The Conqueror- part 2
As it neared 3am, the seething, roasting temperature peaked- though no one had slept. Students lay awake, sweating and shaking, curled up into themselves with sodden bed covers held close.
To the West, at the University fountain, the water steamed and spat as Reality shimmered and cracked. A mirage-like texture hung in the air above the fountain, breaking and folding in upon itself and flickering maddeningly. Whispers, spoken in an archaic tongue designed to tear the minds of mortals, stabbed through the stained-glass fracture and the university undulated violently in response to the whispers.
It was a call to arms.
In an instant, as the campus shuddered and groaned in response to the Voice that tore into the material world, previously barren and empty spaces came alive at the sound of the Voice’s whispers. The campus bubbled with movement: shadows flexed and thrashed from their corners, thousands of eyes gleamed from every direction, deep howls and shrieking laughter echoed through the night, and the Fair Folk, every single one, appear to answer the call.
The Courts stood as legion, a defensive line surrounding the Grand English Building that they had made into their home, into their stronghold.
A lean, eight-foot tall Fae, with cloven feet and a skeletal face wreathed in antlers and flame, stood alert beside a feminine figure with a fox’s head and a flowing crimson gown. A hundred floating eyes orbited its twitching ears- a hundred eyes all staring in one direction.
Anna Monday waited alone, its sea glass form twinkling like a disco ball, as unmoving as the armless mannequin that the Other resembled.
Amid a wall of ordinary flowers and vegetation, a huge emerald-green rose bush stretched toward the sky, its pink petals opened to reveal human faces, each with five eyes, as vines, dotted with thorns, spread outward like arms.
Beneath a flickering street light, an emaciated blond woman with thin horns and a long, tufted tail smiled, waving at a figure hooded by a cream tinted cloak- perched atop a white chest, it absentmindedly rubbed its mask with a hand adorned with golden rings and pointedly ignored the wave.
A pale fleshy Other crept out of a drain pipe. It blinked rapidly at the various Lords and Ladies surrounding the stronghold. Suddenly, it seemed to come to a conclusion about something, and quickly made its way toward the Grand English Building, scuttling along upon very human-like hands, as its long tail dragged behind.
Dozens of androgynous Fair Folk milled about nervously, still cloaked in Glamour: their hair, eyes, and skin a menagerie of every conceivable colour. Some of them even look surprisingly human. The vast majority did not.
A huge shadow with multiple limbs and spider eyes sat patiently next to an empty dumpster, as a grey skinned creature covered in jewellery and pastel pink silk loomed beside it, staring impassively and drooling from long crooked fangs. The grey skinned creature offered a hand-rolled cigarette to the shadow, which it accepted and the pair smoked in silence beside the dumpster.
Standing by a tree a little way off from the fountain, a pale-purple being softly glowed and twisted her tendrils anxiously around the six arms that were split off from her elbows. Two other beings emerged out of the tree to stand alongside to the first, speaking in hushed unintelligible tones; the Buck, with its golden eyes, said something to its companion, who hissed angrily, her skirts flared up around her and her head sickeningly swivelled to a 180-degree angle while the Buck laughed.
A vantablack nightmare prowled along the perimeter of the English Building. It was normally the size of a horse, but now the skeletal humanoid thing was as large as an elephant.
An unprecedented number of teeth lined the thing’s mouth, with small, gleaming white chunks of all different shapes and sizes crammed into its maw. It was a nameless nightmare. A tooth stealer paying for its loot with fairy gold, taken from the hoard beneath the Grand English Building.
Indeed, the Fairy Hoard was filled to the brim with jewels and precious metals, but far more precious treasures were also kept there: first kisses and lost daisy chains, billions of odd socks and traded voices kept in glass bottles, small mountains of pebbles and stones with no perceivable value, bleached bones of stolen first born children, the names of every human foolish or desperate enough to tell them, piles of hair tied in ribbon bound clumps, nine-thousand years’ worth of offerings brought from the Fair Folks homeland, and nine-thousand years’ worth of memories disguised as fat golden coins, hidden amongst real fairy gold. If given to or taken by humans, the fairy gold would become damp leaves or acorns; but sometimes the human would also remember fragments from a life that they had never lived.
Though the Hoard was an integral part of life for the Lords and Ladies of Elsewhere University and an important aspect of the Treaty, it was the keystone of the vantablack nightmare’s existence. Without gold to leave behind, how could it get more teeth? And without teeth, what was its purpose? It couldn’t afford to find out.
Soon, all the Fae were present. Lining the alleys and pathways, crouched on rooftops, they waited. The Seelie formed imprecise lines of defence, groups clustered together that made the bulk of the Gentry force, whilst the Unseelie stood alone or in smaller groups.
All of them could smell brimstone. The harsh odour wafted along the scorching breeze, involuntarily causing the army to shudder at the stench, as resonant thunder rumbled threateningly above them. Streaks of lightening stabbed viciously from the night sky and boiling winds tore through the campus, roaring past like a sandstorm.
Fear swept across the Fae legions, aching within them as the darkness of the night gurgled with storm and burning heat. The terror they experienced reeked almost as much as the terrible aroma of sulphur and chemicals that was bursting forth from the East.
Weaker Fae fled in their rising dread, gibbering and screaming pitifully as the others stood trembling, but resolute in their defence.
As the storm grew in ferocity, awful shrieks could be heard from inside the dorms lining the campus. Students screamed and cried from their rooms. Wretched terror shattered their fragile human senses as they flailed and relieved themselves in paralysing fear. Some begged for death or howled to the Heavens, blubbering for their mothers to save them. Most merely twitched and shuddered, holding themselves tightly as their minds were overwhelmed. They moaned and yowled in the night. The noises they made were barely identifiable as human.
Amidst the screaming and the thunderous pounding of the storm, a titanic beast emerged in the distance, breaching the Edge of Things within view of the Gentry stood sentinel around the Grand English Building.
The ground trembled as it moved and more of the Fae army deserted their posts.
The Wyrm had come.