“However, if you keep following the coastline for a week or so, you will come across a city that few mortals have ever laid their eyes on — the city of New Couslock. You will know it when all you can see are the iron walls reaching towards the heavens.”
The old man’s growling voice resonated in her ears, despite the noise of the crowded dockside bar. A hood covered most of Niamh’s dark brown eyes, but anyone looking could tell that they were transfixed on the man across the table from her.
“That, my friend, is where you will find all the fae who have offended the King or members of his family, no matter how small the offense.” He tapped on the table. “That is where you will find the tattoo gun that can change a person’s fate with a few small marks.”
Niamh felt silly to be so serious about finding a tattoo gun that could change a person’s fate, but she needed it.
“You’d think the iron would be rusty, since it’s constantly being battered by the sea breezes, but every wall, every joint is pristine,” he said. His eyes wandered the room while he spoke, glancing past the fae guitar player on stage and a human man fixing a clock in the corner before returning to Niamh’s face.
“So how do I get in?” she asked pragmatically. “Is there a door or something?”
“Well, there is,” he allowed, looking slightly put out by the interruption. “But you aren’t going to be able to get in that way. Not with those ears.”
She caught herself reaching up to self-consciously tug on the tips of her ears, which were pointed just slightly enough to mark her as not-quite-human.
“Okay, so help me out here.” She spread her long, thin fingers on the table and tried to avoid voicing her frustration. “You’ve been in and out of the city, haven’t you?”
“Aye, I have.”
“You promised me information, Raf,” Niamh’s voice hardened. “I need this, and I paid you for it. So pony up.”
He reached into the bag he’d had between his feet under the table. Raphael pulled out a map and unrolled it on the table, unveiling a rendering of a city that Niamh assumed was New Coulslock. Leaning forward to look at it, it was different than she’d expected for a city that doubled as a prison.
“It’s actually laid out like a city,” she remarked. “I’d expected more of a jailing system.”
“The jail part is there,” Raphael explained. “But the locks aren’t visible to the human eye.”
“Giant iron walls and magic locks? What a pain in the ass.”
“No kidding,” he said dryly. “The iron didn’t have any effect on me other than being, well, terrifying. But it will have an effect on you. Any magical abilities that you may be used to will not be usable in New Coulslock.”
“I know that. I’m prepared for that,” She nodded. “We need this tattoo gun.”
“Why do you need it anyway?” he asked, folding his arms across his broad chest.
“That,” she said with a glower, “is none of your business.”
Her gaze bore into his from across the table. After a moment, he narrowed his eyes and leaned forward.
“Fine. I’ll tell you how to get you in.”
Nearly two months later, Niamh and her wife were finally finishing the route that Rafael had laid out. The pair had been pushing The Peddler’s single sail to the fastest pace they could muster.
Emilia, like Niamh, had physical features that made it difficult for them to settle into society in Casmein’s strict social order. You were either fae or you were human, and they were both. Each society kept mostly to themselves. Neither Niamh nor Emilia had found their place anywhere in either society, so they’d created their own on The Peddler.
Emilia’s bronze skin glittered in the moonlight. It was one of the most beautiful sights Niamh had ever had the pleasure of seeing. The first time Niamh had met her, Emilia had been dancing in a tavern that she’d been hired to play for. The rest, as they say, is history.
They had been been traveling together for longer than they’d been married — almost seven years. They mostly made short cargo trips from port to port, taking breaks between them to work at taverns around the continent. Emilia danced and Niamh played the fiddle. This month long venture was one of their longest hauls without breaks. It was also one of the most important, though Niamh hadn’t told her wife why yet.
Until they had hit the wall of mist, the trip had been uneventful and familiar. There had been a good wind, which made it easier on the ship’s engine. The mist was exactly how Raf had described it, and it made the couple uneasy. They’d decided it wasn’t worth sailing through the mist and dark,and had weighed anchor every night at sunset to give the engine a break. It had the bonus effect of allowing them to spend the nights together, which was rare when they were sailing.
“I don’t like the way the engine sounds at the end of the night,” Emilia grumbled after six days of the mist as she and Niamh snuggled into the captain’s bunk. “I think it’s been infested with something. Maybe snails.”
“It hasn’t been infested with anything,” Niamh laughed. “This is just the longest we’ve had it running regularly.”
She placed a kiss on her wife’s temple.
“What are you going to do when we get the machine?” Emilia asked a few minutes later, staring up at the deck above them. “What fate are you going to ask for?”
“Oh, it’s not for me,” Niamh replied quietly. “My fate’s already set, as is yours. We’ve made our choices and I don’t want to change that. I want to be able to change someone else’s fate. Well, if we need to.”
Emilia’s brow furrowed in confusion at the statement.
“Whose fate do you mean, then? We don’t have anybody else.”
Niamh smiled meaningfully at her wife, and moved their intertwined hands to her stomach.