I grew up in Pittenweem in the East Neuk of Fife, Scotland. You may wonder why I say I grew up there instead of was born there and the reason is this. No one, including myself, knows where I was sired. All I know is that one-day; I simply appeared on the doorstep of the village hermit during a terrible storm. I was 9 years old at the time. I didn't know this until much later, but I was very lucky, if the villagers had seen me as I was then, undisguised and at the door of a holy man, I would have been torn limb from limb.
"Wait, you're Scottish?"
"But you have no accent..."
"I got rid of it when I first came to America. Scots weren't well-liked back in those days."
"Right, that makes sense..." Even if an accent would be amazing. "Go on."
The hermit took me into his house and treated me like his own child. He would often say that I had washed ashore during the storm and was a gift sent by god. He gave me an illusion charm to make me look just like any other little boy. Even though I had some odd mannerisms that could only be classified as animalistic, and my English was rough at the best of times, I made friends. Wherever I went I was able to charm those around me by simply flashing a smile. My father explained it to me as best he could. It was a natural defense mechanism of whatever race I was apart of; No matter how hard he searched, no matter how many favors he called in, no one had ever head of anything quite like me before.
"Speaking of, what do you really look like?"
"Do you really want to see?" Was that a trace of nervousness I heard?
"Yeah, I do. Show me. I bet you're like an ugly wart monster or something."
"You do realize that means you made out with an ugly wart monster." He retorted.
"Touche." I admitted, mildly grossed out by that mental image. "So are you going to show me?"
It wasn't a big change at first, his eyes just changed to that molten gold I'd glimpsed a few times before, they actually almost feline. But then, his face grew more angular, his teeth longer. To better show the change his hands were going through, he raised them. Each of his fingernails were thickening and lengthening until they were more talons than nails. As he changed, his clothing shifted along with him to accommodate the new tail. Eventually, he was standing there, tailed and horned, and looking very not human; the weirdest thing about it? I think was more attracted to him this way.
"Can I touch one of your horns?" I didn't feel like waiting for an answer, so I reached up to touch one anyway. Ezell gingerly caught my wrist; I was surprised to find he hadn't nicked me with one of those claws. His lips twitched as if he were holding in a laugh.
"I wouldn't if I were you. My horns are quite a sight more sensitive than human skin. Unless you want to start something..." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively and I got a mental image of us passionately embracing as we rolled in the grass. For once I didn't blush, I managed to send back an image of him, covered in blood and the smile teetered and fell.
On a much more serious note, Ezell launched back into his story.
My father taught me all the basics skills I would need to make it in a world dominated almost entirely by humans. Humans who even then, lost their love and respect for the earth and were slowly poisoning her. He taught me the basics of glamour, which as you've already seen, make me look human. When it became apparent that I could hear the thoughts of everyone in the village, the hermit taught me the rudiments of mind shields and concentrated hearing, which is little more than what I've shown you; casting images into people's minds and receiving them in return. When I found out the hard way that I could transport myself from place to place with little more than a thought, he scrounged for any tidbit he could find in his small library and taught me basic ways to protect myself and how to focus on where I wanted to arrive. When I turned 20, I left Pittenweem for England.
"Are you honestly not disturbed by any of this?" He gestured at his ebony horns and his tail, which lashed back and forth. Sign he was nervous, maybe?
"Eh, what's the point? This is a dream after all."
"What do you mean?"
As if on cue, a small group of boys ran past us. I saw a shock of short black hair in among the mix of blondes and brown and a grin that hadn't yet turned into a smirk. Young Ezell tackled another one of the boys and gabbled out something in very rough English. With a shriek and a shout of frustration, the boy who got tackled took off towards the village and the rest followed behind like over exuberant sheep dogs.
"What was that?" My stomach clenched. I had the feeling I had done something abnormal again. I might be failing Pre-Calculus, but I was getting an A plus in weird.
"A memory from the summer I turned 10."
"So, what you're saying is..."
"You're in my head, Adelle. I'm not sure how or why, but you somehow waltzed right in when you fell asleep." He grinned and my heart skipped a bit. "Maybe you were thinking about me as hard as I was thinking about you?"
"Hey, you should continue your story!"
"Oh dear heart, I will get you to say it someday."
The scene we were standing in smoothly transitioned into a dark dingy room. A bit of light filtered in through grimy windows. I looked outside and saw cobblestones and puddles, dirty children playing with whatever came to hand. At a desk piled high with papers, I saw Ezell busily scribbling, a pair of cracked glasses perched on his nose.
It was there in England that I was introduced to the vast and complex world that lies just beneath the one we see everyday. The Underground. I got a job at a small dingy office. Some of the papers I was told to write and the accounts I was made to take led me to believe that I was working for some sort of publishing company. Of course I never wondered as to why so much money changed hands. The owner at the time, Mr. Vikus Glennoch, assured me that it was rent due for the use of our printing presses, which I accepted easily enough. It wasn't until a man brought in a pixie tied and trussed like a pig and asked for his bounty that the cat was let out of the bag. Vikus and co. was a small time Bounty Hunting Agency funded by parliament itself. In order to keep me quiet, Vikus made me sign a contract. Unfortunately I was young and stupid at the time, so I hadn't read the small print. I had unwittingly signed myself up for 50 years in the commendable profession of bounty hunting.
"Tell me you're joking." The image of clint eastwood in a black wig came to mind.
"I'm dead serious. I signed on for 50 years and sign back on every two. This will be my last year."
"Why your last?" I asked.
Instead of answering, Ezell coughed and launched back into his story. I could have sworn I saw a hint of pink in his cheeks.
The reason why Vikus had people sign 50-year contracts didn't become clear to me until much later. If the person didn't die while out on their first few missions, then he had a keeper. If they did, then that was one less set of loose lips to worry about. As Vikus was surprised to find out, I was a good hunter. I traveled the whole of Europe capturing and killing every Other I was set after. I was terror and damn good at what I did. In dens of crime, I was spoken on in terrified whispers. I was a hero among others, a Prince among thieves. But it couldn't last. Around 1770 jobs began to dwindle. The ether flows in England were being all but strangled by humanity' s constantly booming population. The places that had once been quiet havens were now iron cages. In a last ditch attempt to save themselves, the others of Europe, England, Ireland, and especially Scotland, migrated en masse to the Americas. Seeing as a bounty hunter is nothing without his bounties, I went to America along with Vikus and co.
I arrived via gate in Bedford in the year 1774. Back in those days, Bedford was little more than a ragged clutch of houses and the half-moon inn. To someone like me, who had lived their entire life among humans and having to hide who I was, the culture there was quite the culture shock. Others and Humans mingled in the streets. They accepted and reveled in each other's differences and Casting was widespread. The experience was so novel I decided to stay for a while. Vikus wasn't pleased with this announcement, but what could he do? He demanded I return by the years' end. Stubborn man I am, I didn't return to the business for two years.
While I lived as a semi-permanent boarder at the half-moon, I came to make the acquaintance of a fae by the name of Alennan. He was one of the lesser nobles of the Seelie Court, or so he had told me at the time. He was a very level-heade
"Except when he was drunk, apparently." I grumbled.
D man who was my constant companion. We made a habit out of rabble-rousing and would often be kicked out into the weather by Maggie Macpherson, a fellow Scot who had followed the first wave of migration. She was a fierce woman, as you've seen, but it was only to be expected. She was the only female to own a business in Bedford and she couldn't afford to look any less tough than the men. Alennan would often show me the places in the forest where the ether had pooled and created wonders. Sometimes, whole weeks would pass while we explored the woods, but we were never bothered by it. Almost two years had gone by in a pleasant whirl when it happened.
Alennan was murdered.
"No, heavens no. May every god who still walks this earth stand as my witness. It was not I."
Alennan had gone back to the lands of the fae in the forest to do whatever it was that nobles did. He assured me that whatever it was, he would meet me back at the inn around noon. Alennan was rarely late, so when noon came and went I began to worry. I decided that I must have misheard him and he had actually said to come to our meeting place in the woods. Not wanting to be any later, I almost sprinted there. As I got closer, I began to realize something was amiss. A cloying stink filled the air; it was oddly familiar but I couldn't place it at first. As the smell grew stronger, I finally remembered. It was the stink of freshly spilled Other blood. I eventually reached our meeting place, full of dread at what I would find. The scene before me was ghastly. Blood was everywhere, splattered across tree trunks, soaked into the grass. And oh, the bodies I found there in that place; I cannot even begin to describe it to you. It was beyond terrible Adelle, and I hope you never have to see anything like it. It changes a man. As I walked through that sea of insensible carnage I searched for one body in particular and found him away from the rest, lying in a pool of his own blood. I kneeled next to my friend's side and cried then; Cried like I was a child. I carefully cradled him in my arms, not caring that I was being soaked in my friend's lifeblood. Alennan was not yet dead, and with his last words, he warned me.
"Leave, the forests aren't safe. Philanecian, Phi-"
Suddenly, I was surrounded on all sides by fae soldiers. I felt my stomach clench when I spotted the cavorting stag that each of them wore. They were Seelie Court's special guard. One man stood out from the rest, he was tall and cruel-looking with a bearing that spoke of his position. All of his soldiers stood over me, swords drawn, and offensive casting at the ready. I asked what I was being charged with, and the captain declared I had committed the most treasonous act of Murdering a Seelie Court Royal, the Crown Prince himself. When I asked why they assumed it was me who did it, his response made my blood boil, my teeth set in a snarl.
"Need I proof of a monster's true nature? You are bathed in the lifeblood of our prince that is all the proof I need!"
With that, he raised a hand and his henchmen were upon me in an instant. I gained a few serious cuts and burns, but I managed to escape into the woods. I ran and ran until my knees gave out. With the last of my strength I found the minds of the guards, which by some blessing were unguarded and sent them the image of empty woods. No matter how near they came to my hiding place between the roots of an oak they saw nothing. I waited until night fell and the rule of the Unseelie Court began before I made my way back to the Half-moon inn. I gathered what little belongings I had and then made for Bedford's portal. As I walked, I began to seethe. There was no way that man could have been ready with soldiers quickly enough to come from wherever the court was located in the deep forest. In order to capture and frame me for this mass murder he had to be prepared. That man and his guards had either done the killings themselves, or had hired someone else to do the deed. Without a doubt, I knew that general was the Philanecian Alennan had wasted his last breath on trying to warn me about. But why frame me? Was it because I was Alennan's friend, or was it because I was a monster?
What could I say to that? It was horrible, beyond horrible, possibly the most depressing I've ever heard in my life. Dead puppies had nothing on Ezell's story. Ezell took a shaky breath and squatted, head in his hands. I knelt next to him and rubbed his back in large circles, like mom used to do for me when I was sad. He lifted his hand away from his face only enough for one of his eyes to show.
"I think it's time you left, Adelle. I'll continue this story tomorrow."
And left I did.