Redcap Bound 4
Mira accepted the bubbly drink gratefully. Less had let go her arm to pick up drinks, now Mira put her hand in the crook of his elbow as she held the drink to her lips and scanned the room with her eyes. Less thought she muttered something, but couldn't make out what it was.
Less was concerned that Mira was acting under orders from the Duke, but there wasn't much trouble she could cause at a public event like the Harvest Ball. He decided that the best thing was to stick close by her. He felt sure that she wouldn't do anything to hurt Rey or himself, even under geas. He gently touched her free elbow to lead her towards the dancing. He led her easily, and she finished her drink quickly and put it aside as they entered the dance floor to another tune from the Wizard of Oz.
Rey tried to follow where Mira had been looking when she cast that spell, but with the number of people moving around, it was impossible. Why would she have cast an identification, Rey thought. Is she expecting trouble here, now? Or had the Duke sent her with a secondary mission, to find an item for him?
As she watched, Mira put one hand on Less's shoulder and the other in his hand. Together they swept onto the dance floor. Perhaps it was a surprise when their skill matched that of any other summer fae couple on the floor. Mira followed Less's lead expertly.
"I think I know the woman with Cassandra," she said, making small talk. "The surprising thing is that she's not fae. I think that's Annabeth Milogie."
"One of her witches? How do you know her?"
"Not a witch as far as I know," Mira said. "Rather, she's part of Remy's circle -- and for my day job, she's my boss."
"Awkward on many levels then," he replied, scrutinizing the pair. He would have to confirm with Cassandra that she had extracted appropriate promises from Annabeth to ensure security. "Is she aware you are fae?"
"Very much so," Mira said. "As Annabeth's a member of Remy's circle, I also share a special relationship with her. Speaking of, after the song, may we greet them?"
"It is the done thing," he said with a smile. In fact, it was a security imperative. As the song neared its close, Less wrapped Mira up and snapped her out into a daring spin towards the Guardian of the Ishtar Gate.
As Mira and Less danced, Rey and Drake strolled a little way from the dance floor. "Chin up, Drake," Rey whispered softly. "Don't let them see you're upset."
"I wanted to run him through," Drake said, his own whisper cold as ice. "To take my sword to each and every one of his eyes for merely touching her." His voice dropped until it was barely louder than a faint breath. "I should have brought her. And now, if I give it to her, she may think I'm trying to buy her affections back."
"You aren't are you?" Rey asked.
"No," he asserted. "I ordered it weeks ago, and it only arrived this morning."
"If you apologize," Rey said, trying to reassure him. "And you do it properly - and she won't make it easy for you - she'll forgive you. Now, kiss my hand, bow, and scoot. Find a way to get her alone, and you need to do it without my help. One of the things bothering her is the fact you escorted me tonight."
"Oh hell," he said, surprising Rey with even his mild use of profanity. "Thank you, my lady, for your kindness." He took her hand and bowed over it, placing a perfect gentleman's kiss against her fingers before withdrawing.
Rey turned to face the dancers and did not watch him leave. Instead, she let her eyes follow the couples, seeing who was dancing with whom.
"Lady Ishtar," Mira said a little breathlessly. She'd managed to keep her balance and a semblance of grace after she finished the impressive spin Less had started her with. She was a little flushed from the exertion, Less noticed when he joined. "It's good to see you. And Ms. Milogie?"
"Pleased to see you," Milogie answered. Her eyes darted to Cassandra's face, dismissing Mira and Less.
"This is Less Seleman, you may--"
"Yes of course I know of Mr. Seleman," Annabeth said a little shortly.
Cassandra came to the rescue. "It's good to see you both," she said warmly. "A surprise to see you, Mira, but a pleasant one." She leaned toward her conspiratorially. "I'm glad I'm not the only one bucking tradition tonight. There is some solidarity in our little rebellion, don't you think?"
Mira smiled at Cassandra. "I think so," she agreed.
Less plucked twin flutes of champagne from a passing tray. He gave one to Mira and offered the other to Cassandra. "The Seelie and Unseelie are people with a united past - why shouldn't they unite at the Harvest Ball? Isn't there a Lughnasa tradition of trial marriages?" He bowed theatrically. "You do honour us with your presence, my Lady. How do you know Ms. Milogie?"
Cassandra smiled and accepted the drink, as did Mira. "We are business partners, actually."
Mira addressed Annabeth. "Is there something you need to do?"
Annabeth looked at her blankly for a moment. "Ah, no." She smiled coolly. "I do not drink wine or champagne."
Mira looked at her evenly, but her eyes turned to steel. "I hope the party is nonetheless interesting."
While this exchange happened, Cassandra had continued to speak with Less. "How delightful! I wasn't sure anyone remembered Lughnasadh these days. I think this ball combines that venerable tradition with harvest celebrations." She leaned closer to Less and lowered her voice. "Perhaps a 'trial marriage' is in your future yet tonight?" She winked at him.
"Perhaps. There are many beautiful young ladies here, and me the goat to be crowned king."
"Goat? I think not. How about that one?" Cassandra said with a nod to Mira. "You have long been friends. Why not try taking things to the next level?"
That got Mira's attention. Her conversation with Annabeth had been a lousy one anyway. She cast a wary look at Less.
Less looked at Mira fondly and laughed. "Mira is a free spirit. Any man or woman would be be lucky to have her but I should hate to see her tied down by anyone." All his eyes rounded on the Guardian. "What about you, Cassandra? Some would say arriving at a ball with a business partner is a cry for attention. Our union would secure for you many resources of the Seelie Court."
Cassandra chuckled. "She is indeed a business partner, but also more than that -- when the mood takes us." Her eyes sparkled a little when she added, "You might be right about a union between you and I, but unfortunately for you I love women as much as you do."
Mira was never much for social boundaries. "Really? Why?"
"I find a woman's touch more exciting," Cassandra said. She didn't mind the question, though Annabeth's expression was coolly neutral.
"More than a nice, big co-"
Annabeth broke in, "Would you care to dance my lovely one?" Cassandra, who's eyes seem to melt for Annabeth, could not refuse.
Mira's eyes watched coldly as Cassandear and her guest made their escape onto the dance floor.
Less divested Mira of her empty glass and took her back onto the dance floor. "What was all that between you and Annabeth? I thought you got along with Remy's coterie?"
She leaned close to whisper into his hear so they would not be overheard. "That is not Annabeth. In fact, she isn't a vampire at all! That one is fae and I bet you anything she's unseelie from the Brimstone Barony. Less, I don't think Cassandra is aware of it! I think she's been tricked or glamoured somehow. I really wanted to punch her lights out, but I can't." Less knew she was quite right. Hospitality had been extended to her, but if she in any way did something to break rules of hospitality, enforces like that ogre would do far more than just hold her arms next time. If she outright attacked another guest, even the Countess would be unable to prevent the disaster that would follow.
The news caused a shiver to run up Less' spine. Several pairs of his lips brushed against her cheek and ear as he whispered to her while dancing her toward Cassandra and Anti-beth. "I am very glad you came tonight! We'd better stick close to Annabeth. Who knows what the Barony could be slipping through the ShadowGate. Maybe there is some way we could bring down her disguise?"
He used his elemental control over air to encapsulate a whisper directly into Rey's ear. "Trouble. Cassandra's date is a Brimstone spy. Stop being a wallflower and get yourself onto the dance floor!"
Rey's surveillance of the dancing couples was foiled when a pale fae with a smile like a train wreck and coarse hair that resembled a horse's mane approached her and asked her dance. The phouca quickly proved his skill, but a dwarfish fae cut in half way through the song. The interloper, a nervous hob with huge, warty nose, only seemed to grow more nervous the more he danced with Rey, however, and soon surrendered the floor to a handsome shape shifter that kept mirroring Rey's own face. Rey realized that the endless parade of would-be charmers who subsequently lost their nerve would not soon end.
After another dance ending up the same way, Rey began to politely turn down invitations. She wished Chase was here, and thought she'd much rather be at home, dealing with the inevitable mess the pixie's war maneuvers caused than here at the ball.
Rey scanned the dance floor again, this time looking for where Less and Mira were. She'd had her fill of dancing, and wasn't going to do it any more tonight. If there was one spy, there could be another, and it might be best if she stayed where she was - off the dance floor.
Less could see Rey, and she wasn't moving an inch from where she'd been standing. Their eyes met, and she shot him an angry look, then his line of sight was blocked by Drake.
"If I might cut in," Drake said, his hand offered to Mira.
Mira looked to Less. "I've done what I had to do, my friend. I'm afraid what happens next is up to you." She took her hand from his shoulder and put it in Drake's hand. If Less let go her other hand, then Drake will have made good his attempt to cut in.
Less had always considered cutting in to be rude, but it seemed to have somehow become acceptable behaviour. He gracefully nodded to Drake and stepped away from Mira. Without a partner, he asked Cassandra if he could cut in with Annabeth.
The surprised Guardian of the Ishtar Gate blinked, hesitated, and soon lost her dance partner. She was a little embarrassed when she realized she was so off balance because it was usually herself men would cut in for. Less smiled and winked at Cassandra behind his back. She would not be idle long, she had many irons in the fire to tend to.
After settling into the dance with Annabeth he asked her, "Introduced as a business partner...that's gotta sting?"
"Not really," Antibeth said. "It's true. And we usually keep our relationship low key. This is the first time she's insisted I come with her to a formal event." She looked around. "There are a lot of you freaks gathered in one place. I guess it's lucky most people don't know what you are."
"Us freaks!? That's a bit harsh, coming from you."
Antibeth pulled away from him and stopped dancing. "Are you casting magic at me?" she said, raising her voice. "I am protected by the rules of hospitality! If you attack, know that you will be the aggressor. I suppose I should expect no less coming from one such as you! Like a snake you burrow into everybody else's business. That's what you do, isn't it?"
Other couples around them began to stop dancing and gather around the growing spectacle.
Normally Less would have dispersed the crowd's attention with a crack about the sensibilities of Mortals, but he could see Cassandra coming through them like a storm-front. He said coolly, "The rules of hospitality do not apply if you obtained your invitation under false pretences."
Watching the byplay on the dance floor, Rey pulled her cell phone out of her purse and dialed a number. She barely let the person answering the phone finish saying "Glasshouse" when Rey said "This is Rey Lafitte. Please put me through to Ms. Milogie."
After a little bit being passed around from one employee to another, who were obviously trying to gauge whether this was important enough to bother Milogie, Rey was finally put through.
"Good evening, Ms. Lafitte." Annabeth's voice came through the phone with the unmistakable sound of curiosity. "What can I do for you?"
"It is more something I can do for you, and a certain woman you care about," Rey said. Before Annabeth had the change to say anything, Rey continued. "Just listen, please. She needs your help. Someone is messing with her, and I think you're the only one who can help."
Rey made a bee-line for Cassandra. "Someone has been masquerading as you, and lords only know what they've been up to." As she spoke, she came to stand in front of Cassandra. Rey smiled up at the Guardian and said into the phone "Here she is now." She offered Cass her phone. "A phone call for you," she said, and offered Cass the phone. "It's rather urgent."
Cassandra was puzzled but took the call, since there seemed to oddly be no one to dance with all of a sudden. Rey heard half the conversation. "Yes, this is she. Who is this? Impossible. She is right here. In fact, I've been with her the entire week, so that's impossible. What? How do you know that?" Her voice began to rise. "How do you know that!!" Cassandra was definitely getting angrier by the second, but she kept listening. Finally, her color cooled and she looked stunned. "Huh? Oh. She said it was a retreat. To be honest, I thought something was bothering you and that's why you just wanted to cuddle. I know that! Well, I guess I should have also known you aren't the cuddling type. But things seemed to be going to so well... Hm? I don't know exactly. The only thing she asked was if she and some of her friend could use the Gate. No. Because I wanted to show you one day. Just you and I, not a whole bunch of people. So all I've done is show her where the gate... Oh shit. No you stay put. I will deal with this."
The angry wave of emotion that emanated from the Lady Ishtar was palpable. Rey could feel it when Cassandra passed her phone back.
Rey accepted the phone, returned it to her clutch purse, and then casually backed away from the dance floor.
Mira was shorter than Drake and didn't feel up to looking him in the eyes right now in any case. She let him lead her through the dance but was silent.
"Mira," he whispered. "Please look at me."
She shook her head stubbornly. If she looked at his sweet face, she didn't trust herself to remain angry with him and she felt she had every right to be upset.
"I am so sorry." Mira could hear the pain and sorrow in his voice.
"I just wish you trusted me," she said. "I thought our relationship was more than just a physical one."
"I don't know how to make you understand," Drake replied. "It has nothing to do with you. It's just that I'm not powerful enough, either in magic or in status, to protect you." It killed him to say that. He took her hand and placed it against his chest, and she could feel the edge of some kind of long, skinny box tucked inside his tuxedo jacket.
"I can protect me, too, you know. I know everyone needs to be saved some time, but I don't want to live like I need to be protected all the time. Trusting that things will work out isn't easy, but to be with me, that's what needs to happen." She finally looked up at him. "Will you try to do that for me?"
Drake was interrupted by shouts on the dance floor. There Mira and Drake saw that Less and his latest dance partner seemed to be having a spat.
Cassandra shouldered her way past Drake. "Excuse me," she said as she bumped her way through.
She pointed at Antibeth. "How dare you claim protection of hospitality, you who have come here under false pretense! You who have deceived me!!"
Antibeth looked around, slowly, cautiously stepping back and glancing about for a way to quickly exit. "Cass, darling, what are you saying?"
Rey started to circle the dance floor, getting ready to try and cut off the imposter's path if at all possible.
Antibeth saw which way the wind was blowing and knew it was time to bug out, fast. She made a short run toward the parked cars but only made it a few steps before a swarm of angry fae drove her to the ground. When she appeared again, she was being carried bodily by a dwarf and three fair-looking fae. She squirmed and fought mightily but she was hopelessly outnumbered and outmatched.
She was hauled unceremoniously to Countess Blackthorn. The countess asked because she must, "What crime does this one stand accused of?"
Cassandra was near the front of the procession, other fae having vacated her presence quickly. "She has arrived here under false pretenses! She is not the one whom I thought was my date. She is not Annabeth Milogie!"
"Yet, you vouched for her, did you not?"
"I did, but she's an imposter!"
"So you said, Lady Ishtar. But the rules are the rules and they are there for a reason. Has she caused someone harm here?" the Countess asked.
No one said anything. The big screen, showing Dorothy's rescue form the Wicked Witch of the West, started playing an arranged version of "Night on Bald Mountain".
Even Cassandra could not answer the question properly. "She is unseelie."
"We already have allowed that the unseelie may be here so long as they harm no one. So then, what right do we have to lay hands upon her?" the Countess asked.
Fae looked around at each other. The group holding Antibeth slowly set her down.
Less appeared at the Countess' side. "Very well, judgement has been given. Invited Unseelie are welcome at the Harvest Ball, even those hailing from the Brimstone Barony. Will you return our hospitality by revealing to whom Lady Ishtar's invitation was extended?"
She considered, then said, "You may call me Bria. I gladly accept your hospitality, but now I must depart," she said mockingly. "For I cannot stand the thought of being touched one more time by that twisted deviant." She jerked a thumb at Cassandra, who turned red and looked as if she was about to suffer apoplexy.
"...And Seelie-Unseelie Court relations are set back several years," muttered Less. He sighed, contemplating the blatant homophobia that had palled the festive mood. He took up one of the miraculously un-spilled glasses from a distracted serving-fae. He raised it high in the air and shouted a toast, "To Lady Ishtar!"
A few fae raised their glasses uncertainly, confused by what was going on.
Rey did not participate in the toast, for she was concentrating on the self-named Bria. The imposter knew where the Ishtar Gate was, and she undoubtedly have given that knowledge to others. What damage have they done, what crimes had they committed while Cassandra was distracted.
She continued to move around the dance floor, and when she reached Drake and Mira, she softly said "We need to catch her and keep her from leaving. The Barony knows the location of the Ishtar Gate, and were attempting to get the Lady Ishtar to give them access to it. We have to find out what they're up to."
Mira switched to sign language, knowing that Less and Rey as well as Drake could understand. "Now is probably a good time to let you know that while I am not to take any action that would cause harm to your court or those under its protection tonight, as the Duke's Sorceress, have the authority put down any unseelie acting against the Duke's wishes and take the fae to the Duke for questioning. Actually, that's misleading. I have a duty to do so, is what I mean to say."
When Bria backed toward the cars, Cassandra prowled after, murder in her eyes.
"Lady Ishtar, you will leave that fae be!" Countess Blackthorn commanded. Cassandra hesitated, but didn't look as if she was going to stop.
The Countess, standing now, looked around at her people. "Stop her please." It seemed no one was particularly anxious to stop Cassandra, or the war that threatened should she attack Bria now. "Someone stop her now!"
Less' attempt to re-start the party in lieu of murdering Bria hadn't gone so well. On the bright side, only Cassandra was intent on murder. Though Rey, Drake and Mira all seemed to be angling to attack Bria to keep her from leaving, which would go against the Countess' order and perhaps split the Courts even further, perhaps to the point of all-out war.
Less spoke in an urgent whisper to the Countess, "My Lady, Bria will have extracted the location of the ShadowGate from Cassandra. If you end the ball now, we will be free of the rules of hospitality and we could contain this breach of security."
"No time. My hospitality ends where the parked cars begin," the Countess said quickly.
"Drake," Rey said to Drake. "We need to grab her as soon as she's stepped beyond the safety zone. You need to try and do that. I'm going to go help Less." She did not want to give Mira orders in this, and she most certainly did not want Bria to end up in the Duke's hands, for then the Golden Mesa would never learn what they were up to - and the Duke would learn about the Ishtar Gate.
Rey altered her path and moved to intercept Cassandra. "Lady Ishtar, stop. Your gate may be compromised, and we need her to find out what they wanted to do with it, and what they are currently doing."
Less left the Countess' side and caught up to Rey and Cassandra. He'd rather help Drake keep Bria from escaping but Cassandra was closer and he might have some influence with her. "Cassandra, remember the spirit of the Harvest Ball and Lughnasa. If you attack Bria here, the tenuous relations between the Courts could be lost, which would only further her mission for the Barony."
Cass stopped just short of summoning up enough bramble to impale Bria. She hesitated, looking from Less to the Countess.
Bria took the opportunity to dive between cars and make her way into the parking lot.
Mira shared a looked with Drake, and then then both dashed after Bria. They lost sight of her for a moment among the cars. Drake, just a bit faster than Mira, ran ahead to cut Bria off, then turned to look for her between the cars. He saw two Mira's! He had only a split second to choose which to go after, and the only difference between them he could determine in an instance was that one looked angry and one did not.
Drake changed direction and went over to the Mira who did not look angry. He leaped at her, aiming to tackle her to the ground, but she ducked at the last moment and he sailed past her. The other Mira halted, changed direction and leaped at the Mira that Drake missed, colliding with her and driving her to the ground.
"Got you!" one of them said. There was a brief struggle and one Mira, came up with the other in a choke hold. Both were disheveled, the fine dress Rey made for Mira torn and dirty now. The one being choked held her hands out pleading for help as she gasped but failed to take in air.
"Stop!" thundered Less as he arrived amongst the cars. The slyph's anger sent a pummelling shockwave through the air that knocked both Miras flat and set off several car alarms. He hauled them both up to standing, "Save it for the Sidhe Lords! Now, which of you is Bria?" When her disguise melted away from his gaze, he released Mira. He addressed Bria angrily, channelling his disappointment for the loss of a pleasant evening. "The ball is over, ruined by your foolish shenanigans! You, me, and the Countess are going to have a long talk in a very small room."