Collar And Chain
By K.A. Faul
Mina tugged at the collar around her neck. No matter how many times she told herself it was fashionable, she couldn’t escape the truth. The collar represented the power that Ransetta, Queen of the Unseelie Fae, now held over her. Even if the faerie hadn’t shown up either in person or in Mina’s dreams the last few weeks, she was out there, waiting.
That cold reality didn’t make Mina regret her choice to accept the collar. Giving up her freedom to save Anna from dying wasn’t even a hard choice. Perhaps Ransetta thought it would be, which if it were true, meant the faerie queen didn’t understand Mina at all.
That was one of the few weapons Mina might be able to use in the eventual struggle. She wanted to believe that Ransetta would forget about the collar and not come for her for decades, but her instincts told her that wasn’t true. All the Dark Queen’s ranting about how it was “almost time” didn’t feel like an ageless faerie being confused about mortal time.
No, if the beginning of using Mina as a tool of humiliation remained far in the future, there was no reason Ransetta would have insisted on the collar so soon. Every day that passed represented a potential opportunity for the young werewolf to escape or a chance at intervention from other faeries.
The worthless faerie her father brought up from Portland might have been too afraid to help, but there were bound to be others interested, maybe even the Seelie King, Kailen.
Mina tried to keep a snort from escaping at the thought.
That guy’s been in my dreams, too. Sure, he’s not been messing with me or doing much more than showing up, but that doesn’t change the fact that this crap is probably his fault, too. Ransetta must have targeted me because he’s been poking around. She thinks I’m important to him.
“Screw Kailen!” Mina snarled, pressing herself into the black leather of Linh’s couch.
Linh laughed from a nearby chair, lowering her phone. “Okay, that answers that.”
Mina’s face heated. They’d been chatting about her upcoming birthday. Linh had been scrolling through the net in silence for a couple of minutes, looking over some possibilities.
“Answers what?” Mina asked, her face still on fire.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Wow. If some crazy Unseelie Queen totally screwed me over, I’d be pacing a new hole in my floor thinking of ways to get revenge, but Mina, the Queen of Confrontation, is so chill, it’s like she’s another woman.’” Linh cleared her throat. “And then I thought it was because your birthday was coming up, and you had something to distract you.”
Mina shrugged. “I figured that was the best way to handle it. There’s no way for me to easily confront Ransetta about this, so my typical headbutt first and ask questions later strategy isn’t going to help me handle it. So I was trying my best not to bitch about it to you.”
Linh pursed her lips, silent for a few seconds as she considered what her friend said. “Don’t.”
“Don’t?” Mina responded, mentally pushing back against her instinctive fight response. “Care to elaborate on what it is that I’m not supposed to be doing? Not go after Ransetta? I get that she’s powerful, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let her do what she wants.”
Linh shook her head. “Don’t hold back.” Concern passed over her face. “There’s no reason to hold back after everything that’s happened, especially with me, Mina. I get that me knowing from the beginning wouldn’t have saved you, but at least if you share your burdens with me, I can cut down on your stress.”
“Whining about it won’t get this damned thing off, and it’ll just piss everyone off. It’s like you said. I’m the Queen of Confrontation and a good contender for Queen of all Bitches. I might have my reasons, but I’m not deluded enough to pretend that a lot of people don’t still think of me that way, regardless of the Blessing of Rogan or what happened during the Grand Hunt and with Anna, and this is one time I don’t need more enemies.”
Linh scoffed. “This isn’t you complaining about Golden Burger changing from crinkle-cut fries, a crusade I supported you in, if you recall. This is some faerie queen screwing with you. You’ve earned at least a little right to complain, and keep in mind, your dad is treating this as an attack on the clan. And it damned well is. At least the Hunters and True Breed who messed with you were rogues. This is a queen. She knows better.”
“The Unseelie Queen, though. I don’t understand a lot about how the faeries organize things, but from what John has told me, the Unseelie and the Seelie basically don’t talk to each other if they can avoid it. They aren’t fighting, but it’s kind of like a faerie cold war. Besides, it’s not that bad.”
Linh looked dubious and pointed to the collar. “That?”
“Are you saying that because it’s not rainbow-colored and covered with unicorns?”
Mina laughed. “No, the entire situation.” She stuck her feet on the edge of the couch, her boots already off and at the door at Linh’s insistence. “It’s kind of weird. It’s always at the edge of my mind, but it’s not pissing me off like it should, and you know me. Everything pisses me off. I’m frustrated, but the minute it floats up, it’s like I can’t even grasp it in my mind, and it floats away. Annoying, but not rage-inducing. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to it.”
Linh made a pained face. “That sounds like you’ve given up. That’s another thing you can’t do, Mina.”
Mina dropped her feet and sat up. “I’m not giving up. I just can’t do anything right now, so I’m trying not to worry about crap I can’t change. Isn’t that the mature and logical thing to do?”
“Not worrying makes sense, but if you really don’t want to think about it, that’s all the more reason to think about something else, then.”
Mina gaze shifted from the ceiling back to her friend. “Like joining a pack?”
Linh rolled her eyes. “You know how much I care about packs. That’s one thing I love about being a raven. There’s none of that. Having a whole other level of annoyance beyond family and flock would drive me nuts.”
“I know you’ve never cared about packs, and now you’re just like every wolf in Golden Oaks.”
Mina shrugged. “No one cares now. At first, I thought it was just because a lot of the wolves are gone, but even John stopped bitching at me. All that complaining, and now it’s like…” Her brow furrowed. “It’s like I’ve got a terminal disease, and everyone is worried if they say something, they’ll remind me of it, and I’ll burst into tears. Before he left for Idaho, even Garett was being—” She laughed. “I wouldn’t say he was being nice, but he was being less of a dick, and that’s saintly by his standards.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Linh said, an incredulous look on her face. “You’re upset because people are being nice to you?”
“I’m not upset. It’s just weird.” Mina shrugged. “And I don’t want people’s pity.” She groaned. “You’re right. I’m thinking about this stuff more than I should.”
“Your birthday,” Linh said. “That’s what you should think about. That’s what we both should be doing. You might as well seize a little happiness where you can.” She offered Mina a forced smile. “I know it’s not the optimal scenario with almost all our friends out of town on jobs for your dad, but Sean, Anna, and your dad are here at least. I get it. Tension on the borders, Ransetta, all the standard crap always going on in the world. If you really are keeping this faerie garbage at the edge of your mind, there’s no reason for you not to have some fun. It’s a way of saying, ‘Screw you, Ransetta. You don’t own me. This dog is going to piss all over your castle!’” The raven blinked and scratched her cheek. “Does she even have a castle?”
“I don’t know. She’s a queen, shouldn’t she?”
“But she’s a faerie. Maybe she lives in some huge tree or something.”
They both pondered the possibilities. Mina imagined everything from a forbidden fortress in the sky with its own dark storm surrounding it to a deceptively peaceful forest glen where unicorns frolicked.
Mina shook her head. She didn’t care where Ransetta lived. Knowing wouldn’t help. Linh was right. She needed to focus on something else.
“Have you found anything cool on your phone yet?” Mina asked. “For my birthday?”
Linh’s face brightened. “There are possibilities, even with most people out of town, but I don’t know. Maybe you, Sean, Anna, and I could all go to Seattle.”
Mina smirked. “I bet you’d like that. Somehow, I’m guessing it’d end with Anna and I staying behind at a restaurant while you and Sean find a hotel. You have to be careful. She doesn’t know yet.”
“I’m not going to leave you behind on your birthday, Mina. I thought it might help to get you out of Golden Oaks, at least for a day.”
“I’m not saying no.”
Linh looked back and forth, a suspicious look on her face. She leaned forward. “Maybe this is totally hypocritical, but I also wanted to let you know, I’m going full Messenger on this whole thing. I was saving telling you until your birthday because I wanted to have something useful to give you as an additional gift, and I haven’t managed it yet.”
“I’m confused, Linh. How are you going ‘full Messenger’ on my birthday?”
“I’m not talking about your birthday. I’m talking about Ransetta. I’ve got contacts, you know?”
“Don’t you mean Darius’s contacts?”
Linh snorted. “No, I’ve got my own contacts. That’s part of what I need to leave my apprenticeship anyway, proof that I can do things without Darius always telling me what to do. I’m not going to pretend I’ve got as many contacts as Darius does, but I’ve been taking trips when I can and trying to see if I can find someone to help. I’m not explaining the total situation to random people, just exploring if anyone knows anything useful about beating this kind of magic.”
“Any luck?” Mina couldn’t help the faint desperation creeping into her voice.
Linh sighed and shook her head. “Not yet. The few mages I’ve talked to said that my best bet is talking to a faerie, and the one faerie I’ve talked with said he didn’t want to get involved, and if someone had ended up cursed by faeries, ‘it was their fault for being stupid.’”
“This bitch has been stalking my dreams for months, and the stupid Seelie King has been doing it for longer, and Ransetta purposefully targeted one of my friends. Yeah, yeah, totally me being stupid.”
“You know I don’t agree, right?”
Mina took a deep breath and slowly let it out, her heart beating faster than she would have liked. “I know, Linh. I also know you’re doing everything you can to help me. I’m just pissed because I’ve accepted there’s not going to be an easy way out of this situation, but I refuse to accept anyone putting the blame on me for Ransetta’s bullshit.”
Linh laughed. “I guess it’s a good thing you haven’t come along on any of these little investigations. You’d end up punching out some other faerie, and then we’d end up with another faerie gunning for you.”
“Screw them all. There’s only one reason I’m not finding some angel to carry me over to Esper right now.”
“What is that?”
Mina offered her friend a hungry grin. “The one thing I do know about this situation is that I don’t have to track down Ransetta. She’ll come after me. All I need to do is be ready when she comes.”
Just need to be patient.
When another half-hour of birthday pondering didn’t turn up anything appealing, Mina decided to go have a chat with her father. Among other things, she needed to establish the possible limits of birthday activities.
We’re close to a war, and I’m thinking about birthdays. I get Linh’s point, but it still seems weird, but they’re also already preparing for the next Rite of Passage, and Dad keeps saying that life should go on.
Mina zipped up her jacket as she continued up the street. A few patches of snow remained here and there from a storm a few days prior, but the late southwestern-Washington February was more defined by almost solid gray dominating the skies and perpetual drizzle.
An Unturned who worked at the gas station passed by her and offered a polite nod. She nodded back.
It’s like the entire clan is holding its breath, waiting for the violence.
Ransetta might have played coy about how much influence she had on recent clan events, but Mina, and her father for that matter, held no doubt that the faerie queen was responsible for all the instability affecting the territory. The attack on Mina had personal significance, but she was just one victim of many.
Mina threw open the double doors leading into townhall and waved at the receptionist before heading to the hallway leading to her father’s office.
“And I don’t think that is acceptable!” her father thundered, his voice echoing down the hall from the main townhall meeting room.
Probably should have closed the door if you were going to rage, Dad. Classy.
Mina winced, slowed her pace, and looked over at the receptionist, who was ignoring it with the cool detachment that came from years of being an Unturned having to work for a werewolf city council.
“We can’t change what he said by being pissed about it,” replied another man.
Mina recognized the voice as Hank, another member of her dad’s pack and a city council member.
“These creatures think they can do anything they want and get away with it,” growled Mina’s father. “I’m tired of it. They need to pay for what they’ve done.”
The furtive whisper of the Keeper of Rituals and her cousin, John, came next. A few seconds later, someone closed the door to the meeting room. Mina assumed it was more out of concern for someone learning about werewolves than concern over her dad’s anger.
Like anyone would really figure out what you were talking about, and even if they do, what would they do about it?
Mina folded her arms and leaned against the wall. She’d wanted to chat with her father, but storming into a heated meeting full of angry werewolves wasn’t conducive to anything but someone getting punched, and she’d feel compelled to punch back.
A few minutes passed with muffled shouting before the door opened and the pack filed out, several red-faced. They walked down the hall, their expression softening when they spotted Mina. Everyone offered the obligatory nod, including John, until no one was left in the meeting room but her father.
When he didn’t emerge after another minute, Mina walked into the room. Her father sat at the head of a long black table, a grim expression on his face. She closed the door behind her as he looked up.
“I wasn’t really coming to talk about this crap,” Mina said, “but we might as well get it over with now.”
Her father nodded slowly. “The Pacific Wing have been loyal allies in these difficult times. Asking them to send a Far Caller to contact the Seelie over the incident was always a long shot, but…”
He growled. “The arrogance.” His hands curled into fists. “The pride of the damned Seelie King. He thinks he’s God.”
Mina nodded. “I’m the last person to defend Kailen. As far as I’m concerned, this is all his fault to begin with, but you didn’t seem all that pissed at him yesterday.”
“Darius brought a message from the Far Caller the Pacific Wing sent to Esper. Even though the raven left weeks ago, it took him time to get a message through to the Seelie King and a response. The Far Caller hurried back after that.” Her father snorted. “The faeries think they’re so above us.”
Mina swallowed, her stomach tightening and her heart kicking up, even though she already had a good idea of the answer to her question. “And what did the king say?”
Her father looked down and took a few deep breaths, but that didn’t purge any of the anger from his contorted face. “We might be wrong. Some underling might have thought he was doing the king a favor by pushing us away with the response. We could send another Far Caller and demand a direct audience with Kailen. Or I could go directly.”
“What did the message say, Dad?”
He lifted his head and locked eyes with his daughter. “He doesn’t care. I’ll quote what they told the Far Caller as Darius related to me. I think I’ll remember these words for the rest of my life. ‘In regard to the inquiry about the werewolf girl who has been afflicted by Ransetta, this incident isn’t relevant to the Seelie. We do not control the Unseelie, nor will we be made to pay for any crimes you attribute to them. It is up to you to take it up with the Unseelie and seek proper restitution. We would suggest, kindly and in the spirit of avoiding future incidents, that werewolves should know better than to spend time around Unseelie Fae.’”
Mina blinked. “Wow. That’s a straight-up bitch slap.”
Her father slammed his fist hard against the table, the thud reverberating throughout the entire piece of furniture. “How dare they?” He gritted his teeth. “They think they’re safe because they’re on Esper, and we’re on Earth and divided. They forget what and who we are. Just like the others forget.” His hands turned white from the tight pressure as he continued to squeeze.
“What others are you talking about? The spellslingers?”
Her father shook her head. “The Clan Council is weak. Despite my efforts and our representative’s efforts, they’ve made their position clear.”
Mina sighed. “I’m pretty sure I already know what it is, but why don’t you lay it out for me?”
“They aren’t prepared to go to war with the faeries over ‘one wolf.’ They consider you an acceptable loss to maintain the status quo.” Her father shot out of his chair. He picked it up and threw it against the wall, producing a large crack.
Mina blinked. Growing up the daughter of a werewolf king meant you saw your share of anger, but she’d not seen him lose it like this in years.
“Damned cowards, all of them,” her father yelled. “We are wolves. We are the ultimate predator, but they want to cower and pretend it’s not worth it. That we can’t risk angering the faeries, when those faeries think so little of us that they would come to Earth and play with us like toys.”
Mina took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Considering it’s my life on the line, this might sound very weird, Dad, but they’re right.”
The king staggered back as if he’d taken a powerful blow. “What?”
“They’re right.” Mina shrugged. “We are divided, and we don’t have the numbers we had back in the day. We’d have to unite probably dozens of clans to have enough wolves to risk invading Esper, and even if we won, we’d take horrible casualties. Even if they don’t have nukes over there, they have magic, and that’s even worse.”
“I know what’s over there,” her father growled. “I’ve been there.”
Mina sighed and slumped against a wall. She pointed to the collar. “It’s not like I’m happy about this, but the last thing I want to do is be responsible for a bunch of wolves dying to save my ass.”
“You wouldn’t be responsible. Ransetta would. It always goes back to her.”
Mina shook her head. “But you’re missing something important.”
“Something important other than a wolf of my clan and my own daughter being targeted by this faerie?”
Mina blinked at the pure hatred in her father’s face.
All those decades of peace. Dad and John are right. I keep forgetting Dad became king after killing a bunch of wolves who killed other wolves. He’s a loving father, but he’s still an alpha among alphas.
“Dad,” Mina began, swallowing. “I know you’re my father, and I know you love me and want to protect me, but I chose to make the sacrifice for Anna because no wolf should have to suffer for me because of whatever weird-ass reason the faeries have for targeting me. We both know it. For the pack and for the clan, sometimes a wolf has to sacrifice herself. The strength of the wolf is the pack, and the pack can only function if every wolf knows she’s not more important than the pack and clan.”
Her father took a few deep breaths, a low growl escaping. “You don’t have to sacrifice yourself, Mina. I’ll figure something out. This goes beyond you. If the faeries think they can target the daughter of a king, that means they think they can do whatever they want to us. It does nothing but make the Golden Claw look weak.” He scoffed and shook his head. “Some on the Clan Council accuse us of just that, being weak. Others accuse us of the opposite.”
“Being too strong?” Mina asked, not quite following her father.
“No, being like the fae. Lying and deceitful.” The king walked over to the chair he’d thrown and picked it up. It’d survived, even if it had a few new cracks. He set it back down and took a seat, his face still red, but he was now more under control. “They claim it’s a lie, a trick, as if the Golden Claw has ever played in such games. Don’t you see, Mina? This goes beyond just you, even if you are my daughter. This is about the strength of the entire clan.”
“I get that, Dad, but I also—” Mina frowned. “We know Ransetta’s not going to kill me anytime soon.” She let out a dark chuckle. “She’s got plans for me and plans for the Seelie King. I might even get out of this.”
“You expect me, your king and father, to sit around and do nothing while we wait for Ransetta to do what she wants?”
“It’s not about Ransetta doing what she wants. It’s just about me not being used as a tool to further weaken the clan.” Mina pointed at her chest. “I’ll handle Ransetta. Somehow.”
Her father barked out a mocking laugh. “Mina, there’s more to winning against the Dark Queen than being stubborn.”
“Maybe, but if she were as powerful as everyone’s acting, she wouldn’t have had to do the bullshit trick to get this on my neck.” Mina tugged at her collar.
“She’s the Unseelie Queen, Mina, not some rogue hunter in the forest. That’s the only reason I’ve not already taken packs after her.”
“I know, Dad, but I also know from everything I’ve been taught that every enemy has a weakness. We already know one of them: arrogance. She already thinks she’s won, and so I figure we let her continue thinking that. She’ll let her guard down.” Mina sighed and walked over to her father. “It’s not like I’m not freaked out by this, Dad, but I’m doing what everyone, from Thomas to John, always wanted. I’m putting the clan first.”
Her father looked down, all his previous fire drained out. “If you die, I will kill her, even if I have to go to Esper by myself.”
“Don’t worry, Dad. She’ll be dead before you get your chance.”