Redcap Bound 2

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Through the crack in the door, Less spied Mira standing in the hallway. She was wearing lacy black dress with a deep neckline. Her dress was short but billowed in a way that begged the eye to take a look at her legs and wish they weren't cloaked in dark stockings. She peeked back at him and wiggled her fingers in greeting.

"Just a minute, Mira. I'll be right back." He closed the door and signalled to Septimus that everything was fine. Mira knew that he and Septimus were friendly and, despite her being Unseelie, they were good friends and it was not a problem for her to see them together. Less unchained the door and let Mira in. "This is a pleasant surprise," he greeted her properly and warmly. "Septimus and I were just discussing the Harvest Ball."

"Really? I had heard that was coming up," she said cheerfully. "Will you be going, Less?" She nodded to Septimus and he returned the greeting.

Looking between the two, Septimus smiled and bowed, backing toward the door. "Alas, I must be off as I'm late for an appointment with a florist."

Mira said, "I hope I didn't interrupt you two?"

But Septimus shook his head no. "I assure you that is not that case. Please have a pleasant evening Miss Naia." He nodded toward Less. "Good evening."

Less offered Mira the chair recently vacated by his Warder and hurriedly cleared away the tea cups. "You look nice tonight, Mira. Can I get you anything?"

"Is that tea? That would be nice," she said. She waited as he bustled over to the cupboard to retrieve a fresh cup and poured a splash of tea. She sat down when she realized he wouldn't also sit until she did so. She looked at him as if about to speak, then stopped, her eyes dropping to the cup. "Okay." She looked back up at him. "I was wondering if you were going to the Harvest Ball? I heard they finally set a date for three days from tonight."

He smiled at that. The Mythic City/Santa Fe intelligence networks went crazy the day after such a thing was announced. "Yes, of course. I am expected to attend. But I wouldn't miss it - balls are important events for me to renew certain contacts that I might have left to drift in the wind."

"Would you consider taking me with you as a guest?"

The air elemental's clothes writhed oddly, betraying the fact that his many eyes and mouths struggled for control. He still could not help but associate her body with that of Niveanne. It had been decided that Mira did not love him, and he could not love her, so they remained the best of friends. Still, he enjoyed being near her. It gave him the faintest of hopes that he was nearer his Sidhe Queen, and so he could never truly shake the twinge of jealousy he felt when she walked on the arm of another. "Surely you have quite the queue of invitations already!" he exclaimed.

She shook her head sadly. "No one has invited me, and Drake doesn't trust me. I like to dance and carouse as well as any summer fae and I have never done any member of the Golden Mesa harm. I think it's time Summer knows that not all the unseelie are vile, brutish and cruel. I would like to be the one that proves it." She looked him in the nearest set of eyes she could find. "Please, Less?" She reached over and took his hand in her soft, cool fingers. "I know this goes beyond the boundaries of our friendship, so I would consider it a personal favor."

At her touch, his outline frayed at the edges, as if there was a haze between them. It was short-lived. "Nonsense, I will not allow you to owe me anything on this account. I have long been trying to close the gap between the Courts. It is entirely inefficient, and the division hurts our defense against the Sidhe. Bringing you to the Harvest Ball will prove my argument with style! We will dance and make merry and everyone will see how foolish they have been to stereotype the Unseelie." He very nearly rubbed his hands together as he did when he felt one of his schemes entered its endgame. "I am light as air on my feet - Cassandra once told me so."

Mira's eyes lit up. "And she would know!" She suddenly hugged him. "I'm looking forward to this." When she released him the smile she showed was bright. "I think I will wear that wonderful dress Rey made for me. Do you remember the strapless outfit?" As Less recalled, that one left her shoulders bare and of her few dresses, was coolest for an evening at the end of summer. It was a shimmering, foamy blue creation that seemed to rain sparks of watery magic in a calming rhythm. Mira usually wore it with the specially-made set of silver and blue gemstone jewelry that included necklace and bracelets, as well as tiny pendant. Earrings joined sets of ear cuffs by tiny silver and gem chains. The nymph drew eyes no matter what she wore, but the outfits designed by Rey were certain to cause jaws to hit the floor. It was often difficult to compete with the sometimes fierce beauties that populated the ranks of the Summer Court, but his wintry friend should compare favorably, if differently.

The Mira's differences would play well into Less's hopes and dreams of a unified fae court by showing that different could be every bit as enchanting as the fair leaders of Summer, were she to be on his arm at the event. It also occurred to him that while it was easy to spend much time warily watching out for the more obvious machinations the Brimstone Barony, there was much less known about the workings of the quieter and far older Desert Duchy. The Duke there was said to be very old and very powerful, yet it was the Baron that was considered most aggressive toward the Golden Mesa. Both courts were Unseelie; therefore most seelie fae lumped them together and treated members of either court with similar caution, fear, and mistrust.

This rather bigoted view would certainly be challenged with a powerful winter fae on the arm of the Spymaster.

"Can you imagine the splash we shall make?" she said excitedly. "The Spymaster of the Golden Mesa and the Sorceress of the Desert Duchy dancing at the Harvest Ball?"

"A mere splash? Wind and water will make a veritable squall! Maybe you could refrain from introducing me as Spymaster...but really? Sorceress? That post hasn't been filled in years. Has the Baron done something to put the Duchy on a war footing?"

"Baron Carnifex is always trying to provoke a war, but I'm uncertain how much of a nuisance the Duke really thinks his vassal is. I can't speak to the likelihood of the Baron drawing the duchy into an open war with the Golden Mesa. No one knows the mind of the Duke."

Less wanted to keep her talking about the Winter Court. "What do you think I should wear to the ball? Maybe since you will be there I should wear something fashionable in the Barony. What is Carnifax wearing these days? Have you heard much from his fief lately?"

"Yes. The Brimstone Barony, that is the Baron--" and suddenly her voice simply locked up. She opened her mouth but nothing came out. Her face reddened as she couldn't so much as take a breath so long as she intended to say something someone didn't want her mentioning. She tried several times to phrase things differently, but it did not work. Finally, she forced herself to calm down and return to a different subject. "I have noticed the fae of the Brimstone Barony are tending toward blacks and reds this season. Modern club garb as always, since the Baron disdains the more formal ways the Duke prefers." The strain in her voice faded as she spoke and she seemed fine again.

Less had been around the block a few times and recognized what this was about. Someone had enforced a geas of some sort against her. Likely sealing the deal with a promise of her own making. Whatever it was she was forbidden to speak of was quite thoroughly blocked; not even supernatural powers of mind control that some beings were known to possess could break such a geas. The geas-ed person would likely asphyxiate before speaking on the forbidden subject.

Looking at her, she seemed quite calm now, however. And was that a slight, almost imperceptible smile? It might just be possible she deliberately dared the geas to tell Less something he didn't know before, without actually telling him anything.

Less squeezed her shoulders and smiled down at her with a knowing nod. "Well, I much prefer the Duke's style, much more fitting for a ball. I can wear the tux Rey made me, though I wear it to everything. It's winter theme is certainly fitting. Nobody will be looking at me anyway."

"I think that will be perfect," she said. "We should make something for Rey sometime, show we really appreciate her handiwork. Speaking of Rey, do you know if she will attend?"

"I haven't seen her RSVP, or anything." In fact, he might have seen her name on a list. "But I'm sure she will be there. Fall is her tonal season. Do you think she will bring Chase?" If they thought Mira's attendance would cause a stir, wait until a werewolf got on the dance floor.

"I'm not sure, but I kind of doubt it. I get the feeling Chase tries to steer clear of involving himself in fae matters beyond just Rey herself," Mira mused. "Probably for the best. Fae can be cruel without seeming to be and someone unfamiliar with how to protect himself against... pranks might find himself in a bad position at a ball. Are you think of asking Rey to accompany you as well as me?"

"No, nothing like that." Not in a million years. "I was just thinking how their splash would compete with ours. Speaking of werewolves, though, have you heard how relations are between the werewolves and the vampires in the city?"

That was a subject Mira enjoyed. Well, the vampire part anyway. "Yup. Okay, so I think to explain properly I should point out that the vampires in Santa Fe are almost all personal friends of mine and they don't do anything like what I'm about to describe. Vampires in Mythic have a really powerful leader, and she claims leadership and dominion of every vampire of Mythic, Santa Fe, and other surrounding cities. That said, she doesn't micromanage as far as I can tell, because competition is pretty fierce. One of the things some of these vampires in Mythic are up to is kind of a black market where they pay top dollar for servants. But not just any mortal will do, apparently. They want people with special abilities. And it turns out that other supernatural beings are not exempt. Specifically, therianthropes. By that I mean not just werewolves, but anyone who is in some part animal. I believe vampires can do something to them to make them a permanent servant."

Past experience also told Less some vampires were quite capable of capturing and enslaving fae -- as had happened to Mira herself once.

Less liked it when Mira said 'therianthropes'. It made her lips move in an appealing way. "And this has been going on for a while now? I was just concerned that this was a new practice and that the werewolves were going to retaliate."

"I don't know how long it has been happening. If they've mostly just targeted strays and loners, then it could have been going on a while. I did witness one kidnapping of someone I knew was in the Storm Front pack of Santa Fe. So I did something about that."

"Okay, that's good to know. As long as they don't start a war on the night of the ball. What sort of tactics did the kidnapping use? I'd like to let people know to keep an eye out for something similar in Mythic."

"Surprise on the one kidnapping I witnessed. They seemed to know who they were looking for, so they must have been following and watching him for a moment when he was walking alone. A fae named Viscissitude approached him and then a van swept in. She just shoved him in and they all took off." Mira raised her hands. "It happened so fast I think Jason was totally surprised."

Less pursed his lips. This confirmed Snow's information that the fae had gotten themselves mixed up in it. At least it seemed limited to the Unseelie, so far. "Thanks. That will help a lot. You probably cost Vicissitude and her crew a lot of money. How did you leave it with them? Are they going to come looking for recompense?"

"I didn't mess with her because Sissy was pretty open about it. Except to keep a satyr she had as a guard. Anyway, they apparently didn't pay her to keep where Jason was being held a secret, so she gave up the address without a fuss and pretty much just told us good luck. Rey and I took it from there." She played with her teacup, then added, "She didn't want me telling those wolves in Santa Fe because she figured there would follow a blood bath. It was also very late, near dawn, actually, when we got to the warehouse. Since we wanted him freed before the vamps did whatever they did to lock down for the day, we didn't call in anyone else."

He snorted through his nose. "Very responsible of her to want to avoid a blood bath. She is the very definition of mercenary. So, all this happened in Santa Fe? What do your personal vampire friends have to say about Jason's kidnapping?"

Mira shook her head. "While the kidnapping occurred in Santa Fe, Jason was being held near downtown Mythic." She paused to consider the the question, though. "Actually I don't know what they might say. I didn't bring it up with them. I think that Remy Depres wouldn't care to take part in kidnapping any of the werewolves of Storm Front because it would complicate everyone's lives. I don't know that he's philosophically against it. As I understand it, such servants are very important to some vampires. Maybe I'll have a conversation about it with him some time."

"Downtown? It might not be related, but was the warehouse in East or West Mythic?" Was the Baron mixed up in this somehow?

"I'd say more east. The fae Rey and I seduced and put to sleep were all definitely not Desert Duchy material, too. I suspect they might also have been free trooping faeries, too, because Sissy really didn't seem to give half a rats ass about what happened to them." Some fae tried to survive without pledging to a faerie Court. It was a hard life and tricky. It was known some of those fae tended to follow mercenary life styles.

Less hoped none of those free trooping faeries were not part of his informant network. It was expensive and time-consuming to get them properly pledged to him and placed where he wanted them. "Well, at least you are making new friends and getting your exercise," he said in a fatherly, sarcastic way. "I wonder if Carnifex is forging an alliance with vampires in order to challenge the Duke, or the Golden Mesa, or both? He's playing a dangerous game, if he is."

Mira shrugged. "Would you like me to ask around?"

"If you would. I don't know how you would impart that information to me, though you are well-known to be a creative woman..." He didn't actually wink (no one would be able to tell), but it was implied.

She flashed another smile. "I will." After a pause, she added, "I suppose I've thrown enough surprises into your evening. I really do appreciate you letting me accompany you to the Harvest Ball. If you feel you should warn the organizers or your Countess, that is fine with me, but I'm just as happy surprising some people." She wondered what the look on Drake's face might be at seeing her on Less's arm, then reminded herself she wasn't going as an act of revenge against him. It wasn't easy to let go of the anger she felt toward him.

"Mostly pleasant surprises," he admitted. "Have a nice night, and be careful." Less waved goodbye from the hallway and watched her fondly until she disappeared into the stairwell.

He then immediately locked himself into his apartment and whipped out his phone. From his window, he was watching Mira walk through the industrial park on her way to her pond when Worm answered his call. "Drop the senator thing for now. Some extra breathing room will just make him prone to mistakes. Get everything you can on Basilia Allison, Summer Court. I want to know where she goes, who she does it with, her 11th grade English teacher, what she got for her 10th birthday, and the name of her favourite hair dye! Got it? And check into which fae have been flashing extra money around. Start with those associated with Vicissitude. She's mixed up in some mercenary work with the vampires." He hung up without much other discussion. Worm didn't talk much. He stood by his window for some time afterwards, looking over the dark city, and thinking about all the things he had learned that evening.


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