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  1. #1
    Under the Bright Lights

    Under the Bright Lights

    Declan McDermott



    Leipzig, Germany

    Declan had a spring in his step and hummed a jaunty little tune as the band finished their rehearsal and put their instruments away until the evening's show. It wasn't Declan's first time on the European continent - there had been a couple of school trips and a study abroad when he was younger - but it was Standing Stone's first time playing gigs here, and that was a big deal.

    It was extra special that Clare had come along. His girlfriend didn't usually accompany the band on tour - she had her own job back home and couldn't leave it on a whim to go gallivanting with folk musicians - but with her students on school break, just this once she was able to join him to celebrate the milestone. It was nice to have her along. He always missed her when he was on the road without her.

    There was something else special about this trip, too, beyond just being a sign of the band's success. Declan planned to take the opportunity to propose to Clare. He'd bought the ring, and now he was just waiting for some suitably romantic European destination to pop the question. He'd been practicing his speech in his head the entire transatlantic flight, and he was pretty confident that she would say yes.

    Immortals were the last thing on Declan's mind as he nodded goodbye to his bandmates and started walking the few blocks back to the hotel. As far as he knew, immortals were just sad stories on the news to him, nothing that affected his own day-to-day existence.

    If a Lycan were present, though, that werewolf would have realized that while Declan himself was undoubtedly entirely human, he was steeped in the scent of Fae. It clung to his clothes, his skin, his hair, centered at a spot on his chest where a head had rested a few hours earlier. Declan had no idea that this subtle perfume trail followed him, though.

    He was just a regular guy, and it was going to be a good day.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 08-26-2018 at 05:30 PM.
    "Sleep to dream, and we dream to live..." -Great Big Sea

  2. #2
    Clare Murphy



    Clare rarely spoke to her mother about Declan. It wasn't that he wasn't relevant - it actually took quite a bit of effort to avoid casual mentions of a person in such close physical and emotional proximity - but her mother could never quite seem to accept that Clare had not stuck to her own kind in selecting a partner.

    Even during the brief chat from the hotel room, her mother couldn't resist some light needling about the subject. Most people would phone their mothers from Europe; Clare, however, was staring at her mother's image instead of her own reflection in a sinkful of water run for the occasion. Countess Iphigenia getting a cell phone like everyone else was never going to be an option on the table, so Clare had to deal with hastily hidden Fae magic to stay in touch with home. Good thing Declan never expected to talk to Iphigenia; he was aware of her antipathy, though not the reason for it.

    "You're still with that human boy?" Iphigenia asked, though she was well aware of why she was speaking to Clare in a hotel room instead of her own home. Information wasn't really the point here. Naturally Iphigenia avoided saying Declan's name whenever possible.

    "Yes," Clare said shortly.

    "And you still haven't told him what you really are?"

    "I'm trying to find the right time."

    In truth, Clare was finding excuses to avoid telling him. She was afraid of his reaction, of how things would change. And Declan made it so easy - whatever she told him, he always seemed to believe. For instance, she'd told him she wasn't on birth control because she couldn't have children, and he'd accepted it with gentle sympathy in his usual easy-going manner, not questioning it or demanding further details. That made her feel even guiltier for the lie. Clare was perfectly capable of becoming pregnant... just not with him, because she was from an ancient clan of Fae and he wasn't. Their physiologies were just too different to produce offspring, no matter how human she might look. And he had no idea.

    If Clare had her way, he never would.

    Iphigenia was still talking. "I just don't understand how you could fall for a human, Clare. Are you just stringing him along? Is this a game to you? Because after what his people did to us, what they did to you the day of the flood..."

    Clare's voice was biting as she cut her mother off. "Yes, I remember all too well. I was there, you may recall, and I still have the scars. What you fail to mention is that 'his people' were his ancestors almost a thousand years ago, and Declan has no idea any of it even happened. If he knows about the Drowned City at all, it's just a legend to him. A fairy tale. Literally a fairy tale. Not history."

    "That's why you don't belong with him. He'll never understand. And when he finds out... and he will find out... you'll be lucky if all he does is leave you. Mortals kill our kind. Your life will be in danger..."

    "Oops, got to go, housekeeping just knocked!" Clare lied, running her hand through the water to disturb the reflection and end the conversation.

    No matter what she told her mother, she was worried. And Iphigenia was right about one thing - sooner or later, Declan would find out and this would all come to a head.

    That didn't mean today had to be the day, though...
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 08-16-2018 at 08:26 PM.

  3. #3
    Declan McDermott



    Their phones from back home didn't work on the European cell networks, but Declan and Clare had anticipated this and had each gotten a prepaid international cell that they could use on the trip. On the way back to the hotel, Declan dialed Clare's number.

    "Do you want me to just get takeout?" he asked her when she picked up. Declan didn't really feel like going out to a restaurant; between rehearsal and the show later, it would be nice to just take it easy in the hotel room for awhile. Clare agreed, and they settled on kebabs. At the last minute, Clare added an "And ice cream, please!" to her food order. Declan grinned, and promised kebabs and ice cream would be forthcoming, then hung up and walked across the street to the kebab shop to pick up the meal.

    As he stepped back out of the shop with food in hand, he noticed a couple of men staring at him, but he thought little of it. His face was plastered all over the concert flyers stuck to lamp posts and phone poles throughout the neighborhood - and anyway, it wasn't that odd for him to be recognized. He wasn't so famous that he couldn't go out in public, but sometimes fans of his particular music niche would spot him.

    He walked another block to the corner store and realized the two men were following him. Declan sighed inwardly - he really just wanted to get dinner in peace - but this was the price of the career he had chosen. A couple of autographs and a picture with them should satisfy them and send them on their way.

    Declan put a performance smile on his face and turned around to face them. "Hi, guys," he said in a friendly tone.

    He never even saw it coming when the second one sapped him on the side of the head. Declan collapsed without the chance to make so much as a sound, and the kebab bag lay discarded in the gutter as the two men dragged his unconscious body off into the alley.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 08-25-2018 at 07:33 PM.

  4. #4
    Clare Murphy



    Clare's phone rang again, and she reached to pick it up to answer - hopefully Declan wasn't calling to say that there wasn't any ice cream at the store - but the number on the call display was not Declan but Alessa, her older sister.

    "Hello?" Clare said.

    "Clare..." the caller replied, and Clare recognized the voice of her younger sister Erin on the line instead. Clare suddenly felt a dark foreboding. She told herself she was being paranoid, but it was not normal for Erin to use Alessa's phone. As the eldest of three sisters close in age, Alessa was prone to being rather controlling and bossy, and she didn't hand off her possessions lightly.

    "Clare, it's Erin. We're on our way to you. Alessa told me to call you. She's driving us from the airport to your hotel."

    "Wait? What? Why?" Clare was completely flummoxed now. Why were her sisters suddenly following her to Europe without so much as a phone call to let her know their plans before they crossed the Atlantic?

    "You're in danger! It's the Cold Iron Brotherhood. They've been following the band around - I think they know where you are."

    Clare swore under her breath. The Cold Iron Brotherhood were Fae hunters. Their presence here couldn't be mere coincidence.

    "Okay," Clare said. "Okay we'll handle this. I'm hanging up now because I have to call Declan. Get here as soon as you can!"

    She dialed her boyfriend's phone even as she tried to formulate what to say. Forget the ice cream. Forget dinner. Just get back here. Get back to the hotel and I'll explain later. I'll come up with some excuse.

    Clare never had a chance to offer any of the thin justifications going through her mind. Declan never picked up. The phone just rang and rang and rang...

    Nearly shaking with panic, Clare dashed down the stairs and into the street, scanning frantically up and down the block for any sign of Declan. All she saw was a squashed kebab bag lying in the gutter. Her boyfriend was nowhere to be found.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 08-25-2018 at 07:35 PM.

  5. #5
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    It was like time had turned backwards for him. He was back to roaming town to town with nothing but an old guitar and a grimy backpack. At least this time he had some company. Riff looked down at the black dog trotting beside him. Pepper moved with a bit of a limp, but not due to injury. Instead she seemed to have acquired it by following its owner's own bouncing gait. Riff smiled - he was glad Millie's dog was along for this journey. It helped ease the ache of loss a bit. Loss of family, friends, and that special someone he'd loved so easily.

    Missing people was one reason why he chose this life on the move out in the open. Sure, he could have gone and lived off the land like the wolf-man he was, but that didn't suit the sociable Lycan one bit. Being out in the open afforded him the luxury of interacting with people. It also meant that he ended up finding other immortals hiding in plain sight. As such, Riff found himself helping immortals move to safe houses and traffic them across borders. He knew people. He made connections easily. He traveled conspicuously enough to be outside of suspicion. It helped that many immortal-hunters held the opinion that immortals couldn't own animals. "Killer Pepper" had saved his life simply by sitting beside him on the sidewalk as he played.

    This week, Riff and Pepper graced Leipzig with their presence. A university town always had that sort of free spirit about it that Riff loved. There was another reason for choosing this particular part of Germany, though. Standing Stone - one of Riff's favourite folk bands was playing their first European tour! Due to various...difficulties, the Lycan had been stranded on the 'wrong continent' to be taking in this particular brand of sunshine. When he heard they were coming overseas, there was no way he was going to miss it. He walked for two weeks straight just to get to Leipzig in time for the show.

    Riff had played a few corners in the city, finding the people very receptive to music of all kinds. His heart was soaring even though there weren't many coins in his pocket after an hour's hard work at play. He'd have to find something for Pepper to eat before the show, at least - and he'd need to find a safe place to leave her. Riff doubted the hall would let him take her in, not that he wouldn't ask. As the pair came up the street, he spotted a white paper bag in the gutter. His first thought was that it was unusual to see litter in the street in this part of Germany. His second thought was that there might be food in it.

    Glancing over his shoulder to make sure the roadway was clear, Riff crossed the street and picked up the bag. What luck! His hunch had paid off! Pepper could smell it too and was staring intently at the bag as Riff set his guitar against the wall and hunkered down with the prize. Sure, it was a little wet, but the kebabs inside were still warm. Someone must have put the bag on the roof of their car and drove away without their food. Normally Riff would feel bad for such bad luck on their part, but he and Pepper were enjoying the misfortune of others a little too much for that. In fact, he was enjoying it so much he hadn't noticed anyone walking up the sidewalk.
    Winner of the dubious Vaarsuvius Award for Verbousness!

    I support altruism.

  6. #6
    Clare Murphy



    As Clare walked down the street in the direction of the kebab shop - the direction Declan had presumably been coming from - she saw a homeless man reach for the discarded kebab bag that she assumed had held their dinner. A small flicker of hope rose at that sight. Maybe the man had seen something that would help her find Declan.

    She didn't bother trying to convince herself that nothing was wrong. With known Fae hunters in the city and Declan not answering his phone and nowhere to be found when he should have been within easy sight of the hotel, it was natural to assume the worst. Maybe everything was fine and it was all a misunderstanding... but Clare doubted it. Deep in her heart, she knew Declan was in grave danger.

    Trying to slow her breathing and keep her voice even, but not quite managing it, Clare approached the man who had picked up the kebab bag. "Excuse me, sir? I'm looking for my boyfriend, he..."

    Belatedly, Clare realized she was speaking English, and the man would most likely be unable to understand her. She'd taken a little German at university and had picked up some phrase books for various stops on their trip, but distraught as she was, she could call none of it to mind.

    Instead she reached for a Standing Stone flyer taped to a nearby post, pulled it down, and jabbed her finger at the picture of Declan's face, trying to convey that she was looking for him. "Bitte...?" she said. Please? The only German word she could think of.

    Clare knew this man wasn't responsible for Declan's disappearance. She knew how the Cold Iron Brotherhood looked - and it was certainly not like this. Maybe he had witnessed something that would help, though. She could only hope.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 08-26-2018 at 05:21 PM.

  7. #7
    Declan McDermott



    Declan woke up with a splitting headache, and the certainty that he was in big trouble. His hair was matted to the side of his head with blood, and his wrists were bound to a pipe above his head. Other than that, he seemed to be unharmed... for now. He tried to pull his hands free, but there was no give in the restraints. In an effort to get his bearings, he looked around at his surroundings, though his head wound cried out in protest at the movement.

    It seemed he was in some kind of warehouse. Nondescript. That really didn't help. He could be basically anywhere.

    He wasn't sure how long he was unconscious, but he didn't think too much time had passed. What possible motives could his captors have? Robbery? Extortion? Ransom? Maybe they thought all musicians were rich and he'd be easy to shake down. If so, they would be disappointed. Standing Stone made enough money to pay the bills, but they hadn't hit the big time by any means. He and Clare were very much middle class back home, not wealthy celebrities.

    Even as he speculated, the two men who had ambushed him on the street returned, now joined by one more he hadn't yet seen.

    "Where is Clare Murphy?" the newcomer demanded without preamble.

    Declan was now utterly confused. As a musician, he was something of a public figure - but Clare was a teacher. Why would strangers in another country be looking for her? And why kidnap him to try to find her? He and Clare were sharing a hotel room; if these goons had just followed him for five more minutes instead of attacking him in the street, he would have unknowingly led them straight to her. What exactly was going on here?

    "No idea who that is," Declan replied on principle. A flimsy lie that wouldn't hold up, but he wasn't going to hand them anything. His insolence earned him a cuff to the injured spot on his head, but he managed to stifle a cry of pain and merely grunted.

    "We know she's with you," the interrogator said. "Her name is on a plane ticket, on the hotel room..."

    Declan was now even further baffled by these men's motives. If they knew Clare was staying at the hotel too, why had they bothered kidnapping him in the first place? She might have stepped out for a moment for some reason, but even if so she would return eventually. This seemed like a lot of wasted effort and risk of exposure of... whatever exactly it was they were trying to do.

    He gave the best shrug he could with his arms tied over his head. "I have nothing to say," he replied. A few more punches, blows to the face and stomach. He would have doubled over if he wasn't being held in place.

    "Let me tell you something about Clare," the interrogator said coldly. Toying with him, Declan thought. "She isn't human."

    Declan laughed - nervous laughter, and a reaction to the sheer absurdity of the situation. "Of course she is. What else would she be?"

    Suddenly the guy was right up in Declan's face. "She's Fae," he replied. Declan started laughing again, but the man wasn't done speaking. "Laugh all you want, McDermott, but you know she is. You may deny it to yourself, you may not have had the words for it. But some part of you has always known."

    "That's crazy," Declan said, shaking his head and immediately regretting the movement. "You're crazy, you're all crazy..."

    "Really? Think about it, McDermott. See beyond your feelings for her, beyond your lust. See her how she really is. Think about how different she always seemed. How alien she always felt, despite your love..."

    Much as he hated himself for it, Declan had to admit that the man was right. There was something wild and primal but somehow simultaneously regal about Clare. This all sounded insane - but it also felt true. Dammit, he was starting to believe it...

    "You know it's true..."

    Declan didn't try to deny it. It was like he was finding the information in his own brain, something his subconscious mind had always known but kept hidden from his rational thought processes.

    "Tell us where she is."

    "I'm not telling you anything. I know you intend to harm her. For some reason you can't do that without my help. I don't know why - but I know you can't, and I'm not helping you."

    "You don't know her."

    Declan pictured how Clare looked when she was sleeping beside him, the way her dark hair fanned across the pillow. "Yes I do," he said.

    "She lied to you. She was lying from the moment you met her, and she still is."

    Declan attempted another shrug. "Sure, but lying doesn't deserve the death penalty."

    This seemed to particularly anger the interrogator. After a few more blows with his fists, he switched to a length of chain. Declan knew that was going to hurt, but it was even worse than he anticipated.

    "She doesn't love you," his captor said. "She never loved you. Humans are just playthings to them."

    Declan was in too much pain to manage a response. He just gritted his teeth, forcing his jaw to stay closed so he wouldn't be tempted to do what it would take to make it stop.

    "Fae are monsters," the man continued. "They use humans and discard them. You're nothing more than a diversion to her, nothing more than an animal. She's not coming to save you. She doesn't care what's happening to you. You aren't going to die for someone like that, are you?"

    Declan realized that yes, he was indeed going to. Maybe this crazy man was right. Maybe Clare really didn't love him, was too inhuman to care about someone like him. Either way, Declan hoped that she had figured out what was going on, and that by now she was far, far away.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 08-26-2018 at 07:48 PM.

  8. #8
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Riff had a mouth full of chickpeas and roasted peppers when the English-speaking woman approached. Correction, or rather, addition: Fae woman. He swallowed hard, trying not to look overly surprised or choke on his food. Pepper's head had come up too and her ears perked up in Clare's direction before she instinctively moved toward her. Riff held the dog back with a splayed hand across her chest - his companion responded by sitting, whining, wagging her tail and licking Riff's face as though to say 'it's okay'. The lycan was still processing what Clare had said along with what he could smell. He slowly brought the kebab bag close to his face and sniffed the munched top where a hand had held the bag, and the side where the precious cargo had been held close to the body. How could he have missed that scent? Of course, he had been hungry...but still, he should have noticed the distinct smell of the fair folk on the bag.

    Realizing he'd been staring for a few seconds longer than he should have been, Riff lowered the bag and lifted his hands, releasing the dog and offering what he hoped was a comforting smile (while Pepper offered her cold nose to Clare's knee). "I'm sorry, I haven't seen him, though I am going to his show tonight." The woman seemed nervous, not angry and nervous like someone would be if their boyfriend hadn't made it home after the pub. Then, there was the bag he was holding onto - clearly kebab for two - and who gets vegetarian when you can get lamb? No, this meal was meant for this woman, he would bet his nose on it. Riff's gut was backing him up: it was telling him to be careful - that he hadn't just stepped into some throwaway romance coming to a head. He glanced over Clare's shoulder, and leaned back against the wall in an indifferent fashion. It gave him a convenient view of the street behind him while making it appear to onlookers that he was just letting a lady pet his dog.

    "Do you have somewhere safe to be?" Now Riff's face was deadly serious. Too many years seeing what humans would do to an immortal had drained away a lot of his usual light-hearted banter. "You were expecting Declan to meet you somewhere, right? How late is he?"

  9. #9
    Clare Murphy



    Riff's pause for further assessment of the situation gave Clare time to do the same. When she actually focused on the man in front of her, she was able to sense that he was a Lycan, not human as she had assumed. Clare had never met a Lycan before, and she was a little bit nervous. After all, the stories made them seem quite ferocious - but then again, the stories didn't exactly make Fae seem like model citizens either. There was no reason not to give him a chance and hope for the best. A Lycan nose would certainly be helpful, if he was willing to assist.

    "I'm not the one in immediate danger," Clare assured him, glancing around to see if anyone else on the street was paying attention to their conversation. No one was. She absently petted the dog as she spoke. "I placed wards on our hotel room. I thought that would keep us safe. I think it's actually done the opposite, though. My sister just let me know that there are Fae hunters in town. They wouldn't be able to break my wards and attack directly - except that there's one loophole. The wards can be taken down if one of the occupants reveals their location. Declan is an occupant too, so they could use him to try to get in. He hasn't been out of touch for long, but under the circumstances any loss of contact is worrying enough."

    Clare hadn't felt her wards break... and that concerned her. It was nice that the hotel room was still secure. But she was afraid of what they were putting Declan through to try to get him to crack.

    "Look, I'm going to be blunt with you: Declan is a human, and he doesn't know. About any of this. About what I am. I know, he should - I've made a terrible mistake, and he's going to hate me for it when he finds out. I just need to get him to safety, to get him away from them. Please... is there any way you could help me track where they took him? I have no way to find them on my own. I know this isn't your fight and I'm not asking you to do anything else, just a location. I'm afraid if I don't find him quickly, it will be too late. I can pay you..."

    She didn't have a lot of money, but considering the Lycan was scrounging garbage, it might be enough to buy help for a simple task.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 08-27-2018 at 07:11 PM.

  10. #10
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Riff nodded as Clare gave him the immediate facts. Fae hunters in the city - and they knew about Clare, even though Declan didn't. They'd have to move quickly. Riff took another deep breath off the takeout bag to cement the scent in his mind. He reached for his battered guitar case and stuffed the kebab bag in his ratty knapsack.

    "Of course I'll help you find him. You have my word that I'll do my best to reunite you."

    He turned away from Clare, trying to catch the scent on the wind instead of from her directly. Pepper seemed to catch on and heeled next to the Fae woman as Riff started to head towards a nearby alleyway. Once inside, the Lycan stashed his guitar behind a few garbage bins and then stopped to take in as much as he could about his surroundings. Declan's, or rather Clare's, scent was so fresh and so easy to follow. But, aside from the strong woodsy scent from the Fae and almost overwhelming stench of rotten vegetables from the dumpster, Riff smelled a few other things. Axe body spray. Cigarettes. Gun oil. The sharp twang of metal. His eyes dropped to the ground. There were long marks through a puddle that strongly suggested the toes of an unconscious someone's shoes.

    "There were a couple of guys. Definitely up to no good. I think you have a right to be worried about him."

    Riff picked up the pace as they moved further into the maze of alleyways. As he loped along, Riff scanned the crossing alleys, windows and rooftops for guards, onlookers and speciesists. It wasn't long until the trio arrived back out onto the street, just a few blocks from where they'd started.

    "They got in a car. Don't worry, I can still track them!" The Lycan added the last bit on rather hastily as he saw Clare's face fall. To prove it, he started moving confidently down the sidewalk, staying as close to the street side as he could. It wasn't easy when people were more mobile, but rather conveniently nothing in Leipzig appeared to move very fast. He was confident that he could stay on the trail. Unable to run without drawing too much attention from the public, Riff and Clare were forced to move at a steadier pace. He periodically checked over his shoulder to see how Clare was holding up. If she knew how many times he and so many other members of the community had gone on these sorts of rescue missions...

    "Just so you know, I wouldn't worry so much about what he's going to think about you not telling the truth. I've known lots of couples who got past that and went on to live happy lives together. 'sides, he seems like a good guy." Riff smiled over his shoulder, trying to cheer her up as much as check on her. It wasn't easy knowing that someone you loved was missing.

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