what is, what was
The party took place in a basement flat in Soho. The place sparkled. Lights, glitter and decorations were everywhere, making sure they would have a hell of a job the next day cleaning it all up. The party goers were a lovely mismatch of every London and surrounding fable whom still considered Remembrance Day something to be celebrated. After two hundred years of refuge, that wasn't everyone. Some had even chosen to blend into the mundane population, and forget what had been.
Bruin Brakar couldn't imagine doing that, and he couldn't understand how they'd done it either. He often ran into such fables, and none of them ever seemed to recognize him. Like they had forgotten completely. He shuddered faintly. Was that what happened to those who chose to forget? In the end, they really did forget that they'd been anything other than a mundane?
He knew he wasn't the sharpest of thinkers, but wouldn't that be just another way the Adversary won? If they all forgot who they were and where they came from, then the Adversary would rule the Homelands unchallenged. Forever.
Not a happy thought.
If pretty appropriate for the day.
"Why is your hair blond?" Poppy dropped down beside him in the couch and handed him a beer. Her ash blonde hair was cut in an old fashioned bob and, in honour of the occasion, she was dressed in a leaf green suit "No, wait, don't tell me. I shall use my magnificent psychic powers and find the answer myself ... Mmmm ... Hmmmm ... A-HA! I know! Mikkel put bleach in your shampoo!" She gave him a triumphant look over her own beer. "Am I right, or am I right?"
Bruin sighed. "Yeah. You're right." He opened his can of beer, and took a couple of sips of it. Big and strong, he might be, but he'd learned long ago that Poppy could, and would, drink him under the table given half a chance. He didn't intend to give her the chance.
"Funky looking, what with your colouring." Poppy waved her free hand in his direction.
He looked down at his dark brown hands which matched the rest of his body perfectly, and shrugged. "It'll wear off. Or grow out. Whatever it's called. It's not that bad."
She shook her head at him and opened her mouth. Bruin uncomfortably suspected he knew what was coming next, and hurried to cut her off before she could begin her triade.
"So, er, how far has the presentation gotten? Is it time yet?"
He knew perfectly well that it wasn't. All the kids were still running around like mad men, and they would be sitting still in front of the telly, listening intently, if storytime was coming near. As would Mikkel for that matter.
Since Poppy knew he knew, that didn't stop her for a second.
"Why are you still living with that guy? Seriously. He always does these kinds of things, and you never do anything back. You just sit back and take it. It's embarrassing, it really is." She waved her beer, and stopped abruptly when she realised what she was doing. She gave the beer a worried frown.
"Look, if you won't do anything, can't I do something? That way it'd be all my fault."
His eyes widened in horror. "NO!"
Poppy blinked. "... All right." She was quiet for a moment, drinking beer in a thoughtful manner. "Why not?"
"Because," he said firmly.
She eyed him. "Right."
"We've had this conversation before, you know," Bruin felt it necessary to point out. Every bloody time they met, in fact. He wished she'd find something else to talk about.
"Mhm. There was that time he dyed all your shirts pink, and the time he dyed your hair green, and the time he dyed ... What is it with him and dyes anyway?"
"He gets these kicks," Bruin said. "He used to be really fond of glue."
"Oh, yeah. I remember that!" She grinned in remembrance. Then she poked him. "So why can't I pull a couple of pranks on him? Just a few? Tiny ones?"
"Because I don't want to live in a warzone," Bruin replied, semi-truthfully.
Poppy laughed delightedly, rose and started winding her way through the crowd again, presumably to get another beer.
He leaned back, searching with his eyes for the familiar shape midst the crowd of fables for the first time since the party began. He spotted Mikkel's bright red hair after a few seconds. He was dressed in a maroon suit with a white shirt underneath, holding a champagne glass and talking amicably with ... Bruin winced. The widow Fox. Might as well call her the black widow, considering the amount of husbands she'd managed to put in the ground. Not that anyone would dream of calling her that to her face. No, the widow Fox was respected, she was.
The widow Fox also had long dark red hair, big brown eyes, a figure like Marilyn Munroe and a great big fortune thanks to her various deceased husbands.
She was considered a damn good catch among the London fables.
Bruin shook his head slightly. Surly Mikkel wouldn't be tempted, would he? That'd be like signing his own death certificate. Mikkel was far too clever for that. Mikkel was always clever. So sharp he nearly cut himself, he was. He depended on that.
Bruin had come to depend on it too.
Mikkel laughed at something the widow Fox said, turned his head and saw Bruin looking at him. Green eyes glittered and he lifted his champagne glass in a silent greeting. Bruin lifted his can of beer back at him and was rewarded with a sharp-toothed grin.
For some reason the grin reassured him. Mikkel wasn't suddenly going to lose his wits and start wooing the widow Fox, no, come tomorrow, he'd be back finding new things to dye in peculiar colours. Bruin beamed. It wasn't anything like the Homelands, but it was ... all right.
Mikkel Reynard dazzled the widow Fox with another charming grin, exchanged a few more pleasantries, and left her talking with her maid, Korse. He made his way over to the couch, slowly, but determinedly. Slowly, because he was apparently stuck playing the host, and everybody knew it and clamoured for his attention. Not that they wouldn't have anyway, seeing as he was the foxy-est guy around after all. He smirked. Sometimes he amused himself far too much.
He finally reached the couch, and sat down, resting his feet on the table. Bruin frowned at him. Mikkel didn't pay it any attention. The huntress had finally gone away, and he wasn't going to let Bruin's sense of manners keep him from relaxing a bit. It was hard work, being host. He glared at Bruin. Not that he'd know, the lazy bum.
"Having a good time?" Bruin grinned.
Mikkel narrowed his eyes at him, and decided to dye his boxers purple. "Of course. Socializing. Talking to people. Hosting a party. That sort of thing. Not any work what so ever. I mean, Stone's about finished off the food, someone or other just got sent out to fetch more booze, and there were some troubles when Per ran into Espen ... But, hey, all in a night's partying, eh?"
Bruin's grin widened. "You are enjoying yourself then."
Wouldn't all of Bruin's trousers look damn fetching in lime green?
He sighed. What bothered him the most was that Bruin was absolutely correct. He was enjoying himself, damnit. He couldn't let come out. It would ruin his no-good, lazy, partyman reputation. Well, tarnish it slightly, at any rate.
"I saw you talking to the widow Fox," Bruin said, putting his glass on the table.
Mikkel blinked. "And I saw you talking to ... her." He couldn't help the curl of distaste his mouth did. He had problems with hunters. He freely admitted it. He himself hadn't been hunted in years, but old habits died hard. And she kept glaring at him. It was deeply disturbing.
Bruin gave him an exasperated look. "Get over yourself. She's nice to talk to. And not likely to start looking around for a priest ..."
"Is there a priest here?" Mikkel frowned thoughtfully. "I didn't think there were."
Bruin looked horrified. It was quite amusing, really.
"Oh, please. Like I would. Yeah, she's rich, and gorgeous, and ... Hey. Wait a minute." He made as if he was getting up. Bruin placed a firm hand on his wrist, halting his motion. Mikkel grinned.
"Interrupting something, am I?"
Poppy was back, carrying beer.
Bruin released his wrist, and Mikkel's grin diminished. Perhaps it was time to start socializing again.
It was almost funny how quick Mikkel was to escape from Poppy's presence. It would have been funny, if it hadn't left Bruin alone with her. She was grinning at him over her beer.
"I know something you don't."
He believed her. Most people seemed to know something he didn't.
"'Cause I'm feeling nice ... and possibly a bit soused," she added, tilting her head. "I'm going to tell you."
"Yeah." She nodded a few times.
Bruin waited patiently while she gulped down more beer.
"You're going to get a big surprise tonight!" she said finally, beaming. "Well. I think it's big. It could be big. Maybe not. But, it's a definitely a surprise. Or, it was. I guess it's not anymore."
"What are you talking about?"
"What surprise?" Bruin was starting to think a couple of beers wasn't all Poppy'd had to drink.
"The thing! Because it's your birthday!" she thrilled. He hadn't known she could thrill.
He saw the flaw in her story right away though. "It's not my birthday."
Poppy gave him a confused look. "It's not?"
"Are you sure?"
"I'm know when my birthday is, yes. And it's not tonight."
"Then why are you getting a present?"
Now Bruin was giving her confused looks. "What present? Who's giving me presents?"
"The pain in the arse." She looked guilty for a moment. "I mean, Mikkel. Mikkel is. I overheard the bartender and someone I didn't recognize talking."
"Why is Mikkel giving me presents?"
"Are you really sure it's not your birthday?" Poppy inquired.
He sighed. "Yes. Well, I was. What's the present?"
Poppy shrugged. "Don't know. They didn't say. Clammed right up as soon as they spotted me, they did."
Bruin was tempted to wave it off as some sort of weird alcoholic hallusination, and he would have, but Mikkel had been acting just a little bit more skittish than usual. Jumping at the sound of the phone, that sort of thing. He guessed most people would probably be happy to hear they were getting presents. Well, most people didn't get birthday gifts from Mikkel every year.
There was really no telling what Mikkel would do. So far it had been everything from clowns to sky diving. He wasn't sure which had terrified him the most.
"What do you mean, she heard what you were saying?" Mikkel stared in disbelief at the bartender. "She heard. Okay, what, exactly, did she hear?"
"Um. I'm not sure?"
"I'm going to kick your arse," Mikkel threatened. They obliged him by cowering a little. He sighed and drew his fingers through his hair. Sometimes he really missed having a tail to lash in annoyment. "Well, so much for the surprise aspect of it all, I suppose." A thought occoured to him. "Did you say what it was?"
The bartender and Paal exchanged looked.
Mikkel drummed his fingers impatiently on the bar. "Well?"
"I don't think so," Paal said finally, hesitantly.
Mikkel brightened. Maybe his carefully planned out ... plan ... wasn't a complete loss. "All right, just keep it hidden until after story hours." He spotted Bluebeard talking to a hag. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have hosting duties to take care of." He went to find the widow Fox so he could introduce her to Bluebeard.
Should be an interesting meeting.
The bartender was definitely avoiding him.
This wasn't looking too good.
Bruin chewed the inside of his chin thoughtfully.
What to do, what to do ...?
Knowing what Mikkel had in mind was defintely on his need-to-know-NOW list, but on the other hand, how bad could it be? Bruin blanched. All right, wrong question. How bad could it be right now?
Probably not very. Mikkel liked Remembrance Day. He wouldn't destroy it completely. Not even for Bruin, tempting though it might be.
So if he couldn't get the bartender to talk, his best course of action would be to find a lot of beer and sit down and drink until Mikkel decided it was time to 'surprise' him.
Then, tomorrow - damage control.
He nodded to himself. Good plan, good plan.
Mikkel left Bluebeard and the Widow Fox to continue their deeply disturbing conversation without him. It was storytime, and he wanted to get a good seat in front of the telly before all the children came and took up the good space. Apparently it was bad form to toss children out of the way on Remembrance Day.
He didn't quite understand that part, but he was willing to comply. Just this once.
He found his chair and lounged.
He found Bruin sitting in the couch, drinking beer with a very determined air, and Mikkel beamed. Yes. His gift was still a secret. After many, many years, he knew all of Bruin's bracing techniques, and the chugging-of-beer only came out when Bruin was deeply fearing finding out what Mikkel had done this time.
Hirr, Mikkel thought and grinned.
And then the Mayor began his reading, and Mikkel turned his attention to the telly.
Bruin stares hard at Mikkel, wishing for telepathy. Apparently all the good fairies were busy partying because nothing happened. He went to find more beer before the story time began for real.
King Cole beamed at the cameras for a moment, then looked down at the Book and began reading, in a solemn tone of voice, becoming more animate as the story proceeded. "Once we were a thousand seperate kingdoms, spread over a hundrer magic worlds. We were kings and cobblers. Wizards or woodcarvers. We had our saints, and our blatant social climbers."
Mikkel glanced over at the widow Fox, smirking.
"And from the grandest lord, to the lowliest peasant girl, we were, for the most part, strangers one to another. It took an invasion to unite us."
Bruin clinked his mug of beer together with Poppy's. They'd changed to mugs to celebrate the moment. Poppy had had a lot more beer than Bruin, and was being a very cheerful drunk.
"Beyond the farthest shores of never, the adversary lived in a remote kingdom, ignored by other powers as his strenght and ambitions grew over the long centuries.
Some say he was a mere woodland sprite, while others claim he was once a god thrown down from the vast heavens when his corruptions had become too great for his lofty brethren to tolerate.
Whatever his true origins he grew into a dark thing of infinite hunger.
And after he conquered his own lands, putting each of the former kings to the sword, he turned his unquenchable appetites in our directions."
What in the world could the adversary possibly want with all the lands he now possessed? Mikkel frowned. It had to be something, right? Well, something other than 'it's there, so I want it', especially since the adversary didn't seem to want this place ...
"When the emerald kingdom fell we tisk-tisked and tut-tutted in our homes, sad for the fates of those unfortunate souls, but we weren't tempted to intervene.
After all, they were always odd folks, and ever so far away."
Bruin eyed the crowd thoughtfully. None from the emerald kingdom ... Had no one there survived?
"It wasn't our business."
It was a bad memory. Mikkel swirled his champagne around absently. And worse yet because he was convinced that he'd do the same thing, had he known what would happen. Only thing that might've changed would be how quickly he escaped the Homelands and came here. To this world without magic.
"Then the kingdom of the great lion fell, and again we did nothing, beause we always found the old lion to be a bit too pompous and holier-than-thou for our tastes."
Bruin toasted for the lion, along with several other fables.
"And one by one, our scattered lands fell under the adversary's dominion, swallowed up into his ever growing empire. Had we banded together early, we might have been able to stop him.
By the time we realised that he wasn't merely interested in conquering that land, or those people -- that he was coming after all of us -- it was too late."
He'd grown too powerful.
Many of us didn't have the chance to run."
Ah. He didn't know where to start ... There were so many. He looked over at Bruin, meeting the dark eyes. He lifted his glass towards him, and Bruin raised his beer bottle in return. They had their private little toast in the memory of friends, and a few enemies.
"Some of us survived. Too few. Alone, or in small groups, over the span of many years -- of lifetimes -- we hid and ran and avoided capture.
We lived as outlaws and phantoms."
Not many years, not for them. Mikkel had watched and plotted and in the end it was Bruin's own friendship with a little witch which had gotten them into this world. Only magic users could go between worlds, and neither Mikkel nor Bruin had an smidgen of magic.
The little witch had helped them, and they had helped her here.
This world could be a dangerous place, if you didn't know what to look out for.
She had stayed in New York. It had been so many years, after all, and she could take care of herself now. She'd been the one to magic them human bodies.
Sometimes Bruin missed her.
"Until we could make our way here, to this dreary mundane place: the one world the adversary seemed to take no interest in.
And here, united by our common enemy, we learned to set aside old grudges. We forgave our many grievances, to make covenant with each other."
The words made Mikkel recall the gift he was giving Bruin in just a few minutes. He grinned widely. Whatever Bruin was expecting, it certainly wasn't the tiny calico kitten he was getting.
Mikkel so hated being predictable.
"And now, predator and prey, prince and pauper, we are all of a single community, allied in our undying memory of the homelands, and the unshakable determination that one day we will return to win those lands free of the hated one.
Ladies and gentlemen, lift your glasses, and join me, please, in drinking this toast."
Mikkel and Bruin rose with the others, holding up their respective glass and mug, watching the serious looks on people's faces fade away to show determination, pride and longing.
"To the Homelands!" King Cole finished off his speech in the costumary manner.
"To the Homelands!" was the answering echo from the Fables gathered in a flat in Soho, far away from the glitz and glamour of the New York party.
site recreated june 2002, cc productions, owned by Sascha. pictures from all over the web. email Sascha if you're having problems. the characters featured in this story belongs to their creators.