he was laughing too, their voices mixing and mingling with the din of pure enjoyment. She couldn’t remember why they had come; other than to have fun, of course, but that was a moot point. There had been something else, something they were meant to be doing. But what had it been?
Every time she came close to grasping at it, it slipped away.
Until it didn’t.
The music ground to a stop, and everyone seemed to snap back into reality. Most looked confused. Some looked downright delirious. A few passed out right there, the person next to them scrambling to keep them from hitting the ground as their exhaustion finally caught up with them.
Grey’s own muscles burned. How long had they been dancing?
Suddenly the crowd parted, and a tall figure stood in front of them. “It’s your people’s fault,” the man said, looking right at Grey. She exchanged a confused glance with Alex, who seemed just as confused as her. “My brother, taken from me and then killed; on your land, no less, by one of your people’s hand. Does our truce mean nothing to you?”
All at once, Grey remembered the fairy body she and the others had found; the discovery that had set all of this into motion. “We didn’t kill him,” Grey said hurriedly. Her voice felt scratchy and paper thin.
“Lies!” the man—obviously a fairy judging by how beautiful he was, with his long purple hair and piercing eyes—shouted, pulling a sword from his belt.
The revelers screamed and hurried out of the way, leaving Grey and Alex facing the tall fairy alone. They exchanged a look; they had not come prepared for a fight. Grey knew she could transform, but wolf’s claws and teeth were no match for a long sword and shaman magic wasn’t exactly known for its blasting prowess. “I promise, we knew nothing of this. Who did it? Who killed your brother? If it is one of my people, I’ll see to it that they pay. Please, I don’t want to fight. Our truce does matter—in fact, we’re doing everything we can to prevent the truce from falling apart.”
“Yeah?” the fairy snarled, then reached for a sheathe on his back. “Then you’d better see to it, then.” He pulled what looked like a long cane out of the sheathe and threw it at her feet; Grey sucked in a breath.
“What is that?” Alex asked.
“It’s Shepherd’s,” Grey gasped. “An eccentricity of his. He always carried this cane sword around. It’s made of silver. He said it was because he liked carrying around something that could hurt him, like a reminder of his own mortality or something. How did you–?”
“This Shepherd sent it to us, soaked in the blood of my brother. And he promised more blood to come.”
“Did you kidnap him?” Grey asked, looking at him with wide eyes. “Are you the one who poisoned him?”
The fairy snarled. “Poison is for the weak. I would have cut him to ribbons with the weapon he used to kill my brother. What will you do to answer for this crime?”
Grey shook her head. “Shepherd is already being punished,” she said. “Someone took him, filled him with poison. He’ll be dead soon.”
“Then who shall answer in his stead?” the fairy demanded. “I demand reparations!”
“I promise,” Grey said. “We will get to the bottom of this. I’m sorry for your loss, but there is more at stake than you know.”
“I am done listening to Lycan lies. Prepare yourself!”
And just like that, the fairy pulled out his weapon and charged for them. Grey barely had time to scream before Alex leapt in front of her, speaking in that same foreign language he’d used in the morgue tunnels. A shield of light appeared before them, stopping the fairy’s sword and sending him hurtling back to the ground. “In accordance to fairy custom, I demand a stay of reparation. By my very name, I pledge that we will get justice for the crime that was done to you and yours. But we need time and you have to give it to us.”
“You pledge this? By your very name?”
“The bond is forged,” the fairy said, sheathing his weapon. “You have three turns of the moon cycle to prove your innocence and gain justice to my satisfaction for my brother’s loss. Should you fail in this…”
“My life is forfeit, and there will be war between our people,” Alex said solemnly.