Once upon a time, there was a boy.
Aidan opened his eyes, as the woman arrived at his window. Brother Sean had come around half an hour ago to check that Aidan was not awake, not getting up to mischief, not putting idle hands to the devil’s work, and if he were, to beat him into the arms of sleep. Beatings were a part of being an orphan; If your own parents didn’t love you enough to keep you, you could be bloody certain that no one else would.
“Good evening, Aidan,” whispered the woman, after he threw the iron catch and pushed the window open. She smiled, and her smile was the sun. Her hair was golden and red, like the sheen of copper in the dusk light, more gorgeous than the prettiest women in the magazines the boys sometimes traded around. Her teeth were straight and white, her skin pale and pretty, dotted with freckles. She wore a garment of purest green, silken and exciting, in ways that he didn’t quite understand how to interpret. She had the mien of a mother, and she was a faerie. Her name was the May Queen.
“Good evening, Your Highness.”
“Ah, good, my child. You are learning the ways of etiquette so well. I am very proud of you.” She smiled. “You are ready. Soon, I can take you away from all of this. To dance and sing with the others. Soon. For now- another story. Which shall I tell you of tonight? A tale of joy and pleasure? The Tawny Tiger and his picnics? Sweet Jill Harears? Raggy Stitchems? Or would you like one of the scary stories? One of the Grim fairytales? Perhaps Jenny Greenteeth? Or The Widdershins Knight?”
“Those aren’t really scary nights, Your Highness,” he said, and frowned at her. “Those are the stories they tell kids. The ones where everyone ends up alright, and the monster is always beaten easily, and they run off with their tail between their legs. They’re not real. They’re not the things that matter.”
“Ah,” whispered his godmother. “You want the stories that matter most. The unhappy truths.” She let out a slow, soft sigh, her chest rising and falling, the outfit barely covering her. She looked like one of the women in the magazines, which was part of the reason why Aidan never told anyone about her. “Are you sure, my child? You are young. This is the time of life when you may appreciate the soft things, the gentle stories. When your mind hasn’t been poisoned with all of the pain you’ve gone through. Innocence should not be lightly discarded.”
“I’m not a baby,” he said, petulant.
“True. You are wise beyond your years. Already on the cusp of manhood, and at such an early age…” She tsked softly. “Have you ever heard the story of Tam Lin, the Faerie Knight?” She smiled. “He was a great knight who had once been a human. He rode for the Faerie Queen, at her pleasure. But the Faerie Queen was an ice-cold woman, blue-skinned, one-eyed, inhumanly tall yet hunched. Her pleasure could not be counted upon to last for long. Tam Lin feared that she would choose him that Samhain for the Teind, and so beseeched a young girl-”
“That what for the what?”
“Ah.” She smiled softly. “Samhain. The end of the harvest, the begin of the dark half of the year, when Cailleach rules in place of kind Brigid. When the cold kills, and the world lies in wait for the sun to return.”
He’d always hated the winter. When he was young, before his father died, winter had been the time when he’d been most melancholy. He remembered, vaguely, his father sobbing by an open windowsill, a hand over his eyes, tears freezing on his cheeks. Maybe because he’d been sorry that he’d had Aidan. Aidan certainly had never had the chance to ask him. Not after the morning when he’d found his father smiling twice, silky red dripping down to freeze on that open windowsill.
“Are you alright, my child?” asked the May Queen, and she rested a hand on his hip, soft and warm fingers resting against him lightly, her bright teal eyes full of concern.
“It’s okay, Your Highness,” he said softly, and wrapped his arms around her, pressing his face against her side. “I was just thinking about my father. What’s the Teind?”
“Ahhhh. What are they teaching children…? Every seven years, the Queen of the Faeries was required to provide a tithe of one of her own to Hell. As the Christians tithed a portion of what they gained to their Church for the blessings of god, so too did the Faerie Queen have to provide one of hers, in exchange for all the wicked powers she was given by Lucifer. Tam Lin found a fair maiden, who fell in love with him. In order to save him, he told her the secret to saving her. On Samhain, she would find him marching in a parade, grab hold of him, and hold tight. The faeries would change him into all manner of terrifying beasts to convince her to let go, but if she held tight until he became a burning coal, and threw him into a well, then the curse would be broken, and he would be a human again.”
Aidan nodded slowly. “And did she?”
“She did. And Tam Lin was made human. And they both lived happily ever after.”
“Godmother!” he said, pouting. “That was another story with a silly happy ending!”
“Ah, but was it?” She smiled. “The Faerie Queen was still out there. Humans still were exchanged for changelings, became faeries, were abandoned. The Teind was still paid. Tam Lin was freed, but oh, who went in his place?” She softly rested her hand on his stomach, her other arm around his shoulder, trailing fingers down his wrist, embracing him warmly. “Happy endings only apply to the heroes, after all.”
“Your Highness,” he said, softly, squirming a little bit in her embrace. “When can I leave with you?”
“Oh, soon, child. Soon.”
“You always say that.”
“Well, to a faerie, every time is soon! But, if you would truly wish to know…” She leaned close, and winked. “The day after tomorrow.”
“Really?” He frowned. “That’s not a trick, is it? Like… In two days, I’ll say ‘when are we going’ and you’ll say ‘the day after tomorrow’ and I’ll say ‘but’ and you’ll say ‘Tomorrow always becomes today’…”
“No, my precocious little barrister, no tricks, no lies. From your beloved godmother? Never. The day after tomorrow, we shall be off to the land of Faerie. And if you stay with me, you will never be hungry, or beaten, or alone, ever again.” She kissed him very gently, on the cheek. “This, I swear to you. But remember the story. Remember the terrible truth of the story. Only heroes can win happy endings. Otherwise, you find yourselves in the hands of chance. Now!” She smiled, leaning back, settling her hands on her knees. “A story from you, in turn.”
One story turned into two, then three, then half a dozen, before finally- his eyes heavy, his head lolling- she let him fall asleep. He would be yelled at tomorrow, he would be scolded, very possibly beaten, but he wouldn’t mind. It was worth it, spending the hours awake with her, coming up with stories, hearing her joyful praise of the plot twists and turns that he provided. He drifted into sleep.
Morning came, not with a beating, but with the distant twitter of birdsong. He’d not expected that in the least. Aidan pushed himself out of the bed, frowning out the window. The sun was up, bright and shining- It had to be at least 8, which meant Brother Sean had not, in fact, woken him up. This sent an icy spike of dread down Aidan’s back. The morning beating was routine, and the breaking of routine was never a good thing. In the years Aidan had spent under the tender cares of the Our Lady Of Eternal Misery’s clergy, he had never been allowed to wake up in his own time.
He sprang out of bed, suspecting the worst. Maybe the local Orange Order had finally done what Brother Sean had claimed was coming, and laid siege to the building. He crept up to the window, and peaked out quickly.
It was a perfectly calm and lovely day. No barricades, no burning cars, no end of the brotherhood. Almost like there were no Troubles at all. He didn’t really understand the Troubles, except through metaphor. Two Brothers, raised by two adoptive Fathers, one a King, one a Pope. The brothers shed their blood for someone they weren’t related to. He didn’t think that was all that strange- Family wasn’t anything particularly special, after all.
He changed out of his pajamas into the strict and deeply uncomfortable outfit the brothers insisted was the right thing for a young man to wear. So far as he could tell, this was because being uncomfortable showed God how much you wanted to prove to him that you were good, or possibly because it made you more eager to get to Heaven, where- he assumed- you were allowed to wear whatever you like. Clad in the stiff fabric, starched almost to the point of becoming armor, he crept out into the hallways.
The other boys’ beds were empty as he crept past the rooms, the doors hanging open. The sense of intense disquiet grew deeper. He stopped at Brother Sean’s room, and rested his hand on the doorknob.
He thought of the stories. Of children snatched from their beds, of monsters of the Unseelie Fae. There were Seelie and Unseelie, his godmother had told him. Seelie Fae were the good ones- The spring and summer faeries, the bright and kind and pretty ones, who did good deeds and made the world a better place. The Unseelie were the ugly ones, the dark faeries of fall and winter, who were cold and harsh and killed without a thought for the smallest offense.
He twisted the door knob, and threw the door open.
Brother Sean lay in his bed, an arm over his face, snoring loudly, a bottle of whiskey hanging from his other hand.
Aidan let out a sigh of relief, and fled the orphanage, grinning. There’d be a beating later for this, but he had the day to himself, no Brother Sean watching over him to make sure he was miserable enough for God’s tastes. And by god, he intended to enjoy it.
The streets were unusually empty. The orphanage was on the western end of the small town, on the edge of the rolling farmland that stretched out off into the edge of forever. The hills were visible into the distance, rolling and bright, the sun glittering off the tops, like an endless unending frozen sea of emerald green. There was just the slightest nip in the air, just enough to make the heart race and the world grow invigorated. And he heard laughter coming from the town. He barely even noticed the fog hanging just beyond the orphanage, between him and those distant hills.
He didn’t get many chances to go into town. From time to time, the Brothers of Our Lady of Eternal Misery hired the boys out as cleaners, which meant that they got to see how people whose parents had actually loved them lived. It had always been considered an important lesson, though on what specifically he hadn’t been sure- Possibly simply knowing where you were meant to be, and whose bootheel was meant to be placed on your head.
One of the most popular places to work had been the Candy Shoppe. A shoppe was, Aidan had come to understand, like a normal shop, but one that sold candy. The proprietor, Mister O’Toole, was a miserly bastard, but also half-blind. While he would have rapped the knuckles of any boy who looked at one of those great glass jars, glittering with pearls of sugar, he did not notice the candy that had been spilled by eager, hasty children. A little dust, dirt, and dog-hair was not enough to hide the sweet sensation of candy stolen from those more fortunate. Aidan meandered towards the center of town, where the Shoppe awaited.
There were no adults on the streets. Aidan knew that was odd, but the occasional presence of other children- Those his age, and younger- made it a bit less ominous than it might otherwise have been. He paused by a young girl, perhaps ten years old, and her brother, eight years old, both of them sitting on the stoop of their house, looking miserable.
“What’s the matter with you two?” He asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Our mum’s sleeping,” said the girl. “She hasn’t made breakfast or anything.”
“Johnny’s hungry,” she said, nodding at her brother.
“So the two of you are just going to, what, starve out here because your mum’s sleeping it off? Come on.” He waved his hand, and started walking. He heard their footsteps follow him a couple of minutes later.
“You’re one of the Orphan Boys?” asked the girl, her tone half nervous, half excited.
“Yeah,” he said, affecting as tough an accent as he could. “Suppose I am.”
“Do you have a knife?”
“My big brother, he said all the Orphan Boys from the orphanage have knives, and they’re all very tough and mean. Are you going to steal breakfast from someone?”
“Well, not with a knife. I figured, if all the adults are asleep for some reason, well, the Candy Shoppe’s an interesting place to visit, isn’t it?”
As they approached the Shoppe, it became clear that they were not the only ones who had been struck by this idea. The street was full of what had to be close to a hundred children. Frowning, Aidan again noticed that few of them were any older than him. They stood milling around the front of the store, exchanging nervous glances with one another, muttering. Aidan tapped another boy on the shoulder. “What’s the hold-up?”
“Someone’s in there,” murmured the boy. “In the back. Someone big.”
Aidan frowned, and pushed his way through the crowd of smaller children, taking advantage of his own height to make his way to the front of the glass door. A ‘Closed’ sign hung on the inside. He shaded his eyes, and peered forward into the gloom of the unlit Candy Shoppe. There were the glass jars filled with all manner of sparkling jewels, a treasure trove of toothpack and sugar to make a dentist drool with undisguised avarice. He couldn’t see anyone inside. Then he froze.
There, in the back, stepping out of the store-room. A large figure. Much larger than Mister O’Toole. He had to be close to seven feet tall, and he stood in the dark, broad shoulders nearly bursting out of his shirt. The same kind of shirt and pants Mister O’Toole wore. The figure turned suddenly, and stalked towards the door, shoulders hunched.
The children gasped and began to back away as the figure strode into the sunlight. A fearsome tiger’s head peered at them, the sharp contrasts of orange and black and white shining as a pair of brilliant green-gold eyes stared out at them, slitted and fearsome. The tiger raised a hand, big, somewhere between hand and tiger’s paw, black nails shining like razors, and gently turned the sign from ‘Closed’ to ‘Open’. He pulled the door handle, opening the room.
“Tawny Tiger?” Aidan asked, in the precise tone of voice one uses to address fairytale characters who have suddenly decided to take up an honest living in the commercial industry.
“Well, hello, Aidan.” The tiger smiled. “Everyone. Tomorrow, Aidan is turning thirteen. A very auspicious number, and a very important time. To celebrate, we of the Spring Court have decided, we are having a party.” He smiled broadly. “Today, the town belongs to children. Candy, costumes, and games aplenty; and all the adults sleeping through it! We’ll make sure they’re well-compensated for their things. For now, please, simply join us, and have a lovely time! Be sure to thank the birthday boy as you pass!”
He stepped out of the way, and after a wary moment, the children began to stream in. Encouraged by the Tawny Tiger’s warm and inviting smiles, they passed Aidan, murmuring thanks and looking at him with wide eyes. To his surprise, he saw gratitude there. Warmth. A bit of acceptance. After all, this was all happening because of him.
The Tawny Tiger stepped out past the stream of children, murmuring polite apologies as he slipped by them, standing on the opposite side from Aidan. “Now, children, Mister O’Toole is upstairs, sleeping in his room- Don’t go up there and disturb him, or he will likely be a far less forgiving host than I am!” The Tawny Tiger shivered, from the soles of his feet to the tips of his ears. “That man scares the living daylights out of me!”
The children giggled and laughed, smiling up at the Tawny Tiger as they passed him by. Aidan recognized the sound in them. That warm sound that came when the frightening predator, turned out to be nothing but a funny, kind-hearted man. When the monster became just a friend. The combination of joy and relief. “You’re real,” he said, softly.
“Well, as real as you are! Aidan, my boy.” He smiled, crouching down, getting on one knee, till he was eye-and-eye with Aidan. “It’s mighty fine to finally get to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you from your godmother, and every word of it good.” He held out a great paw, and placed it on Aidan’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, lad. For all the sad times and the losses you’ve had. And I wish that those times were over for good- As they soon will be. But I’m afraid that every party has its pooper.”
Aidan tilted his head to one side, frowning. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean is, it’s not safe out there for the children. There’s a swimming hole near here, am I right?”
“I think so- What do you mean, not safe?”
“The good faeries cannot come somewhere without the bad faeries also being around.” The Tawny Tiger frowned sternly. “None of them would dare come near me- I am too fearsome by far- but they could hurt the other children, and I could not abide by that. I want you to go to the swimming hole, and gather the children from there. So that Jenny Greenteeth does not get them.”
His heart pounded once, very hard, in his chest. The Tawny Tiger nodded solemnly.
“But- What if- What if she attacks me?”
“Then, Aidan, you’ll have to remember the trick. You know the trick, don’t you?” The Tawny Tiger winked, and tilted his head towards one of the old cast iron benches sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Shoppe.
“Iron,” he murmured, softly.
“Bane of the faeries, good and bad alike. But only the bad ones have reason to fear it.” He nodded softly. “I can’t carry the stuff on me, but there’s plenty of it in the city. Just remember to take a handful with you. Now hurry, lad. The bad faeries are cowards, but they’re predators, too. Don’t want to leave anyone where they might hunt them. If you need a safe place, the costume shop or the playground are safe too.” He smiled. “And your godmother’s got her eye on you.” He held up a hand, and then flicked it- Like magic, the Eye appeared in his hand. The delicate pair of sticks, yarn tied around it in a set of diamond shapes, bright pinks and purples and golds, like a flower made out of fabrics. He placed it in Aidan’s hand, the emblem perhaps an inch across. “Keep that in your pocket, she’ll always know where you are.”
“Thanks, Tawny,” whispered Aidan. Then, as the last of the children trickled in, Johnny and his older sister, Aidan stepped forward, and wrapped his arms around the big tiger’s waist, hugging him tight. After a moment, the Tawny Tiger returned the embrace, big arms folding around him, strong as an ox, and gentle as a lamb, holding the young boy. “I’m really glad you’re real.”
“So am I,” said the Tawny Tiger, and chuckled. After a moment, the embrace ended, and the Tawny Tiger stood up straight. “Remember. Jenny Greenteeth in the water. And if you hear the tock-tick of a clock running backwards…” He was quiet for a moment. “Run. Just run, and find one of us. The Widdershins Knight is a dangerous beast. And I should know about dangerous beasts.”
“I will, Tawny,” he said, softly. Then he turned, and set off towards the east side of town.
Everyone knew about the swimming hole. The east side of town was where all the most fun things happened, which was presumably why the orphanage was as far from it as they reasonably could make it. The forest was there, and the Standing Stones that the local people called ‘The Bloody Arseholes’, though what they had done to deserve that Aidan had no idea. It was also where the local swimming hole rested.
He stopped at the bus station around noon, and his attention was caught by a strange sight, even for today. A pair of men were sitting next to each other. One was tall, slender, wearing a very well-made bowler derby and a fine suit. He wore a pair of glasses, and his face was cleanshaven, and slightly wrinkly. The other man was nearly as short as Aidan, but about as wide as he was tall. He had a garish red beard and no hair on top of his head, and he was wearing a striped skirt and a silk blouse. That wasn’t so strange to Aidan- He’d walked in on Brother Sean in a similar outfit once, and been beaten black and blue for it. What was strange was what was on his waist. A scabbard, nearly three feet long, with a sword’s handle visible on it.
Aidan crept closer, watching the two men. They were asleep, just like every other adult. He carefully reached forward, and took hold of the sword, carefully sliding it out of the hilt. The blade shone, one of its two edges curiously blackened, glimmering like an oil slick on asphalt. The sword was so heavy he could barely lift it with both hands, but it made him feel better as he carried it in both arms, resting the flat of the blade on his arm.
By the time he reached the swimming hole, the sun was low in the sky, the day pleasantly warm, though he could see clouds above the forest to the west. They were thick, and long trails hung beneath them- It was going to snow tonight, he’d guess. That was almost impossible to imagine, considering how pleasant and warm it had been, but what he knew of the weather told him it was a sure thing. He stepped over the hill, and frowned down at the swimming hole.
One, five, seven, ten… Twelve young people, laughing and swimming through the water, splashing each other, shouting. Perhaps half of them had proper bathing suits- The rest had just jumped into the water naked. He rolled his eyes, and put his hands on his hips. “Hey! You! Get out of that water!”
“Wot?” said one of the older boys, glaring up at him. He stood up out of the water, hands on his hips, naked as a jaybird. “Says who?”
“And who are you, huh?”
“I’m Aidan, and you should get out of there! Jenny Greenteeth is about!”
“Jenny Greenteeth?” The boy guffawed. “What are you, a baby? Jenny Greenteeth ain’t real!”
“Your parents are all unnaturally sleepy today, the city is full of nothing but kids, and there’s a talking tiger running the Candy Shoppe, and you’re telling me that the idea that Jenny Greenteeth might be real is what you’re getting stuck on? Get out of there! Besides, there’s loads of better stuff to be doing today! Like the damned candy shoppe!”
“I could go for some toffee,” said one of the girls, standing up. She also had gone in without her clothes, and Aidan turned his head away quickly before God got angry at him. “Come on, everyone! Up and out, up and out!” She smiled, waving her hands at the others, and Aidan could feel God getting just a bit angrier.
He counted as the children climbed out. One, five, seven, ten… Eleven. He frowned. “Is everyone here?”
One of the younger girls looked up. “Danny?”
“Danny got out earlier,” said the older boy who had challenged Aidan earlier. “Must have.”
“Where’d he go, then?” Asked Aidan, frowning.
The children all looked back towards the swimming hole. It was still as glass, the surface reflecting the bright blue sky, tinted green. It stayed very still, until suddenly, a large bubble appeared. Concentric circles spread out from it as it popped, reaching the edge of the water and then rebounding back.
“Sometimes, gas gets trapped in the mud under a swimming hole. It builds up until it pops the mud, and rises to the surface,” said the older boy.
“Does it?” said Aidan.
“Danny probably left back into town.”
Aidan’s eyes went down to the one set of clothing that had gone unclaimed. “Without his clothes?”
“Maybe,” said the boy, uncertainly. The younger girl sniffled a bit.
“I think we should get going back to the town,” said Aidan. “Danny probably just went to take a wee. He’ll probably be joining us again, soon.”
He turned, and walked away briskly towards the town, feeling the hairs on his neck prickling, standing up. Which of those three places was closest- The playground. Right by the school. He waited for the other children to get in front of him, and followed after them. Eleven. Maybe he’d counted wrong the first time.
That’s the kind of thought foolish people had. He knew he’d counted right the first time. Jenny Greenteeth had grabbed one of them. He squeezed the sword’s hilt a bit tighter.
The day became brighter as they walked away from the swimming hole, and he frowned. It looked like the early afternoon again, the air warm, and the snow clouds in the distance no longer visible. That was strange, but Faeries could do that kind of thing. He turned back towards the playground, and smiled a bit as he saw children there, laughing, running, playing games together. The twelve of them walked onto the tarmac, and suddenly, everything went dark.
“Guess who,” cooed a warm, soft woman’s voice behind him, two hands resting over his eyes, a warm chest pressing into his back. God got just a little angrier.
“Sweet Jill Harears,” he said.
“Wrong!” The woman paused for a moment. “Oh, alright, you got it. How did you know it was me?” She removed her hands from over his eyes, smiling as she swept over in front of him. Tall, pretty, slender, wearing a set of children’s clothes that were distinctly too small for her, which meant that skin was revealed in ways that would have made God downright apoplectic. She brushed a hand back through her long, pretty, brown-furred ears, her bright blonde hair hanging across skin that was the color of chocolate, warm and rich, her eyes shining bright and purple.
“Lucky guess,” he said, and smiled warmly at her. Then he felt the smile falter a little bit. “I think…” He looked over at the children, and lowered his voice softly. “I think Jenny Greenteeth got one of them.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” Jill’s ears, so long and standing straight up, flopped over, her expression becoming very sad. She crouched down, and wrapped her arms around Aidan’s shoulders, pulling his face directly against her chest, squeezing him tenderly. “I’m so, so sorry, Aidan. But you got most of them. You’re a good boy. And most of the children in the town are safe now. We’re playing games and having a lovely time. Here, you can put that sword away, and just be safe. I’ll make sure nothing can get at us.”
“Why, though?” he asked, softly. “Why are the bad faeries here? Why are they just- ruining things?”
“Oh. Oh, Aidan- I don’t know if-”
“Please, Jill,” he said softly.
Jill sighed softly. “It’s not a very happy story, Aidan. Wouldn’t you prefer one of the happy ones? Or we could play tag, or monkey in the middle, or doctor, or duck-duck-goose-”
“Jill!” he said. “If the bad faeries are here-”
“Alright. I hate to talk about it, but… You know of… Her, right? The Queen of the Snowflakes, the Icicle Empress? Don’t say her name. Not right now. It can call her. But you know her, yes?”
“I think so,” he said, softly.
“She is a powerful faerie. Perhaps one of the most powerful. She’s been alive as long as there’s been a winter. So, there’s nothing- nothing in this world- that she fears more than death. And long ago, she made a deal with the Devil. To live forever. Of course, the deal had a catch, because every deal does, whether with a faerie or the Devil. She would die, eventually, slain by her mortal child.”
“Her-” Aidan’s eyes widened.
“Your father- He was quite a man. He seduced the Queen of the Snowflakes without meaning to, with the sound of his voice. She never could resist a good song. She rolled with him once, in the throes of lust, and from that came… Well. You can guess. The one thing that could kill her. The one thing she couldn’t stand.”
Aidan’s eyes widened slightly.
“If you meet her, don’t acknowledge her. Don’t say her name, address her only as Your Highness. Do not tell her your name. Do not tell her you are her son. She doesn’t seek to kill you, for she is as calculating as she is dangerous. She would not kill someone who can be of use to her. She would instead make you one of the Unseelie, fill you with her fierce hungers, with her cold. She’d turn you into a monster, like she did Jenny Greenteeth and the Widdershins Knight.”
“I can kill her?” asked Aidan, his eyes wide.
“You don’t need to. We’ll be safe, soon. As soon as the day passes, as soon as Samhain dawns, you will be able to join us, and your godmother. You’ll be safe. You don’t need to risk yourself, Aidan. Please, don’t.”
Jill’s ear twitched, and she frowned, standing up straight. “Did you hear that?”
Jenny’s eyes were wild as she looked up, at the school. Its belltower was visible, the great mechanism working away, hours and minutes standing there. As the two of them stared up at it, the minute hand shifted minutely, one step backwards. The sky grew dark, and the heavy clouds begin to draw in, snow-flakes falling in greater and greater flurries, until they began to whip and dance in the screaming air.
“He’s here,” whispered Jill. “Children! To the costume shop! Quickly, now! Run to the costume shop! That way! Aidan, lead them there!”
“But- I can’t-!”
She gave him a firm push, and stood straight, drawing a rapier from the thin air, turning towards the west.
The Widdershins Knight stepped around a corner.
He was tall. Taller than Tawny Tiger. He seemed to loom around the houses, taller than them, though he was not. He just seemed to fill the area given to him. A knight, he was dressed in armor of darkest purple, so dark it was nearly black. On every joint, strung along every tendon of a human’s body, were the gears. Like clockwork- Except even Aidan, young as he was, knew that clockwork gears had to turn in both directions, because that’s just how a gear worked. Every gear on the Widdershins Knight rotated counterclockwise, turning in slow backward spirals as he walked forward. They should have caught, should have ground together, should have not /moved/, but he did anyway.
The Widdershins Knight’s helmet hung over his face, and in the darkness, two bright white eyes and countless bright white teeth sparkled. “Big sister,” he cooed, in a voice that was wrong on every level. “Big sister, Big sister, how I’ve tried to flee you. Flee, big sister, flee.”
Jill was shivering violently in the frozen winds, her eyes on the Widdershins Knight. “I won’t let you take these children,” she shouted. “Aidan! Run with them! The costumes will hide you from their gaze! Run, now!”
He turned, and ran, ten steps.
He turned. Jill hung from the Widdershins Knight’s left hand, struggling and squirming, her rapier on the ground. The Widdershins Knight studied her silently, one massive thumb resting on her chin, lifting it up. His right hand rested on his hilt, slowly drawing forth the midnight black sword. He lifted it in one hand.
The weight of the claymore in Aidan’s hands was dragging down his arms, so heavy it made his arms wail in protest, the weight dragging at his fingers. He held it like he would a club, both hands straining to hold it upwards. The Widdershins Knight turned his head towards Aidan.
“Please,” whispered Jill. “Save me.”
“Ah, big sister, big sister,” murmured the Widdershins Knight. “Your loyalty fills my heart with joy. Come, come, join battle. I relish it.”
He took a step forward.