Prologue: Drury Lane, Scene III (Michael)

"Two parts." Cinder said, holding up two fingers into the air, still looking off into the distance. She was still ignoring Michael and his packmate. "First, tell me about the faerie."

"The faerie?" Ilkin tilted his head. He hadn't planned for a two-part favor, but he supposed telling Cinder about the fae was not really a qualifying favor.

"They are capricious, whimsical creatures born of stories, tales, imagination," he said softly, "Everything is ephemeral to them, everything is real and yet not real. They are beautiful and terrifying, hideous and magnificent all at once. They are beings of bargains and pledges, bound by their contracts, but they can form contracts with anything and everything. They're the goblins from stories, the bogeymen in the closet, they are the inspiration for faerie tales and myths across the world."

Ilkin paused. "Many of them are my friends," he ventured.

Michael nodded his thanks to Cinder, being so relieved that she wasn't going to fry him that he couldn't form a coherent sentence. As she looked around, Michael held in a sigh. He'd hoped she would leave, but in his heart he had known that she wouldn't. She'd make sure he stuck to his end. Where the hell was Sophie? He wanted out of here.

As Cinder asked for a favour, Michael's head whipped back to the two of them. Jack had mentioned running into her, but not that he owed her a favour. What the hell did he owe her one for? Cinder didn't seem like the type to extract a promise rather than, say, rip out someone's lungs. So it made Michael very curious... and more than a little nervous. His reservations about strangers started to bubble up once more, but this time Emilio was with him. His fellow Pack mate was huge, over seven feet tall, and an expert boxer. So it made Michael feel just a little safer, knowing help was on hand.

Now, Cinder turned her attention to the magus, still ignoring Michael. She looked at Ilkin, her one good eye and one bad both focused closely on the mage.

"Give me information, Ilkin, and don't cheat me with poetry. They're human, once?" Cinder said, her voice very quiet and soft. It was a very thoughtful sort of comment, a veiled threat. "Where do they live, how do you reach them, what do they want, what do they fear, how do you kill them, how do you keep them from killing you."

Ilkin furrowed his brow and frowned. For a split second he considered arguing. He hadn't been trying to cheat her with poetry. She'd given him no parameters to work with, so he answered the best way he knew.

But he knew it would be futile, and would probably lead to unwanted outcomes.

"They were normal humans once, yes," he affirmed, "And many of them still cling to some semblance of humanity. None of your questions are so easily answered as you seem to want. They live in the Hedge, but they also dwell among mortals. It is impossible to tell the difference unless you are ensorcelled by one of their number. They are all individuals, there is no one way to reach 'them.' They all have their individual wants, needs, fears. The only thing they universally fear is the Gentry."

The Mage paused and looked at Cinder, pursing his lips before continuing. "Why do you want to know how to kill them and protect yourself from them?" he asked softly.

Cinder continued looking at Ilkin, not saying anything for a little while. "Harder than I'd thought." She said at length, not looking overly happy about what he was saying. Pointedly, she did not answer his questions. She thought the answer was rather obvious, personally.

"I'll need to get ensorcelled then." Cinder said, her attention straying once more. It was painfully apparent that the Fire-Touched's attention was not focused on these trespassers of her territory. She had seen them and dismissed them as only temporary visitors. "And find out how to reach this hedge."


Even as Ilkin and Cinder had their little conversation, Michael noticed something new occurring at Green Park. Down the street, a beautiful white car was coming down. White was an unpopular color for cars, in part because of the care required to keep them clean in London's air. But this one was pristine and perfect, a gem for the eye, and probably worth more money than Michael had ever seen in his entire life.

Thus it wasn't too surprising when the car stopped next to a streetlight and the door opened, and the elegant Sophie Penrose emerged, clad in a white designer dress and with a small micro-purse over one shoulder. She was alone, a blond-haired queen of all she surveyed, and she looked around the park for a few moments before spotting Michael. Casually, she approached, perfectly confident in her surroundings, certain that nothing could happen in such a crowded setting as the public park.

"Is one of them harassing you?" Ilkin asked quietly, "If you make a bargain with the fae, it is bound by forces greater than any of us to follow it or face punishment. These pledges are enforced by the Wyrd itself, and the Wyrd has power over us all, fae and non-fae alike."

He paused, licked his lips and glanced over to see Sophie approach. He gave her a quiet nod of acknowledgement, then looked back at Cinder. "Is that all you request of me?" he asked.

As Jack and Cinder discussed the fae - Fey? Fay? Whatever - Michael observed the white car, knowing in his gut that Sophie Penrose would climb out, like a bear venturing out of its cave, searching for its next meal. She strolled along, alone, clearly thinking she was perfectly safe... and demonstrating what a fool she was. If she thought that this place was safe, she really hadn't done her research - Michael had no doubt that Cinder would try strike them all down if the mood took her. And judging by the way her conversation with Jack was going, that might be quite soon - she obviously wasn't getting what she wanted.

As Jack dealt with her, Michael watched Sophie for any sign of... well, anything. Impending violence. Supernatural powers. A spring in her step. Anything that might give him an indication of her mood or intent, and sign of fear or concern at Cinder's presence. He couldn't believe that she wasn't worried by it - and if she wasn't, she either didn't know Cinder or she was a complete idiot. Either way, if gave Michael an advantage.

Cinder listened attentively to the talk of bargains and oaths, committing it to memory. She didn't answer Ilkin's question about faerie harassment. In truth, Cinder had a habit of ignoring what other people wanted if she didn't feel it relevant to her concerns. The second thing he said, however, she paid attention to. "The second part... tell me about Joseph Whittington."


Sophie Penrose walked along, but she walked slowly, her greyish eyes flickering over every corner of the park as she moved. She moved with calm assurance, though on two occasions she did pause, once to look over the small gathering occurring at the park bench, and once to scan the parked cars. But then she kept walking.

"Good evening everyone." Penrose said, stopping politely a few feet from the small gathering. "Michael, good to see you in one piece, Jack, an unexpected pleasure, Alice, I've heard so much about you." Penrose smiled, a silken smile that looked as thought it must have contained a razor blade or two. She looked at Emilio without recognition, but gave him a polite nod nevertheless.

Cinder watched the interloper with bored eyes. Something would happen there, but Cinder was content to wait and see.

"I trust I'm not interrupting anything?" Penrose said, smiling sweetly at Michael. "Mr. Oliver, I'm sorry to say that your membership application has been rejected."

Michael just watched Sophie, not reacting to her polite smile. He knew Emilio wouldn't do much more than bare his teeth, and it took him a few seconds to realise that Alice must be Cinder. Interesting. She didn't bat an eyelid as Sophie dropped her name. Michael wasn't surprised - Cinder wouldn't react if a tidal wave engulfed the park, she'd just get on with things.

As Sophie said that Michael's application had been rejected, he fought the urge to point out that he hadn't applied. She'd been the one to pursue him. Instead, he just matched her sickly-sweet little smile, and said, "I so hoped you'd say that." It was clearly an impression of her, one that made Sophie look simpering and foolish. Then he switched back to his own mannerisms. "I want nothing to do with you or your little secret society, Miss Penrose." He just waited to see what she would do - he didn't want to push her and harder, but he couldn't just walk away.


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