The lower outskirts of Cornwall were home to a long-since abandoned temple. It was one of very few structures of its kind that remained, a crumbling relic to a long-forgotten history. The stone remains had been left to slowly weather away over time. The citizens of Cornwall tried their hardest to stay away from it. It was a place of magick, as well as a rumoured offering site. The average person did not want to go near as a result.
But every rule had its exceptions. For a select number of people, the crumbling ruins of Cornwall were a welcome destination. In the shadow of those ruins, a single figure could be seen dancing among the broken structures.
It wasn’t until one of the pixies drew her gaze to the far side of the ruin, that she finally slowed down. A smirk spread across the girl’s face. She placed her hands to her mouth, making direct eye contact with her brother and causing him to flinch as she called out.
“I can see you, Vainey.”
“I know you’re there. Stop hiding and come out of the bushes.”
“I’m not hiding,” the boy huffed. “I just don’t want to be anywhere close to those things.”
“They’re called pixies, Vainey. And you are being very rude to them by calling them things.”
He threw a dirty look at the pixies in response. Ygraine could see him balling his hands into fists as he saw them flitting around. Ever since the incident with the Church Grim, Agravaine had been incredibly hostile towards everything that their parents couldn’t command. Ygraine let out a sigh. There was no helping it. He would not come out of hiding like this, and Ygraine was not in the mood for dancing while he glared at her through the bushes. The slowly girl stepped out of the faerie circle. The pixies immediately lost interest in her as a result. Within seconds, they had all vanished in the surrounding plants and bushes.
“There. They’ve gone. You can come out now- unless you’d rather keep hiding in the bushes like a common coward.”
“I am NOT a coward!”
“You have a strange way of showing that, Vainey.”
He glared at her in response. With as much reluctance as he could possibly muster, Agravaine began to cross the distance between him and his sister. His signature scowl stayed plastered on his face the entire way. Ygraine had to keep herself from chuckling at the sight of it.
“You shouldn’t be around those things,” he said eventually.
“Why not? They are my friends.”
“So are Gorlois and Oswald, if you give them a sword. Would you tell me to stop being around them, too?”
Agravaine broke eye contact with her, angrily looking down at the ground.
“You know what I mean. Don’t you remember what happened with the Church Grim?”
“…It’s not the same, Vainey.”
“It is! It was scary – and these things are, too! They’re all dangerous. That’s what our priest said.”
“I know, but-”
His expression fell.
“I just… I worry about you, Grainey. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
On any other day, his dejected look might have mellowed her out. But not this time. Ygraine had no patience left for her brother today. Not after he scared off and insulted her new friends. Annoyed, the girl narrowed her eyes at him.
“Well, you can stop worrying now. I can look after myself-”
“No, you cannot!” he suddenly yelled, throwing his hands up as he cut her off. “You could have died last time! It chased us all the way through the cemetery! You don’t know what they’re capable of, Grainey! I’ve been reading – the priest has lent me all of his books so that I could learn about them– and they are dangerous!”
“They’re not dangerous-”
“They so are!”
“Explain this, then!” the girl snarled back, pointing at the faerie circle. “I come here almost every day! I’ve been doing that for weeks! They have never hurt me! It’s not dangerous at all – you just don’t want me to do things that you don’t approve of! You’re just jealous because they like me and hate you!”
“That… that’s not…”
“I’m done talking to you,” Ygraine continued. “You need to go home. Come talk to me when your tantrum is over.”
Her brother turned around. That sneer still plastered on his face as he did so. He threw another dirty glare at the faerie circle behind her.
“They’re not right, Grainey. I just know it. Mark my words – if you keep coming here, you’ll end up getting hurt.”
Growing up, Agravaine had always disliked the chambers of the town church. The heavy stone walls and stuffy air made him feel like a caged animal. His sister and him would slowly lose their breath during sermons, alongside with their patience, absent-mindedly looking through the windows and eager to leave the hall behind.
Now, Agravaine found it comforting. After encountering that thing, the outside world and the mysteries of magic had lost their charm. They felt dangerous. Unpredictable. As a result, Agravaine had developed a healthy amount of fear for both.
In comparison, the heavy stone walls around him felt safe. The scent of smoke and burnt-out candles made him feel protected, like the room had erected a barrier that bad things couldn’t enter through. The religious texts were predictable. A source that he could touch, and consult, and point to. It made him feel calm.
Agravaine often came here to think, reassured by the symbol of the Watcher that hung on the wall.
He felt safe.
He wished he could say the same for Ygraine.
The day’s morning sermon had long-since ended. The benches around him were deserted, with the rest of the townspeople already having returned to their work. It wasn’t until the priest turned around, in the middle of cleaning up, that he realised Agravaine was still there. The young noble watched as he slowly approached.
“Is this seat taken?”
Agravaine shook his head. The elderly priest softly seated himself next to him, looking down on him with kind eyes.
“You look troubled, young master. Is there anything that you would like to confess?”
“No, it’s… it’s not that,” Agravaine mumbled. “I was… I was wondering about… about the things you told me.”
“I see. Feel free to ask me anything. I will aid you to the best of my ability.”
“I was in doubt about… well…”
“…This is about magic again, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Agravaine nodded. “Sort of. Magic and… and faeries. You’ve shown me the stories, but… are… are they really that bad? All of them?”
“Yes, young master. I’m afraid so.”
“Why? Humans aren’t all evil, either…”
Slowly, the kind look in the priest’s eyes faded, being replaced by a grave, serious look.
“Morality has nothing to do with it, Agravaine. In fact, it is the very fact that morality is missing that makes them so very dangerous.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I will try to explain. Imagine this. Every human knows that fire is dangerous and that you need to be careful with it. They’ve either been burnt themselves or have learnt from example. They know how to handle it safely. And they know how to protect others from being harmed by their actions. Some people might choose not to care about harming others. They might choose to ignore it. But even they still have a fundamental understanding.
Now imagine a creature that cannot feel fire. They cannot experience the warmth from an open flame, or the pain of their skin being burnt. They have no idea that fire is capable of harming others. And they cannot relate to the pain of the ones that they hurt.
That is the relationship that every Fae has with the concept of morality. They cannot understand it. And so every action has the potential to seriously harm us, no matter how well-intended or malicious it is. They cannot understand us on a fundamental level. That is why they are so dangerous, Agravaine. Not because they are evil. But because they will burn us down without a second thought.”
Agravaine could feel a strange sense of dread well up from the pit of his stomach. A terrible unease that swelled with every second. Grasping at straws, the young noble turned towards the priest.
“But… but they like some people, right? They’d be okay, right? Right?”
But the priest shook his head.
“No, Agravaine. It is quite the opposite. The people that are favoured by the Fae are the ones that need to be protected the most.”
“Fae do not love in the same way that humans do. They are incapable of it. They lack the ability to understand that which comes naturally to us- maternal love, deep friendship, familial relationships. They cannot comprehend it. The only way their affection is ever shown is through possessiveness. And that is why the ones they favour are constantly in danger.”
“What.. what does that mean?”
“It means that, if they are ever given an opportunity, they will try to take them away.”
“You’re just jealous because they like me and hate you!”
“The Fae are as unpredictable as they are dangerous, Agravaine. Those of us that are disliked may never draw their attention. But those that do are infinitely worse off. Sooner or later, they will be taken away from us-“
“And we will never see them again.”
As soon as the priest had uttered that last sentence, Agravaine had bolted out of the church hall.
His heart was hammering in his throat. Agravaine could feel an iron knot of fear clamp onto his stomach, squeezing him from the inside and filling him with a horrible feeling of dread.
He had to get back to Ygraine.
The temple ruins were a good thirty-minute walk away, and the young noble was not the athletic type. His lungs were burning. He could feel his legs turning to pudding as he sprinted through the town outskirts as fast as he could. He wouldn’t last much longer- but he refused to slow down. Agravaine pumped his legs, forcing down a rapidly worsening feeling of nausea as he dashed towards his sister as fast as he could.
There was still time. He could still get to her.
Before it was too late.
She was still there.
This time, Agravaine did not bother concealing himself in the bushes. The young noble ran straight up to where his sister was, shoving past one of the pixies as he reached her.
“Ygraine, get away from them! You’re in danger!”
She smiled at him as he approached; her eyes cloudy and strangely unfocused.
“Vainey, you’re being very rude.”
He swatted at one of the pixies as it approached him, batting it away like a wasp. Agravaine could immediately feel a sharp sting of pain on his hand. He looked down to see a small, bright red spot appear on his palm. For a moment, the young noble was frozen, staring down at the mark in shock. He could hear the words of the priest echo through the back of his mind.
“They will burn us down without a second thought.”
“Really, Vainey, you should stop pouting and join me-”
Something inside of him snapped. Agravaine balled his hands into fists, his knuckles immediately turning white as rage took over. With a determined growl, the young noble lifted his foot-
“What are you-”
“Vainey, stop! Stop! Agravaine!”
But her yelling fell on deaf ears. Agravaine had drowned out everything but the faerie circle in front of him. A white-hot rage rushed through his veins as he tramped the flowers, stomping them into the ground as hard as he could.
They would not take Grainey from him. Not now, not ever.
“Agravaine! Stop! They’ll hurt you if you keep going!”
“So you admit it!” he screamed, his rage reaching finally a boiling point. “They are dangerous! They’re all dangerous! Well I’m not going to stand by and let them hurt you! Go away! Go away and leave us alone!”
Agravaine roared, looking down to trample the rest of the faerie circle – and suddenly noticed that he couldn’t move his feet. His legs had gone strangely numb. He couldn’t feel them anymore. From the waist down, all sensation in his limbs had vanished.
He never got to finish his sentence. His left foot suddenly moved forward, stepping through the flower patch on its own. Agravaine had no control over it. He screamed, losing all feeling in his arms as he forcibly crossed into the faerie ring.
“G-Grainey?! What’s going on?! Help m-”
His arm shot upwards, moving on its own like it had been connected to an invisible string. The next second, his foot went up with it. He couldn’t control himself. Agravaine could see a sea of glowing red eyes gather around his body, rapidly closing in on him. The hairs on the back of his neck rose up as dread instantly turned to panic.
“Ygraine! Help me! Please!”
But his sister didn’t answer. Ygraine stood frozen in place, looking on with horror as Agravaine’s body began dancing on its own. He could feel his legs being lifted and slammed back onto the ground, his arms pushed and pulled in all directions. His fingers were almost pulled out of their sockets. His toes curled up in his boots.
And with every forced step that he made, Agravaine could feel a white-hot pain pierce through his body. It was as if he was getting stabbed by a thousand heated needles. The pain was excruciating. His pleas for help to his sister gradually turned into screams. Agravaine tried to break free – but the more he struggled, the more intense the pain became, until he could no longer see his surroundings. The area around him turned into a blur of glowing, red-hot eyes.
He couldn’t see Ygraine anymore.
As Agravaine was tossed around, his limbs commandeered like a puppet on a string, he silently prayed for the Watcher to come save him. For his father to come save him. For Ygraine to rescue him.
But nobody came.
Agravaine wasn’t sure how much time had passed. In his mind, it felt like an eternity. The pain had stopped at some point. Or perhaps his senses had eventually gone numb. Agravaine was forced to dance for hours, his limbs bending in increasingly weird angles as the creatures around him relentlessly toyed with his body.
At some point, the young noble finally began to realise.
They were going to dance him to his death.
“Please stop. You’ve punished him enough. He’ll die if you keep him there – I’ll do anything, I’ll…”
“I’ll owe you a favour.”
The young noble couldn’t hear her – but his limbs stopped moving. Agravaine could vaguely feel himself coming to a halt. The pressure on his fingers and toes disappeared.
The strings were cut.
It took Agravaine a while to regain consciousness. Every inch of his body hurt. He couldn’t move. He was completely exhausted. The rest of his body barely responded, needing an enormous amount of effort just to open his eyes a little bit. Through a hazy fog, Agravaine squinted to make out the scene before him.
She was right there. Agravaine could see her standing over him. His sister was looking down on him, a smile playing on her lips and a strange, distant expression in her eyes.
“Agravaine… please don’t do that again. Ever. All right…?”
She was… smiling.
Ygraine’s form disappeared. The young noble could hear footsteps slowly trailing away from him. He winced, gritting his teeth as he forced himself up from the ground.
He didn’t want to see. He didn’t want to know- in that moment, Agravaine would have given anything to avert his eyes from the truth.
But he couldn’t stop himself.
She was walking away from him… surrounded by faeries.
The very things that had tortured him until the sun came down. She was still with them. Nothing had changed.
In response to his excruciating agony, Ygraine had merely smiled…
And walked away.
And the young noble finally realised.
It wasn’t just them.
It was those that were associated with them, too. Everyone that practiced magic.
They were all a danger.
Because they will burn us down without a second thought.
In his thirteen years of life, Agravaine du Bois had never experienced more than dislike towards another person. But on that day, he came to know a new emotion.