When the ancient Under Hill home of the Fae is infected with the Rot, they’re left with an unpleasant choice: Die in one last, great stand, or escape to the Human world. A world they once knew, but where they no longer belong. A modern world, where Cold Iron surrounds and poisons magical beings.
The Fae Queen reluctantly chooses exile, and she and her people abandon their magical castles, ancient glens, timeless forests, and centuries of power and tradition. They come into a bleak land bereft of magic and wonder, and begin to hunker down in the Human world’s hidden places. The once-proud Fae resentfully begin a life of poverty, anonymity, and fear.
But one small group of Fae, accustomed to tinkering with the fabric of the universe, begin to develop an idea. An idea that will either give them a new world to live in, or wipe them completely from existence. An idea that could preserve them, or end them forever. An idea that requires the help of a young child’s boundless imagination. An idea that will take them into the Never, a place forbidden and inimical to their kind.
It’s a story that you think you know, but you’ve only ever heard a small part of it. A story that starts long before those three children flew in, and that has its epic conclusion long after they’ve gone.
"This thoughtful reinterpretation of Peter Pan through myth and folklore will appeal to fans of darker adult takes on children’s literature."
The exhausted fairy flittered back to the encampment. As she approached, she saw that her people had been busy: a pavilion had already been erected for the queen, several small campfires were burning, and the lights flickering in the nearby trees and bushes suggested they were starting to find niches in which to settle down for the night.
With her delicate wings aching, She landed heavily in front of the pavilion. Taking a deep breath and absentmindedly rubbing her tired eyes, she walked in through the open flap. There were no lights inside, and the moonlight formed only a small pool of pale illumination at the pavilion’s entrance.
“Ah,” said a quiet voice in the darkness. “My little tinker returns.” The voice was like rough silk: smooth and supple, but with tiny sharp catches that suggested a rip might be imminent. “And what news?”
“It is holding, my queen,” the fairy said softly. “He’s imagined more land, forests, lakes, and more. The other tinkers pinned them all as soon as they sprang into existence, and the Never is held back. Within a few more days, everything new should be firm.”
“You smell of him,” the queen’s said, her voice full of disdain. Her sense of smell was exquisitely sensitive, and she had always disliked Humans’ odors.
“At your orders, my queen,” the fairy responded, keeping her voice as low and emotionless as possible.
“And so shall it ever be,” the queen said lightly. As she did, she stepped into the moonlight. The fairy marveled, as she had done thousands of times, at Queen Mab’s simple, effortless beauty. Raven-black hair spilled down over shoulders that were as white as the moonlight now caressing them. Her eyes were a piercing green. Like most of the Fae, she had no wings, but her gently pointed ears poked out slightly from her silken mane. She wore a simple white shift that flowed from her shoulders to the grassy ground. “And are we now bound to his whims? Will it all fail again when he grows bored?”
“No, my queen,” the fairy said, shaking her head firmly. “He is young enough. His imagination is capricious, not firm, and his memory is short. Once the tinkers finish pinning his latest work, he won’t remember that he imagined it. He will know it for the world it is.”
“And when he grows older?” the queen asked.
“It will take centuries,” the fairy replied. “Time is still a vague concept for him. The sun moves the sky only because he is used to it doing so, not because it is chained to time.”
“And he remains ignorant of us?”
The fairy nodded. “He thinks I’m the only Fae here.”
The queen laughed softly. “And so you shall keep him company through the centuries, as his companion.”
The tinker-fairy paused. This would be a touchy subject. “Myself, and his Lost Boys. But he will need other companions,” she said quietly.
“Others?” the queen snapped. “Which of your immortal brothers and sisters would you condemn to that particular eternity?”
“None, my queen. I shall remain the only Fae the boy ever sees if we choose to remain hidden.”
Now for the touchy part. “Others of his age,” the fairy said firmly. “Other Humans. More Lost children.”
“More of the filthy beasts? Do you wish to recreate their world here, in the Never? Let them bring their Cold Iron, their wars, their greed, their–“
The fairy held up on delicate hand, interrupting the queen. A brave act, or a foolish one, she knew, and she would find out now which it was. “No, my queen,” she said, “of course not. Just one every so often. A young one. A… a fresh face for him.”
The queen considered her, arching one long, perfectly sculpted eyebrow. “Why?” she asked.
“Two reasons,” the fairy said, lowing her hand. “He will need more companions, and others his age will be perfect. But more importantly, they will further cement this world. It will be all they ever know. And when this first child eventually does grow too old, we can send him back to the world of man, knowing that a band remains behind to anchor this world as it is.”
The queen pondered for a moment. “Interesting. So you propose we merely steal children? Do you forget the changelings?”
The fairy had not. The Fae’s fascination with human children had, at one time, led them to steal children from their very cradles, substituting them with Fae changelings who took on their appearance. The humans soon began to suspect and eventually realized that the Fae were behind it. New protections were added, and it began a new age of unease between the humans and the Fae. An age which rapidly led to the Fae’s banishment to Under Hill.
“I do not, my queen,” she said. “After all, we did not steal this boy from his cradle, nor did we steal the other few who first came with him. When the time comes to bring him playmates, we will bring another just like him. Someone who comes to us. Someone who is Lost.”
The queen nodded and smiled softly. Her hundred years of exile might finally be over.
The Elven knight knelt on the cool, white marble floor, keeping his gaze down. His iridium armor was dented, the shimmering surface pitted and tarnished. He’s been touched by the Rot, the queen thought, her nostrils flaring at the lingering odor of burned metal. She noticed that his sword was missing and mourned the loss of magic. The knights’ swords were ancient, and the secrets of their making had been lost since the last Druids passed hundreds of years earlier. So much loss, she mused. “What news?” she said aloud.
“Ill, my queen,” the knight said. He paused.
“Out with it,” she ordered in a flat voice. There’d been no good news in years, so why should today be any different?
“King Oberon, my queen. He–” the knight paused again, and Queen Mab could hear the choke in his voice.
“Gone?” she asked softly. The knight nodded, never looking up. “And his company?” she asked even more quietly. The knight shook his head. All lost, then, she thought. She rose from her throne and stepped off of the low dais it sat upon. She walked to the knight and placed a hand on his helmet, saying nothing. After a moment, she turned and walked to one of the tall, graceful windows set into the walls of her throne hall. Her castle, a delicate confection of tall towers, thin causeways, ornate turrets, and grand windows, sat atop a low hill and overlooked a vast meadow. Beyond stood an ancient forest, cut by a river of the purest, deep blue water. And soon, she knew, all too soon, it would be gone. “Is there anything else?” she asked without turning from the window. Hearing nothing, she said, “you may go. All of you,” she added, turning back to the room, “may go. Kex, you stay.” Her loyal seneschal, an Elf so old he was beginning to look like a shrunken Human, nodded deeply.
“What, then?” Mab asked after the room had cleared. “Oberon had all of our forces save the Home Guard. We’re left with a scant handful of warrior-fairies, a company of brownies, and a foul-tempered banshee or two.”
“And the leprechauns, my lady,” Kex added.
She snorted. “I was counting useful creatures,” she muttered. “I’d no more count the river-sprites or garden-fairies.”
Kex shrugged. “It wouldn’t matter,” he said dourly. “The Rot has proven impervious to force. It is not a thing we fight. It is merely an event that has happened to us. Even as Humans cut us off from their world, they poison ours.”
Mab frowned. It was true enough, but a delicate reminder that the Fae had likely brought this on themselves, were truth to be told. Over the Human centuries, more than a few of the Fair Folk had helped the Humans in their pointless battles, healed them with fairy magic, and blessed their homes and fields. But just as many had played trickster games with the Humans, making them angry and fearful. And if there was one thing Queen Mab had learned, it was that a fearful Human was a very dangerous animal indeed.
Once the Humans had discovered how to dig Cold Iron out of the Earth’s body, how to heat it to molten slag, and how to cast that slag into sharp weapons, the Fae’s time amongst Humans had dwindled. Just the proximity of Cold Iron would diminish the magic of any Fae creature; the actual touch of the stuff would poison their blood and slowly kill them. Humans began using Cold Iron as a defense against the more wicked Fae, heedless of the fact that they were also driving off the more companionable creatures. Wooden doors gained iron nails, hinges, and locks. Iron bars blocked windows. And iron swords and spear-heads cut and killed.
It was the spears in particular that started it all, she remembered. Humans had long recognized the fairy rings that acted as portals between their world and the Fae home of Under Hill, but that recognition had only encouraged them to avoid such rings. The few Humans who’d ventured to Under Hill uninvited were allowed to live mainly so that they could return a proper message to their people: Keep Out. Few were invited to the domain of Oberon and Mab, and those were always escorted and cautioned to remain on their best behavior. Even though the last such honoree had been admitted over a century ago, Mab’s nose wrinkled involuntarily at the memory of its stench. She had never been able to abide the smell of Humans.
But with the advent of iron-tipped spears, the Humans had become bold. With their homes protected by iron, they ventured out to secure their fields, their woods, and their lands. One brave soul had thought to stab a spear of Cold Iron into the middle of a fairy ring and had been astonished to see its border mushrooms immediately wither and crumble to dust. Excitedly, the queen imagined, he had spread the word, and that’s when it had truly begun. Parties of Humans, armed with iron, started actively hunting for fairy rings, stabbing them with spears and closing the portals to Under Hill.
Humans probably would have been satisfied with confining the Fae to their own world, and Mab would have been happy to let them believe it. Her tinker-fairies could, with little work, open a new fairy ring anytime she wished it. But what the Humans never realized is that each destroyed portal manifested in Under Hill as a pool of thick, black, foul-smelling slime. A slime that did not remain in place, but instead slowly oozed outward, enrobing everything it touched. It dissolved grass and flowers. It toppled trees. It consumed entire buildings. And it never, ever quit spreading. The Fae called it the Rot.
Born of Cold Iron, the Rot carried the poison of Cold Iron with it. Nearby magic flickered and failed, and Fae, who stayed too long in its presence, became weak and sick. It was as if the iron spear tips had punctured the fabric of Under Hill itself, dissolving the deep, ancient magic that formed the place, consigning it to a grim, tarry death.
Oberon had first set forth with a significant company of magic-weavers and warriors, hoping to either beat back the Rot, or confine it. They erected pillars of pure Elvensteel, which slowed the Rot only slightly as it ate its way, hissing and spitting, through the strongest material the Fae knew. They cast wards capable of holding back Balor himself, and the Rot merely oozed onward, as if nothing had happened. Oberon himself had invoked Arawn, the god of the underworld, who had sent a company of Sluagh flying in from the west. They had flung themselves into the Rot, hoping to steal whatever power it contained, and had vanished instantly. Oberon and a few others had barely survived, retreating to the castle to regroup and plan anew.
Efforts to raise the other Tuatha De Danaan, the gods of the Fae, had been fruitless. It was as if the Rot had cut them off, or the gods had abandoned them. Or, Mab thought wryly, the gods bet against us and stayed on Earth. The Human Celts, she knew, had always been mighty worshippers of the Tuatha De Danaan. Now, even the other powerful Fae had proven powerless against the Rot. The Carman, the most powerful and evil enemy of the Tuatha De Danaan, and a recognized goddess of black magic, was missing. Her cave home had been discovered flooded with the Rot, and her three sons were nowhere to be found.
Oberon’s last, fatal attempt had been to call down the Bright Light, a task requiring no less than twenty of the realm’s thirty Elven knights, a full complement of warrior-fairies, and nearly every magic-weaver in the land. All but one, apparently, were now dead.
“And so we die,” she said flatly.
“Not necessarily,” Kex said carefully. “We are many,” he reminded her, “and we are not without escape. The tinker-fairies are holding one last portal open, here on the castle grounds.” As the Rot had spread, fairy rings had started to die spontaneously. The tinkers must be using all their might to keep one open, even with the castle’s considerable magic to reinforce them.
“To Earth,” Mab said, disgust in her voice. “We retreat to our enemy’s stronghold.”
“Humans are not the enemy,” Kex said sternly. “They are an animal provoked. If you kick a bane-wolf, do you not expect him to bite? Yet he is not your enemy.”
“Exile, then,” Mab said.
Kex shrugged. “If you like. Life, regardless. Survival.”
“They’ll destroy us,” she said.
“We will hide,” he countered. “The portal will diminish us, make us smaller. It will make us harder to see, if we abide.”
“We cower in the dark, then, and you call that survival?” Mab’s pride flared inside her.
“We live, my queen. We gain time to find another answer. Perhaps we can make a home on Earth, away from the Humans. Perhaps we find a door to another world. But we do not merely give up and let the Rot consume us.”
She mumbled something under her breath and fell silent. She turned to look back out the window. Green grass, ancient trees—all of which would be gone soon enough. “How long?” she asked.
He paused a moment. “Oberon led his company to Evendom Rise, scarcely a day’s ride from here. We will likely see the edge of the Rot tomorrow or the next day at the latest. It will be upon us a day after that, at most.”
“Two days,” she said.
“Give or take,” he said.
She fell silent again, thinking. It was within her power to hide any of the Fae within her range of influence, a power uniquely given to her by the great goddess Danu in the First Days. Her other skills aside, she was first and foremost the protector of her people, the trickster who could spirit them away when no different path was available. This, then, would be the ultimate expression of her power and Danu’s purpose for her. Not her Greater Magics. Not her ability to enter men’s dreams and influence their thoughts. Not her unsurpassed beauty. Her purpose would be to hide her people, to lurk amongst the filthy Humans. To diminish herself to the size of a sprite, to lead them to a world where magic had all but died, and to bury them there. They would be paupers, living in fear and blight, she knew.
But Kex was right. They would be alive.
She sighed and lowered her head. “Send word,” she said quietly, defeat creeping into her sonorous voice. “Summon the Host. We leave at the next daybreak. The great wolf of the Fae shall be as a winter-mouse in his hole.”
Kex was not jesting, Mab thought, looking at the dozen tinker-fairies struggling to keep the last small portal open. She smelled the sharp tang of ozone as the fairies used raw magic to hold the portal open by force. They’re losing this battle. The Rot had been spotted moving through the wood beyond the meadow, and would indeed be upon the castle before the next sunrise. The Host of the Fae, the last survivors of her kingdom, had gathered on the meadow behind her. They carried only the barest essentials, slung in packs over their backs. Even the fearsome bane-sidhe, floating wispily in the unaccustomed sunlight, seemed subdued.
Mab opened her mouth to say something stirring, to rally her people. But then she closed it. Everyone knew what was happening here today. There was no lovely glamour to cast upon it. Passing one last glance across the assembled, pitifully small crowd, she turned her back on them and walked sedately to the last portal. It’s blue light twisted and bucked before her, trying to close itself despite the tinkers’ magical anchors. The tinker-fairies looked at her, and she saw the exhaustion in their eyes. Another dozen of their number had already gone ahead to prepare the way. She nodded at them and stepped through.
Time ran differently on Earth than Under Hill. On Earth, she remembered, Time was shackled to a strict schedule, always proceeding apace, and ever forward. Humans placed great stock in Time, ordering their lives completely against its measure. The folk of Under Hill, on the other hand, had a more casual relationship with Time. He was undoubtedly welcome Under Hill and was often present. But he was not forced to march always forward, and at one exact speed. He could linger on a pleasant moment, or revisit a particularly memorable month. He could speed through a series of dull days, or skip some small intervals entirely. A year Under Hill could pass while no time passed at all on Earth, while sometimes a single day Under Hill could represent a century of Human time.
It had been daybreak Under Hill when Mab stepped through the fairy ring, and it was nigh sunset on Earth. Easier for hiding, she admitted, casting her senses wide to find the tinker-fairies that had preceded her. They knew what they were about, and knew how to not be seen, but she still needed to prepare herself for what was to come. And they came almost immediately, almost bowling her over in their eagerness to escape the Rot. She stepped to one side as gracefully as possible, watching her people spill before her. The sight was almost ridiculous, as the portal had shrunk each of them down to no more than a human’s hand-span in height. She herself was standing in grass that came up to her knees. Thus our fate, she said, realizing that this was her new reality, and feeling her dislike of Humanity deepen instantly into hatred.
She watched her people spill out before her. She could smell cut grass, tame flowers, and fresh water, all nearby. She could also smell the fear of her people, their nerves wound to a breaking point. The tinker-fairies flitted to and fro, directing the arriving Fae to the shelters already prepared. A river ran nearby, perfect for the water-nymphs and other wet folk. A stand of tall, stately trees would provide an evening of protection for the fairies and their kin. The ground-folk, including the few remaining brownies, burrowed into soft, loamy patches that Mab realized were Human flower beds. She frowned because those beds meant that they’d not been able to arrive in an isolated area as she’d hoped. The darker Fae melted gratefully into the long shadows cast by the setting sun. Within minutes—_too few minutes,_ she thought, for there are too few of us—the exodus had completed, and the remaining tinker-fairies jetted through. The last had barely cleared when the mushrooms marking the edge of the fairy ring blackened and withered to dust.
She slowly looked around her, casting her most subtle magics of concealment and invisibility across them all. Time enough tomorrow to learn what Humans called this place, and how safe the Fae would be. Time enough ahead to plot their path, and try to shape their future. Time enough, she thought grimly, and with no little relish, to decide how these Humans will be repaid.