October 28, 2000

This aside takes place during the events of A Culling of Shadow. It involves characters from Wind Slinger.  is unpublished, save here.

This bit gives a hint as to the direction of future Herald stories, as well as provides context for A Culling of Shadow.

“I look like an idiot.”

The young man looked in the mirror, his face askew. Midnight colored hair dye dripped down from his scalp, leaving runnels of shadow on his face.

“I mean…” The taller man shrugged, a bit helpless. “It was a brave try, Bax. I gotta hand it to you.”

“We should just let Jax be the goth,” Baxter grumbled. “I don’t know how he rocks this look.”

“Glamour.” Rehl dabbed at drops of dye that had splattered against the sink. “I think he could dress like a transient and still be hot.”

“It’s something to do with Liz, isn’t it?” Baxter wiped at the dye on his forehead. “He waxes on about her being glamour-born.”

“Man, I dunno.” Rehl shook his head. “Guns. My job is handling the guns. I’m just a dumb tank.”

“He'll arrive soon.” Alicia bopped past them, toward the front counter of Knucklebones. “Siouxsie and the Banshees will play in two hours.”

“We know.” Baxter teased at his hair and then snarled. “This is useless. I need to wash this out.”

“You need a hat,” Rehl chuckled. “If you think you’re going to get your hair back before the concert, I can assure you—”

The front door chimed.

“There’s our guest," Rehl smiled.

“Fuck me,” Baxter despaired. “Keep him up front? I don’t want him to see me looking like the victim of a printer explosion.”

“He wouldn’t say anything.” Rehl sniggered.

“No,” Baxter moaned. “He’d… opine it or some shit. He’d prattle on in iambic pentameter how the world was lost. How in the once days the noble children of men understood hair care.”

“Fine,” Rehl chuckled. “Get clean. I’ll go up front.”

“I look like an asshole.” Baxter turned the water in the sink on as hot as it would go.

Rehl stepped down the hall to the front room. Alicia leaned against the counter there, her red hair braided to hang down past her shoulders. Jax—

Jax didn’t exactly stand in a place, he occupied it, defining the room by his presence. Tonight he wore thick leather boots, spiked bracelets, and face paint. His dark hair shone lustrous, curling toward roguish.

His smile looked as if it could cut.

“—hoped I might have a moment where we could chat.” Alicia gazed at the faery. For just a moment, her eyes glinted silver, all around the edges.

Rehl froze in place.

Abriel didn’t often make an appearance so suddenly. When she did, he preferred to keep out of things. Abriel could be dangerous. She almost never came with good news.

“Bright lady, your pleasure is ever mine,” Jax purred. He gave the slightest of bows. “Your company is autumn sweetness.”

“It’s about this,” she said, staring down at her old, ragged book. The title read “Goblin Market” and displayed the author’s name, Christina Rossetti, in gold leaf.

“Whatcha got?” Rehl stepped closer, peering. It looked as if the book contained one long poem.

“Oh.” Jax stopped in place, still as an October night. His eyes went a touch wide. “Oh, dismal shades of ever-winter.”

“Jax?” Rehl glanced up at him.

“I thought you might know it,” Alicia said. “It’s a famous poem.”

“True lore, hidden 'neath your iron-sotted eye,” Jax said. “Some child of Winter, no doubt. Stealing glamour from the Motley.”

“What If I told you I’d seen a Goblin Market? In the Bronx?” Alicia shut the book.

“I’d never wager you to grasp for silver-spun fancies,” Jax said slowly. He did not take his eyes from the book.

“But?” Rehl asked.

“But no, never would I imagine such,” Jax asserted. “Goblin-kind would happily whisk you off, flame hair. Ne'er again to see the sun.”

“They didn’t look like goblins,” Alicia huffed. “But they were ugly, dim little men.”

“I mean, in the Bronx—” Rehl began.

“Simon and Abriel found… victims,” Alicia went on. “People who made the strangest trades. Sometimes hair or a song or a whisper. Kids have vanished.”

Jax winced.

“Sounds something like our Gaunt friend,” Rehl mused.

“No,” Jax responded. “Never think it. Those of the Goblin Market do not capture, nor do they keep.”

“So it is a real thing,” Alicia breathed. She shook her head. 

“Only do they feed.” Jax leaned forward, his eyes dark. “Tricking mortals for their sweet shimmer-shine.”

“Don’t…” Rehl reached for words. “Don’t all of your kind do the same?”

“Monsters lurk in the market's shadows. Fierce. Fell. Merciless.” Jax shook his head. “Not the same. Never.” 

“Simon found this place?” Rehl asked.

“It’s not quite… real,” Alicia said. “It’s hidden in shadows all though the borough.”

“Meanders,” Jax spat. “Doors to ever despairing.”

“So what do we need to do?” Rehl cleared his throat. “Go in all cowboy? Maybe talk to a boss?”

“Whatever foul and fell creature rules there commands them all,” Jax said. “Slaughter the wretched thing, burn it with iron and ash.”

“So we need to find the big-bad.” Rehl nodded. “Too bad we don’t have any leads.”

“We might,” Alicia said. She turned back to Jax. “Have you ever heard of... the Herald of Winter?”

“What?” Jax breathed. “No. Never speak of her. Dead. Ever lost.”

“Not dead,” Alicia went on. “From what Simon has said, the entire market is her demesne. She rules the goblins with an iron will.” 

“Oh…” Jax eyes went wide; his hand trembled. 

“You know that lady?” Rehl asked.

“Coldest Night, yes. Bite and break me, yes.” Jax shook his head.

“That doesn’t exactly sound uplifting,” Rehl went on.

“You have never faced one such as she,” Jax said, looking between them. “Vile. Wicked. Cold.”

“We’ve got Simon and Liz.” Alicia arched one eyebrow. “I imagine we can handle whatever she throws our way.”

“You imagine false, mortal born.” Jax furrowed his brow, his face even more grave. “You imagine fancies that lead to torment and death.”

“We need to discuss this.” Alicia looked to Rehl. “If we get Liz and Simon—”

“Never shall you survive,” Jax went on. “Not without secrets hidden, lore only I do bear.”

“I’m certain,” Alicia went on. “We will ask your counsel, wise Jax.”

“You ask for torment and death.” For a moment the faery looked ill, as if he’d swallowed something truly vile.

“We don’t need to discuss this now,” Alicia smiled. “Perhaps there is another way.”

“That would be best; I swear it so,” Jax said. His smile began to return.

“Tomorrow then.” Rehl clapped one hand against the counter. “We can talk about all this tomorrow, when our fun is done.”

“After the revel fades,” Jax said, his nod coming quicker. “This night I seek Siouxsie. Righteously, I shall mosh.”

“But you will return?” Alicia tilted her head to him. “You will tell us what you know?”

“This I Oath, lady.” He bowed his head, serious. “Nothing less than being beckoned by my sweet Name could keep me elsewither.” 

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