Morriell Meadowsweet stepped out the back entrance of the Trixie Pixie into the crisp night air, adjusting the straps of his satchel more securely onto his back. The relief of quitting time was almost intoxicating; he breathed in the cool, sweet air, and exhaled hard, letting the tension from a ten-hour day over a hot stove drain away. The Trixie Pixie was the most popular nightclub in Faewyne Village. It attracted all denizens, male and female, far and wide, from all walks of life. There was anything for anybody inside those walls, as well as out.
“Morri! Just the elf fella I been lookin’ for,'' Angus Peach called boisterously, stumbling and inebriated, out from behind the club’s dumpsters shared with the upscale Unicorn Cafe next door.
“Hey! Peachy! How did you get your ugly mug through the door?”
Peach threw his head back in a hardy laugh. ”You know those little pixies can’t resist my charms.” He grabbed himself like a provocative exclamation point. Fucking werewolves, Morri thought, mildly disgusted, but he could not put the man completely at fault. Lycanthropes were naturally hot blooded creatures, and Angus Peach had been a hump-anything-that-moves scoundrel long before he ever turned furry. He was a frequent flier at the Pixie and one of Morri’s most loyal customers.
“So, Morri, my buddy, my friend... what’s the latest merchandise? Well’s getting a little dry if you hear what I’m saying.”
“Yes, yes, I hear you, my guy,” Morri dismissed as he pulled his pack of cigarettes from the breast pocket of his chef coat, popped two of the slender sticks from their home and into his mouth. “I am waiting on a shipment.” He snapped his fingers at the tip of the cigarettes and they sparked to life as he pulled greedily on one and handed Peach the other.
The men stood in a comfortable silence as they pulled on their cigarettes, allowing the smoke to fill their lungs and shoot straight to their heads. The cigarettes were a special, magically induced brand called Fireweed, that Morri had smuggled from his home world on Faery. It came from the strongest Elven fireweed that was grown deep within the protection of the Darkling Forest. It gave the user, with the magical fortitude to handle it, a light buoyant high and the feeling of true bliss. If magically inclined, it gave the user temporary access to the full potential of their own power. In humans, however, it gave them access to the magic of the fae; the effects were more addictive, and almost always fatal if they were not magically adept enough to withstand the effects. Morri had skyrocketed to the top of pushers in Faewyne because his suppliers had the most tolerable effects on the mortal consumers.
Angus Peach was not like those weak-minded, power addicts, he could quit whenever he wanted. Peach was the life of the party, the alpha of the pack. He was not a man to comprehend the word no. “What d'ya mean waitin’ on a shipment? I know ya always have some put to the side.”
“Not this time, my brother. There was trouble securing my bundle with the last shipment,” Morri said, shifting, suddenly nervous. He fought the urge to look over his shoulder. “I have to be careful.”
“Careful,” Peach snickered.
“The Order-” Morri began in a huff, but thought better of it. He started again, “the group I get my supply from does not fuck around, Peach. Understand? I have got to lie low. If they catch on to the scam, they will rip me inside out. Literally.”
Morri took another long pull on his cigarette, held it, then let the smoke billow out from his nose and mouth. Peach eyed him strangely, trying to see past the mask of mock toughness. There was fear in Morri’s eyes, behind his words. Who hooves had he pissed on to get this scared?
“You in some kind of trouble, Morri?”
Morri averted the question. “Here,” he said as he tapped the cigarette pack against his palm, popping out his last two sticks. He tucked one stick into his breast pocket and handed the other to Peach. “Take the free fireweed. I’m beat, I’m going home. Come see me in a couple of days and I will have something real sweet for you. But for now, fuck off.”
With that, Morri turned his back on the seething werewolf, walking away with the sound of a low threatening growl ringing in his ears. Werewolves were at their most volatile right before the full moon. It was not always smart to piss them off because any kind of extreme emotions can bring on the change early. Morri could not have cared less in that moment if Angus Peach had turned himself inside out. He just wanted to go home.
The village streets were quiet as all the other shops and eateries had turned down their lights hours earlier. The Trixie Pixie was for the after-partiers, the nightcrawlers; it kept its lights on for the denizens looking for a nice, long howl at madam Moon, human and non-human alike. Morri weaved his way up and down the back streets of Faewyne Village, fighting the eagerness he felt for the cocoon of his home and bed. He lived on the edge of town, in a two-bedroom beachfront mound, only a twenty-minute walk either way. Walking in a near dream state, as the full effects of the cigarette settled all the way in, he felt giddy and floaty and damn near invincible as the power of the fireweed surged through him.
Morri walked through the ass crack of downtown, nightly, though it had lost much of its whimsy many moons ago. To most who had grown up in the true hills of Faery, Faewyne was no better than a knock-off, rundown version of the world, it echoed. Everyone knew you had to be lost, kidnapped, or an addict to be caught wandering alone there. The denizens did not take too kindly to wanderers roaming their streets.
The alleyways were illuminated by the newly installed, motion activated Sun-orbs that floated 10 feet into the air. The Sun-orbs served as more than just street lights. They were also alarm systems; they were a new attempt by Faewyne Village leadership to decrease the rising crime threat that had culminated in three murders over the last six months; all drug related, all denizens Morri had known. The sun-orbs were a vast improvement, but even they had trouble aligning to the wild magic of the land. They still had their kinks to work out.
Sweet, warm relief flushed through the tired elf as the sign and entrance to his mound complex came into view. The Dune Mounds were the grandest of all the fae housing mounds in the village. It was the most coveted because of its waterfront allure and spacious ocean themed charm. He gazed through the darkened archway entrance to the round, stilted mound beyond. It looked ethereal and sleepy, cast in the glow of silver moonlight; the sound of the waves crashing on the beach beyond was like a lullaby beckoning him; he was almost home.
“Morriell Meadowsweet,” said a voice, just above a whisper in the wind.
Morri tripped over his feet as his steps faltered just before pushing through the dark bush archway. He turned, trying to look through the stupor of a long workday and the waning effects of his enchanted cigarette. He scanned the streets, but everything looked to be long asleep. They were nearly black, as even the Sun-orbs had faded because of inactivity. He was alone, he told himself, yet the dragonflies in his stomach called him a liar.
Turning back to walk through the archway, Morri shook his shoulders, trying to chase away the shivering sensation of being watched. He was determined not to stop until he made it inside. All locks bolted, all protection spells set. Eagerness to cleanse himself from the stink of the day, pull on his oversized sweatpants, and fall asleep watching the latest episode of his favorite show surged like electricity through his body. He rarely had much to say about the mortal magic of television, only recently introduced to this land, but he had his guilty pleasures just as any other denizen.
Morri pushed his way through the overgrown archway. A sudden tingling feeling that rushed all throughout his body surprised him. It was not painful, but intense. When he emerged on the other side, instead of walking up the sand-tracked walkway to the front door of his building, he walked into the center of a temple-like enclosure deep within a forest. Familiarity struck him like a brick to the head; he knew exactly where he was. In the heart of the Darkling Forest. He was home, though not the home he had been longing for.
In the center of the enclosure stood a bloodstained altar of white oak wood and unicorn bone. Five slabs lay in a circle around the altar, all equal distance between the altar and each other. Surrounding the perimeter of the enclosure were several tall torches blazing like fierce and obedient soldiers at attention.
The voice boomed from just behind him. Morri whirled around, heart strangled in his throat. The archway had disappeared, and he was staring up at his business partner and supplier, High Priest Leonel Pierce. “Shit,” he swore with every bit of feeling in his bones.
A cacophony of laughter ranging from giddy amusement to bat-shit insanity cackled through the air like a badly rehearsed chorus. A wind picked up, dancing through the trees surrounding the enclosure, and blowing Morri’s straight black hair back from his face. He knew this power; he had felt it before.
“Did you think you could outsmart us forever, Morriell?” Leonel could see the fear Morri tried to hide all over his face, and he was well pleased.
High Priest Leonel Pierce lorded above the enclosure and all who stood within it. He wore robes of royal purple and gold, with a crown of golden holly leaves atop his head. His most loyal disciples from the Order Of Divinity surrounded him. They materialized from the very wind, clothed in shining black robes with purple accents and crimson sashes tied around their waists. Their hoods were large and deep and covered their entire heads, leaving their faces as nothing but black holes.
“How did you find me?” Morri kept his cool, even as his pulse threatened to jump out of his mouth. They surrounded him. There was no way out. They had caught up with him at last.
Another chorus of that spine-tingling laughter sang again on the wind and trees. Morri fought the urge to shiver. The effort made him clench his fist and a fine tremble ran up his arms.
“Stupid elf thug,” Leonel guffawed as gleefully as a schoolgirl, “we never lost you.” At Morri’s look of confusion he added, “also we may have caught a little werewolf by the toe.” At that, another chorus of laughter filled the enclosure.
“What do you want, Leonel,” Morri barked, his anger washing away any lingering fear. “Enough with this power play griffin-shit. Do what you are going to do.”
A swift but solid punch to the stomach, by a rush of icy wind, surprised Morri. It took his breath and nearly knocked him on his ass. He doubled over, coughing and spitting a bit of blood into the dirt. Shouts of, “how dare you” and “betrayer” and “punish the traitor!” filled the wind the same way the laughter had. The winds of power whipped at him, slicing his back and shoulders. The pain was biting and immediate, but Morri did not fall. He did not cry out.
“Be still, brothers and sisters,” Leonel cooed, and the wind died down. He descended the steps of his Priest’s Throne to stand before the elf-man he had once called brother. He raised his hand to the back of Morri’s neck and bend him down to touch their foreheads together. Leonel rested there for a moment, not overtly threatening, but Morri could feel the power in the other man’s hand; Leonel could and would rip out his spine with his bare hand if he had the desire to.
“It has been such a very long time since we last spoke, old friend.”
“Yet, rumors have reached my ears, that you have been a busy little elf. That you may have uncovered a rare treasure we have long searched for.”
At that, Morri said nothing. He concentrated on schooling his reaction. He did not want any involuntary movement to give Leonel the clue that the rumors he had been hearing were completely true.
“We are brothers, Morriell, are we not?”
“I thought as much. Once.”
“Then, please. Tell me. Why have you betrayed me, brother?”
“Betray seems a bit harsh, Leo,” Morri asked in mock innocence. “I prefer the term lying through omission.”
He was answered with another hit to the stomach. This time Leonel took the pleasure of using his hands, shoving his own power into it for extra measure. The blow put Morri on his knees, heaving up another mouthful of blood.
“E-enough,” he breathed, once he had the air to do so. “Enough, ok. I will get you your cut from the fireweed I have been skimming-”
“No, Morriell!” Leonel reached down and grabbed Morri up to his feet, holding the half dead elf-man with little to no effort. “I do not give two shits from a centaur's ass about the fireweed! That has always strictly been a means to an end.”
Leonel shook Morri so hard his head felt like it might pop right off his shoulders. He wondered vaguely if he vomited all over Leonel’s robes if that would make him let go. Probably not.
“If not the fireweed, then what?”
Morri was certain he knew what Leonel's grievance was, but he would not speak of it first. He knew he would take this secret straight down to Hel if he had to.
“I know you have located the Primordial Flame, Morriell. And you killed our fourth in order to hide your treachery!”
The wind whirled up again and with it the accusing voices of the Order shouting, “she’s dead!” and “it’s your fault” and “you did it!”
“The fireweed was meant to awaken the Primordial Flame and bring it home. I felt the power of its awakening on your watch, and where is it now? You choose to steal it from the Order. Now our fourth is dead and the greatest source of power in the entire cosmos is in the wind.” Leonel sneered to himself at his obvious play on words. “Where is it, Morriell? Where is the Primordial Flame?”
As bruised, broken, and bloody as he was, Morri met Leonel's cruel, eager eyes with nothing but stony silence. Leonel’s frustration exploded through his cool exterior at Morri’s non-compliance. He laid his hand on Morri’s chest, then slowly began to close it into a fist. Morri could feel Leonel’s fist squeezing his heart from inside his chest. The pain was excruciating; it robbed his breath and brought him gasping to his knees. He threw his head back to scream his agony, but no sound came out.
“Speak, you elven fool! Tell me where it is! Tell me what it is!”
“It is something you could never comprehend. It is the true essence of power and I hid it in the safest place in the Cosmos.”
“You will pay for this insult, for your wanton betrayal!” Leonel all but spat into Morri’s face from mere inches. He pulled Morri that short distance to him and hissed,” you will pay for breaking my heart, brother.”
Morri saw a flash of true pain flicker across the other man’s eyes so quickly it was almost like it had never been there. But it had been there, Morri had seen it. And it broke his own heart.
Then Leonel’s eyes turned cold and empty, as though he let go of what little soul he had left. “Take him,” he said, simply, and threw Morri backwards to the mercy of the winds.
The strength of the ice-cold wind snatched Morri up nearly to the top of the canopy. It tossed him about wildly, slamming him into the hardness of the ground, then flinging him onto the stone slab of the altar. Vines like rope sprang out from the ground and grabbed his arms and legs as he fought to keep himself free. He knew the price he was about to pay and he would be damned if they took him easily. He fought until the last ounce of strength left him panting and weak.
The vines held Morri’s hands and feet tight, stretching him spread eagle on the cold, blood-soaked stone slab. His eyes looked around wildly as the disciples narrowed in around him.
“Leonel, please-”Morri began, but a vine across his mouth cut his words short. He was well and truly stuck. This truly was his end.
A strange sort of peace settled within Morri at the acceptance of his imminent death. He felt himself truly surrender to the knowledge of it and it was ok. What Leonel failed to realize was that if Morri died, the truth died with him. He decided at that moment that was ok; he decided it was just right. Morriell Meadowsweet never quite had the honor to live a decent life. Perhaps he had just enough honor to die a decent death. For he knew, High Priest Leonel Pierce, nor his Order Of Divinity, must never discover the secret of the Primordial Flame; Leonel could never know the Primordial Flame had been made flesh.