The Hesitant Zones
“I want to ask you something.” Trench told her roommate. Not-Chad sat on his bed, contorted beyond human limits, his shining eyes (green and blue like stormy arctic sea, without pupils or irises) unblinking,producing sounds that should be impossible for any type of mouth (or machine) to produce. He was holding flowers and cookies Joshua from second floor brought him, so she supposed that was cooing.
Chad was gone for half year already, which was honestly all well by Trench. He never cleaned the room, and always brought his loud, annoying friends over. She had no idea why he was taken, and didn’t care. Not-Chad was clean, great help with homework and even since he moved in, Joshua, who was one of best chemistry majors on whole campus ever started helping her with her projects- she thought he would bail out once he learnt what Not-Chad was, or Not-Chad would curse him, but changeling lavished in pathetic romantic wooing and Joshua stopped wearing iron, so Trench counted herself lucky.
“I guessed so. You brought me thirteen raspberry tarts yesterday.So what zones do you want to talk about?” Again, luck had rained upon her. Trench was forbidden major, as were many biologists, but smart one. She didn’t try to figure out how fae worked-she doubted something like that was even possible with magic. Instead, she gathered information about their world and customs, by giving fae treats in exchange for stories.
Fae saw nothing wrong with that. They got presents in exchange for talking about their favorite subject-themselves. They would talk, and Trench would separate pearls from useless chatting. Not-Chad happened to be quite talkative fae (some sort of shape shifting merman, she found out) who didn’t waste words on useless information. In exchange for cakes, he would tell her about structure of his universe, The Elsewhere itself. For sake of metaphor, and because she was marine biologist and he sea fae, they called different regions of Elsewhere zones.
“About hadopelagic, demersal and benthic.” Not-Chad froze, and turned towards her, his glamour flickering so she could see his toned chest, silver skin, gills and long bioluminescent hair.
“You heard me. Spit it out..”
“What are you talking about?”
“You said that Elsewhere is like ocean. That it has just as many zones. That each zone contains stronger powers, that each one is less defined and more deadly to lesser beings. But abyssopelagic zone isn’t bottom of ocean. There are three more. So what dwells there?” Mesopelagic and bathypelagic zones contained things that didn’t bow to Courts, creatures best described as sentient archetypes and natural personifications, godlike fae who could freeze and burn and shatter the whole world. Abyssopelagic zone contained True Royalty.
She couldn’t imagine what horrible, mad things existed beyond them. But she had to know.
“No. All food in world wouldn’t be enough for such information. You could bring me everything edible in world and it wouldn’t be enough.” He wasn’t joking, Trench knew and paled. Fae considered many things edible. Cakes, infants, diamonds,dreams, radiation.
“What would be?”
“No.” He trembled as he whispered that word, too caught in imagining what he knew and wouldn’t give her. That information would bring her fame, and more importantly, save so many lives. If they knew more about fae, they could protect themselves better.
“You will tell me.” Not- Chad’s teeth became those of shark, and mist surrounded him as glow of his eyes intensified.
“YOU WILL NOT THREATEN ME, MORTAL.”
“Nor will you harm me, Innglu-Sakkan.” She spoke, and Not-Chad fell on floor upon sound of his Name.
“A birdie gave me that name for a price.” He snarled, his spit red like corals.
“ Sentry-Mary!” He spat out.
“Yes.” Trench confirmed with smile upon her face. “They gave me this sweet name in exchange for my hesitation. Such a bargain.” Fool, Not-Chad thought.Hesitation gives conscience, holds base instincts in check, brings terror and caution. It is child of fear and wisdom, and you need to lose both to lose hesitation. It saves lives. And souls.
“Now, if you don’t tell me what I need to know, I will have you kill your pretty boy toy.” Old Trench would have never demanded that. But Trench had no fear, no doubt anymore that she was right.
“His roommate is very embittered knight. Hates your people. And so gullible. But big iron mace. I will just need to sob, and order you not to properly defend yourself, and I won’t even need to order you to keep your mouth shut. You could spill all beans and she wouldn’t believe you. Your friends won’t protect you because you broke Treaty.”
Fool, he thought. Giving names of their rivals to humans was discouraged and frowned upon, but not forbidden. Sentry-mary would keep quiet, but once word got out that he was gone, they would connect dots and go to Court. Trench and Joshua’s knight would be nothing but petals on wind.
“How do I know you won’t get rid of me either way?”
“You don’t. But I have no need to dispose of you. You are far more useful as source of information. Now free.’‘
’'This information won’t come free. There are laws even power of Name cannot overrule. You need to give up something to know about Great Ones.”
“Very well. What?” She said with frown. Old Trench would have considered it.
“There is somebody I want to protect.They are my… ..” He spoke some word her ears couldn’t process. He sometimes did that, when word couldn’t be explained by any human language. “ That child is very dear to me. Promise me they will always have place withing your family, as equal as yours.” You will be gone, forgotten by world, and creature of myth and dream will take your place, and none will know.
“That is all? I accept. Now speak.” Old Trench would have understood, would have gotten meaning of words.
“There are indeed three more zones, or layers as some call them.‘He cried as he spoke. Whisper released power that rattled Trench’s bones and echoed across all fae in world. Silence deeper than that of space filled room, and all light was extinguished, and Trench could feel water pour down her throat as hundred fae rattled door and windows ( it wasn’t salt and iron that stopped them. None may interrupt until information about Royalty was given out. After…). had Trench still any hesitation left, ounce of fear and wisdom, her heart would have been filled with such dread that it would have given out (yet she could feel shadow of horror, but ignored it).
’'They too are inhabited by the Great Ones. they aren’t nobles as you know that word, or we for that matter. They are enormous, and unreal, and too powerful for your reality to contain. They play no games and fear no charm. They are predators, and like ocean, they take what they want when they want how they want. They swim and devour, and only beware of those who are bigger, stronger than they. All of us bow to them, and only time they join with each other is when they form packs to tear stronger foe to pieces.
But for sake of metaphor, think of it like this. Abyssal zone is for princes, and archdukes, and despots. Hadal is for high kings,devarajas and pharaohs. The demersal zone is for emperors, tsars and great chiefs.” His kinsmen break through, army of shadow too many of them to fit in room yet they all do.
“And benthic? What creatures dwell there?” Trench asks, uncaring of cold fingers that grasp her limbs.
“A creature, or perhaps the creature. You have your God. We have our Queen, the Queen of Queens, She Who Dreams.” He says as strong jaws bite down on his shoulders.
“What does she dream?” Trench asks, not even noticing claws that rip beneath her ribs (but she notices alien, uncaring light streaming in through window, stronger than that of Sun, and her blood knows fear again).
“Stars and oceans. Life and death. Destiny and desire. You and me.” Changeling speaks as shadows devour him.
“She dreams everything.”