The swing came so unexpectedly, and fast, that Karrin didn’t see it coming. Stars exploded across her vision and her head snapped back hard. She lost her balance, hitting the ground, panting as blood spilled down her chin from a badly split lip.
She looked… stunned.
"…wh— what the fuck— was that for?" She demanded, pressing a hand to her bloodied mouth and staring up at the Winter Queen with wide eyes.
Mab blinks at her words, her glare, looking startled. Really? She was STILL pursuing this? This was something that had never happened before. For one thing…Mab never apologizies to anyone. Ever. And the few, few, few people she may have ever apologized to…immediately accepted it and declared everything to be forgotten, eagerly.
Perhaps part of why Mab was so confused by the focus on this single event was because Fae lives were very long. A single instant, a single action…was such a brief flicker of time that it…really didn’t matter.
She winced when Murphy tightened her grip on Mab’s hand, trying to pull back…but only so far, until pain flashed briefly through her as a reminder to not do that.
When Murphy let go of her, for a second she considered slashing open the portal and stepping backwards through it…but then the other grabbed her again, by the shoulder this time. Mab looked…wary, frowning deeply.
"I…I’m not…entirely sure." She muttered, looking strangely…concerned. She shakes her head. "Why does it really matter? I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve ever been hit." She says, almost blandly. "Let go of me." She said, the tone of command edging into her voice.
Karrin’s face went red at that. Not the first time she’d ever been hit. “I usually put a bullet between the teeth of people who hit me outside of the sparring ring.” She was pressing forward suddenly. Hard. Pushing the Queen back as she shoved herself forward, into a wall.
“You appear to think you are going to command me. Let me clarify to you that you are not. You insulted my person by punching me in the mouth and you are going to explain why. And then maybe – maybe – I will forgive the insult. Because right now I’m thinking of changing my mind about not hitting you back.”
It was hard for a five foot woman to look like a raging avenging angel. But Karrin was doing a fucking fine impression. The blood on her mouth and reddening her teeth helped the look.
Why thank you.
“Am I in your head, Karrin? Or are you in purgatory?” Nicodemus’ finger trailed circles on the back of her hand, just below the restraints. “If I was only in your head, would you feel this?” He gestured with his other hand toward the end of the bed. There was nothing there. Nicodemus did not seem fazed by this, however.
And shortly, his expectations were met. The sheets at the end of the bed moved, ever so slightly. As if there was something…something climbing them. But it would have to be small, otherwise it would tug the bed sheets down completely. The tension on the sheets increased, until finally, it appeared. A small nose. Whiskers. Small, black eyes. Small ears. Black fur. A reasonably sized rat, sniffing the air. Then it crested the end of the bed, and with its small paws, pattered up the sheets to the bumps of Murphy’s knees, still sniffing.
“Ah, it appears our little friend is hungry, Karrin. And he has oh so many mouths to feed!” Nicodemus smiled as the rat chattered at a high pitch, squeaking. And then more movement at the end of the bed. More tugging of the sheets. More things were climbing. Other rats climbed up to join the first, while from the sides, some rats climbed the bed and rummaged under the sheets, the only evidence of their presence small, moving bumps under the fabric.
The first mouse made its way from Murphy’s legs to her abdomen, pausing, sniffing, until it came to the edge of the sheets. Chattering again, it dove under the sheets, and soon the other rats followed, a roiling mass under the sheets.
“Bon appétit,” Nicodemus said grandly, with perfect French intonations.
Murphy gritted her teeth as he kept touching her, her hand jerking against the restraints as much as she could, trying to escape his finger. She didn’t want him to touch her goddammit. She didn’t want to feel contact from him. That frightened her. Made him seem…real.
Her head twisted as he gestured toward the end of the bed, her heart catching in her throat. For a moment it seemed… safe. Nothing was coming. She had started to look up at him again when there came the first tug.
Her head jerked toward the end of the bed again and her mouth opened in surprise as the creature came crawling onto the bed, taking a sharp breath. Just a rat. It was just a rat. She wasn’t afraid of rats. She thought they were sort of cute, even.
More rats though.
That was less okay.
Panic began to shorten her breaths and pale her face, her wrists jerking in a panic at the restraints as more of them spilled onto the bed. She began to feel the sharp pain of bites, unbelievably sharp little teeth cutting through skin.
The first scream came through clenched teeth. She was trying so hard not to. But it hurt. There were so many of them and they were biting. The second scream came as she threw her head back and thrashed her legs wildly, “stop—make it stop!” She cried, twisting wildly. Thrashing so hard the hospital bed almost seemed like it might start to wobble although it held steady.
She screamed again, harder, louder. Trying to call for help. To call for Harry. He could make this stop. He had to make this stop. This wasn’t real. This couldn’t be real. She screamed again, this time it choked into a sob, her whole body shaking. She had to be bleeding, quite profusely. It hurt so much. She had to truly be taking damage from the wildly gnawing teeth, the wicked sharp little claws.
The Erlking straightened at Murphy’s words. “Thy words tell me nay, but thy heartbeat…” The Erlking listened. “Thy breathing…the flutter of thy eyes…the sweat that even now forms on thy brow, and trickles down thy back…” He grinned again, and his smile was reminiscent of the howling of wolves, but without sound. “These things tell me thou doth hunger most strongly for a hunt.”
The Erlking curled and uncurled his fingers on the antler hilt of his sword. “But what manner of hunt? Doth thou have the urge to hunt thy own prey? The pitiful creature that dares swindle mine Hunt from me? Doth he send thy body aquiver at desire?” He sniffed the air. “Nay, nay, thy pressing needs do not flow to him. Thy scent is of something other…” The Erlking reached out, running one large finger through Murphy’s hair. Then, he brought the finger to his face, breathing deeply. “Hoarfrost.” Lowering his hand, he squinted at Murphy. “Thy eyes burst with the same passion that breaks the winter ice when the lake desires warmth…”
The Erlking looked about, until his eyes fell on one individual in particular. “Ah. The mortal meekling desires to turn her hunt to the Winter Knight.” He turned back to Murphy. “Be this not so? You need not lie, mortal meekling. The hunt be different to each. Thou hast great desire, to take this prey down, and sink thy teeth into him.” He smiled. “I adjust mine offer to thee, mortal. Come to my halls. I shall teach thee how to hunt this prey. I shall teach thee to channel thy desire, to become pure in the pursuit. And then, when thou hast taken thy prey…”
The Erlking leaned forward once more. “The price be simple. Hunt with me. Hunt thy friend, the thief, the liar. Slay him. Let his blood run freely. And then, shall we work. The Erlking is not refused twice, mortal.”
She flinched. She actually flinched when he reached for her despite knowing he couldn’t hurt her here. No one had never said he couldn’t…pick her up in one massive palm and haul her off. But she didn’t see that happening. Wasn’t his style. Probably. Maybe.
She drew a trembling breath as he called her right out. Harry was of course the one she wanted. Her prey as it were, although she was looking for something entirely different from his life’s blood.
But she was also not incapable of getting him herself and didn’t need some behemoth trying to teach her how to use her womanly wiles thanks much. Especially at the expense of Robin. He had become her friend. In his own way. She wouldn’t exactly trust her life to him – but she wouldn’t throw him under the bus either.
“The Erlking is refused twice.” She spoke up finally, tilting her chin up sharply and giving him a defiant look, “I will not agree to hunt my friend. I will not agree to waste—“ no, that was a little too far, try to be more polite, “—spend my time in your halls. I decline.” It was getting harder to speak now, her heart was thundering, blood rushing in her ears. She wasn’t sure how he was going to respond to this, how she was going to gracefully get out of this without someone ending up dead.
You know you would watch it. Don’t lie.
Mab’s gaze darkened. “You dare to question your now Queen, child?” She said darkly.
"I have said that the wizard will stay here, your presence is no longer needed. He is with the Lady of winter and she will see to it that he is calm. You shall not question me. Or you shall see what he went through when I dragged him from the docks of Chicago. And I promise you child, where he barely survived, you will not."
“Oh, I dare. Be pretty fucking stupid of you to go to all the effort of putting me in an impossible situation to get ahold of me, and then to kill me, wouldn’t it?” Murphy shot back, stepping forward and giving Mab a hard look, “you took him away from me for a year. I am not going anywhere he isn’t and I don’t give a fuck what Molly may or may not do. I have not bent to knee and sworn a fucking bit of fealty to you. I am here because I am keeping my word, not because you how power over me – so step the fuck off, I’m not leaving.”
She was angry. Furious, even. She couldn’t imagine losing Harry again. Not because of this. Not because she couldn’t calm him down and undo a year’s worth of torment in thirty days.
The Erlking chuckled to himself, the sound like thunder among tall, old trees. “Mortal meekling, be aware that wherever thou may be in any of the realms strange to you, something is listening to thee. Something is watching thee. Sometimes in interest. Sometimes in hunger.” He lifted an eyebrow, tilting his head to evaluate the small woman. “’Eavesdropping’, as thou may call it, be not a word we use here.”
The Erlking looked at Kringle. “I interrupt nothing for friend Kringle. He and I have plans to hunt someday soon, after all. And he was there that night as well, when thou tooketh from me my Hunt.” The Erlking rested his hand on the handle of his sword, made of a large, thick antler of some kind. Green, glowing mist emanated from within the sheath. “Thou may have taken the Hunt, true, but I cannot allow my name to be so besmirched, that a mortal meekling woman could do such. Few know…”, he whispered, while looking around, “but those who know are enough.”
“What I need, mortal meekling, be quite simple. We shall have a new hunt, a minor hunt. We shall see who the true huntmaster be.” The Erlking tightened his grip on his sword’s hilt. “But first, thou shalt come to my halls, take of my drink, eat of my food, and partake of the many pleasures and wonders of my halls. My kin shall entertain thee beyond thy wildest dreams.” He bent at the waist until his amber eyes glowed but inches from Murphy’s head. “And then, we shall hunt thy friend who dares mock me once more. The hunter who slays him shall be the true Hunter, and shall command that person who failed.” The Erlking’s breath was a heady breeze, causing those nearby to feel animalistic urges creep up their spines, widening their eyes.
“And should thou fail, mortal meekling, you shall remain with me all of thy days.”
Murphy clenched her jaw as the Erlking continued to speak, watching his face closely, his body. She knew there were rules here. Blood could not be spilled. Blood upon Mab’s floor was a death sentence. Even the Erlking wouldn’t disrespect her like that. Even if just because it was…impolite.
She glanced over her shoulder at Kringle and then snapped her gaze back to the Erlking as he moved, stiffening when his hand rested on the hilt of his sword. She was…pretty…sure he wasn’t going to draw it. But it was intimidating all the same. She wasn’t even sure she could have lifted the damn thing. “Stop calling me that,” she blurted as he referred to her as a meekling again, “I have a name – and I was with Harry…to…be fair.” She hadn’t actually taken the hunt herself. She’d just made it possible for Harry to do so.
As the Erlking continued, the blood began to drain from her face. A new hunt? …his halls? That…that sounded like an invitation for hospitality, from what she understood of it, and that at least meant safety. Sort of. Inasmuch as she could hope for. Her chest moved faster, air suddenly hard to get, as he leaned even closer and informed her who he wanted to hunt. “Robin…”
She didn’t want to take a step back. Not now. Everything in her screamed at her to flee from his imposing presence, from his demands. “I’m afraid I’ll need to decline. I’m very busy.” She managed, “I can’t possibly schedule another hunt in. I have so much to do.” She gritted her teeth, her spine shivering, her skin crawling, “I mean, I appreciate the thought and all. But. No.”
She was not going to agree to something like that. She didn’t want to kill Robin. And she sure as fuck wasn’t interested in the ‘rest of her days’ being spent with the Erlking. She had a feeling those days would be short, and unpleasant. She was still pale as a sheet, her heart thundering in her throat. How had a lighthearted bet become… this?
It doesn’t have to be romantic (though if you did feel that way, it’d be perfectly fine). Just how you feel in general. I get curious of people’s impressions of me.