*Featuring characters from "A Message from the City" and "A Trickster's Tea Party"
Iki tugs the loose ribbon free and shakes out her hair. She and Neri, her best friend and confidant, had slipped through the carved stone columns of the Court of Madness's latest bash to catch some fresh air. Through magic, the sights and sounds of the party became dull. If she were to hazard a guess, Iki would say this allowed the few faes not in attendance to enjoy their peaceful afternoon. The King and Queen had spared nothing in preparation for today. The grounds had been transformed tonight with bright colors, tents, food, and dancing. Everywhere she looked, Iki saw stone walkways and carved columns and open spaces. If it weren't for the fact she was on restriction, it would feel free. Iki slumps against the nearest column and sighs. For reasons she still wasn't entirely sure of, Queen Alyvia had made it so Iki could not leave the Court of Madness. "At least I have leave to go to this stupid party," she grouses.
"That woman is so stubborn." Neri huffs. "I know she's a queen and all, but still. What purpose does it serve to force you to stay in the Court?" Neri was still adjusting to the over-the-top eccentricities of the Court of Madness which was easier to adjust to than her cousin being the Queen. She had to sit through excruciatingly long hours of make-up before she was allowed to attend the Festival of Madness. Her hair had curls with two buns on the side of her head that created the formation of small horns. The dresses they wore were matching dark blue and had a Roman aesthetic to the style.
"Thank you!" Iki nods vigorously. "I don't even get an explanation. What's with that?" She finger combs her hair before pulling it back up into a tight ponytail. Iki put up with a lot from the Queen but allowing her minions to touch her hair was out of the question. She dodges around three hooved faes with ram horns. They wore full make-up on their faces with dark designs resembling the phases of the moon. Never being a fan of mimes, Iki was even less than thrilled to see the fae version of them.
"I think she thinks that she doesn't have to do that because she's all queen-like." Neri loops an arm with her friend's. "At least this has given you quality time within the court..." She could spot her cousin in her human form with her blond hair curled into a bun with a 1950s styled hat pinned on top of her head and a dress that was low cut and with trimming reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth the First's collar. She wore a large ruffed skirt and a cape with a design pattern that reminded Neri of snowflakes.
"I have gotten to know some people," Iki agrees, reluctantly choosing to stay positive.
"I'm still working on getting you out. But at least tonight, we can focus on the party," Neri says. She looks around at the trees. The festival took place within the clearing of Madness Falls Forest with rides that towered above the various tents and booths. The Festival of Madness was Queen Alyvia's pride and joy, so much so that she always invites the other Courts to attend. The Ferris Wheel was brightly lit and was flipped upside down, going the opposite direction than the seen in the human world. Several teacups were within the trees to create rides for pixies. Watching them spin around and around made Neri feel queasy. "Are you sure this way went to the fortune tellers?"
"Thanks." Iki hugs Neri briefly. "Yeah," she says, pulling away. "I double-checked with Pascal earlier." She spots the Queen's brother and his husband dancing off to the side, but she didn't see any sign of her boyfriend.
They walk towards the rows of booths positioned within the trees. "I don't see any signs..." Neri peeks into the first booth they approach. The curtains were a shimmering gold and felt like fish scales when she went through them. Inside she sees a large pool of water that had golden balls floating on the surface. The pool was clear enough to see the fish swimming along the bottom and built within the ground. "That looks like a game of ... Are those apples?"
"They're perfectly safe," a woman with golden hair, skin, and eyes says from behind the pair. The two friends jump and whirl around to face her. "Would you care for a taste?"
"No, thank you." Neri backs away from the woman. She learned quickly to be cautious about what food she accepts here. Some foods were harmless, while others could cause hallucinations, curses, and in some cases, death. "We're just looking for the fortune teller."
"Aw," the woman pouts. "I got my hopes up and everything."
"Sorry, but we're meeting someone. We can't seem to find the fortune teller." Neri keeps her hold on Iki. She was more familiar with the fae, but at times, they still made her feel like she would be wise to run the other way. While some were compassionate, others were mischievous and, at times, sociopathic. She quickly learned why they were considered the Court of Madness.
"Neri's already seeing someone, anyway," Iki interjects when it looks like the woman is about to protest.
"Pity," the woman sighs. She turns her back to the pair once she finished rattling off directions. The woman weaves around them and returns to her booth. The friends quickly make their way from the booths to the tents set up the furthest away from the festivities.
"I'm seeing someone anyway?" Neri asks. She laughs and loops an arm with her friend as they walk toward a tent with images of horses on the side.
"You have that thing going on with Kienna," Iki says.
Neri looks back at the woman in the booth. "Wait, you honestly think she was hitting on me?"
"Oh, she definitely was hitting on you," Iki nods. "She wanted you bad." She peers into the tent and catches sight of two faes with horse heads and hooved hands that made her shudder at the sight of them.
"... Really? The apple lady?" Neri shakes her head. "I don't think so."
"Are you kidding?" Iki leans against Neri, grinning. "She was interested, at least."
"... If you say so. Does this way look right?" Neri asks. They had wandered past the tent during their conversation and found themselves within the midst of the trees. They could hear the music from the festival and the manic laughter of the attendees. "I don't think a fortune teller would be out here."
"I think so?" Iki nods at a luminescent vine twined around a tall, fat tree from roots to branches. "That looks familiar. Maybe they want the illusion of fear?" The trees had mist draped around the trunks that spit flecks of snow at their faces. Floating lights emerged from the trees, bobbing around in the formation of a pixie flies when it's drunk.
Neri taps a floating light. "So.... maybe we just need to go that way?" From what she's learned, Will-o-the-wisps guided travelers to safety. They should be safe following them.
"Maybe it's a sign in and of itself," Iki suggests. Stranger things have happened here. "Did Pascal give you my letter? I've been practicing my quill...penship?"
Neri laughs. "And I could read most of it too." She hugs her friend to her side. After Alyvia decided Iki had to stay within the Court, Neri received a strict set of rules for contact and visitation. "I thought it was sweet. I wrote you back, but I got caught when I tried to smuggle it with a cake."
"They kicked you out for bringing a cake?" Iki knew the Court was mad, but that was ridiculous.
Neri glances away. "I may have also... kicked one of the guards... But in my defense, she had it coming."
"Ooh," Iki beams. "Was it Naris?"
"I think so? I can never remember her name." Neri looks around them. The path that the wisps led them down sent them straight to the end of a murky swamp. "I don't think this was the right way either."
"Goat horns and those cool pupils." Iki points at her eyes. She looks around, distracted. "We followed the paths the apple vendor said... and I thought the light things were supposed to be helpful?"
"... But we're not by a fortune teller's tent." Neri waves her hand through the fog. "I think we're lost."
"Unless she lied to us..." Iki laughs at herself. "Right, fae. Can't lie." Though, she's found many ways that they can manipulate, mislead, and misdirect.
"But they can rearrange their trees." Neri huffs. "We're lost. We should go straight and hope to find the party again."
"The last thing we need is to be lost when our friends and allies are all too busy partying to send out a search party," Iki agrees. They turn around with great care, determined to retrace their steps. Knowing their luck, they'll be in the middle of the Deranged Swamp within the hour.