Melissa Niska

“What’s supposed to be happening?” I asked, huddling inside my wool wrap and wishing I’d worn jeans and boots, first impressions be damned.  He didn’t respond, he just stood there staring at the tree as though willing something to happen, and after a full ten minutes I was afraid the Shee was going to disappoint him again.

I glanced down when a thin wisp of white smoke slithered out from the base of the tree, glowing in the filtered light from the narrow crescent moon, and moved toward me.  It thickened, growing denser and expanding, lengthening and I took a step back.

“Stand still,” Cyprian said, holding one hand up to still me and I looked at him, my eyes wide.

He spoke to it in the same language he’d used when fighting the small man on the gondola, and the tip of the smoke sat up and turned in his direction, bobbing back and forth as though smelling him.

“Vampire,” It said in a voice that was unlike any I’d ever heard, a cross between a snake’s hiss and a lover’s whisper. 

“Fae,” Cyprian replied in English, lifting his chin a notch as though daring it to argue, and I wondered how sane it was to argue with smoke.

It turned its attention back to me, moving toward my feet, and I could feel its breath on me, scenting my skin as it wrapped itself around me like a boa.  I held my breath, waiting for it to squeeze the air from my lungs.

“New,” it said, the snake shape dissipating around me with a popping sound to envelop me fully in a heavy white cloud.  It was hard to breathe, and I felt it move down my throat with probing fingers when I opened my mouth to take a deep breath, making it impossible to scream.  I reached out, my hands desperately looking for Cyprian.

Small wisps of smoke wrapped themselves around my arms and pulled, trying to bind me, and the lack of oxygen made me light headed, dropping me to my knees.  When the smoke fled my throat in a burning rush I gasped, sucking in several searing lungfuls of air. 

I felt Cyprian’s hands on my back as he knelt beside me.  I looked up, watching the smoke recede back into the tree, and called after it with a raspy voice.  “Wait!”

The last little tail that was visible stopped, and seemed to look at me, though it had no eyes so I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t looking at its backside.

“We have come to see your Queen.  This is Cyprian, her brother and Fae born to all four Seasons.”  I felt a little odd talking to something so insubstantial, but I also didn’t want to be locked out by sentient fog, “Let us in.”

It seemed to be thinking so I shut my mouth.  I had no idea if I was supposed to have said what I’d said, but Cyprian hadn’t tried anything else so I didn’t see that I’d had a choice.  It hesitated a moment longer before disappearing into the tree and I sagged against Cyprian’s side, asking, “What now?”

Like a whip strike the smoke burst from the tree and enveloped me again, flinging Cyprian back against a nearby tree.  It was blinding in its glaring whiteness, and my eyes watered.  I felt my feet leave the ground, and for a heartbeat I hovered above the damp leaves that littered the forest floor, holding my breath, waiting for it to decide what it wanted to do.

In a split second I felt like I was being hurled through space.  The smoke changed from blazing hot to freezing cold, wet to dry, fragrant to rancid.  All the sensations assaulted me in the swirling fog and with the feeling of being shoved off a precipice I found myself sliding across a finely inlaid wood floor. 

When I came to a stop I stayed very still and fought to catch my breath, feeling disoriented and nauseous from the trip I’d just taken.  Raising myself onto my knees and pressing my hands flat to the floor, I concentrated on my breathing until the urge to vomit passed. 

The area around me was deathly still, though I could feel eyes on me.  I lifted my head slowly, a fine pair of crystal shoes coming into view, peeking out from under the hem of a silver gown. 

Sitting up fully I followed the line of the dress up the body of the woman wearing it, her full hips and narrow waist blossoming with large breasts, and I couldn’t help but notice the crown of ice and jewels in her hair.  The sight of that crown made me sit back on my heels and glance around with the hope of finding Cyprian nearby. 

I saw only other people, and creatures I’d never dreamed of, all staring at me, and I sighed, “Well shit.”