A zealous guardian in a peaceful city, Gentry Mandrake is a fairy unlike any other. Cast out and hated for his differences, his violent nature makes him wonder at the purity of his soul. He hunts for belonging while fighting to protect the human child bound to him. Explore the mythical realm of The Veil, the grating torture of the Sulfur Fields, and the biting tension between power and purpose in this wondrous struggle against a demonic wizard and his denizens. Can Mandrake overcome such terrible foes to defend those he loves?
Four Years Before The Escape
At the precise moment Thomas Nardoc drew in his first breath, a creature was born. The name for such a creature was fairy, but in recent memory, there had been no fairy like this one. He would be called many things: monster, madman, abomination, murderer, warrior, guardian. All of these were accurate to one degree or another.
He dropped out of the pale bloom of a mandrake flower, and was fully grown before he hit the ground. With a snap of his dragonfly wings, he took to the air, his nostrils deeply drinking the fertile smells of the ancient wood around him. He knew instinctively this was not his home, the same way he knew his child’s name was Thomas.
He knew his home lay five hundred miles to the west, and it would take him moments to arrive there if he traveled by flower. He flexed his arm and barbed prongs slid silently from his wrists. He looked down at his body as he moved, watching his gleaming exoskeleton fold and crease like a well-made, well-worn suit of armor. His pale hair dropped in his face. Whipping his head, he threw it back. He knew how big he was—massive for a fey of his kind.
Something within him ached. A yawning, black emptiness chilled his body and mind. He would have to fill it, or it would take him to diabolical places. His emptiness could devour everything inside him—make something horrible of him. He would have to fill it.
His name was Gentry Mandrake, and today would be the day he killed one of his own kind.
Gentry Mandrake flew. A throbbing world of white pulsated as he moved from mandrake bloom to mandrake bloom. He could feel his home, as he neared it in leaps that flickered in his mind. Within seconds, he pulled up and out of the flower. He passed the last few feet, quickly coming to a large tumble of rocks that formed the doorway to his city. He ducked under the rocks, slipping into a tunnel under the fallen stones. The light of the day shined before him. In it basked Liefdom, the great city of the fairies.
A parade had turned the clearing into a celebration. Mandrake wondered if they knew of his arrival. The city was embracing the fey born that day. They formed a line that wound from the ground floor up into a spiral that wrapped the city. It rose to the very tops of the trees to cross the balcony of the royal family. The trees swayed. The animals of the city crooned and yipped. Instruments sounded, and melodious voices flowed like warm currents of air, carrying almost indescribable joy. Mandrake entered the city and his heart swelled. Tears coursed from his eyes and his smile seemed about to cut his face in half. Looking up at his city, he knew he had found home, and he loved it instantly.
His love for his home was savage, like the roar of a mother over a wounded cub, or the driving of a flag into land claimed. His love dared the world to trifle with his city, dared his enemies to try to harm it. He had enemies. This fact clawed up his back and bit down hard on the nape of his neck. His enemies, he could feel them. He carried them around with him like a scar.
Mandrake zipped up from the floor of the clearing. He could not wait within the throng. He would not. He rose to the center of the city and spun one circuit around. Then Liefdom unfolded to him. The trees hung close, much closer together than natural. But these trees were dryads, ladies of the forest. In their arms hung the homes of the fairies, dangling like fruits that covered every branch. They clung to the trunks and crowded around the roots, tiny homes for tiny fey.
Some trees boasted nest-like homes that wrapped the branches and trunk, great homes comprised of balconies and doors that entered the very living wood. Mandrake soared to the verge of one, staring at the crowd of fey pressed together on the balcony. He stopped, looking down at their beautiful faces, which seemed to hold all the love of the world. His body thrummed with joy and he dropped to the balcony to be among them. His heels clicked on the surface of the balcony. The balcony shuddered. The tree seemed to convulse in disgust. The fairies around looked up at him and gasped. The closest ones lifted into the air, sounds of terror and dismay from their throats. The ones further from him recoiled, pushing themselves back and against the trunk of the dryad. They were knocking one another down in their haste to get away. Every eye bulged wide in panic. Every face contorted in a grimace of fear.
Mandrake’s prongs slid from his wrists. He spun, his eyes scanning the air behind him for the monster that had scared his people so. Hot rage shot through his veins. The scent of the mandrake bloom issued from his body, an odious musk that hung in the air like the scent of death. He hissed, throwing his arms out wide as if to embrace his enemy. The city stared at him, the sounds of screams now shredding the melodies and chords of joy. They were gasping, their faces breaking and shifting into looks of horror. Mandrake searched the city for trespassers, livid that anyone would cause this level of chaos in his city.
But for all his searching, he could find no villains, no marauders. He kicked off the balcony and spun in the air, near the point of shouting out a challenge, when a voice called out, clear and strong. He turned to face it.
“What are you, and what is your business here?” The one who spoke was luminous, in shimmering green cloak and white scarf. His face held strength and grace. His voice held his command well, as if his words were a weapon—his voice, a mighty fist. Mandrake gathered himself as the knowledge came to him that this fey was his father, the king of Liefdom, the king of all fey and the world they lived in, the realm called The Veil. Mandrake turned to see whom his father had addressed. Seeing no one behind him, the realization his father was speaking to him came hard like a slap.
Mandrake turned to his father and the king’s name, Gentry Lotus, came to him. The beautiful fey stepping up beside him was his queen, Mandrake’s mother. He could almost feel her arms around him as he hovered there. Her hair flamed a deep crimson. Her face shined a pale white. Her name was Gentry Scarlet Rose, and Mandrake loved her more than anything, or anyone, alive. He used that love to fill the emptiness inside him, as if it were an answer to a question.
Mandrake saw a third fey step around his parents, blue-haired, wearing an expression of disgust. This fey waved a hand. Guards with beetle wings, carrying sharpened sticks like spears, lifted into the air.
They surrounded Mandrake instantly. His instinct told him only one of them posed a danger to him—only one of them held darkness behind the eyes.
“I ask you again, what are you, and what business have you in my city?” King Gentry Lotus said.
Mandrake’s musk filled the air, pouring from him. The guards around him winced, their eyes tearing. “I am Prince Gentry Mandrake, son of Gentry Lotus and Scarlet Rose, king and queen of The Veil. I have come home to wait the day I will sit the throne as my father now does.”
Mandrake’s eyes scanned the dryad before him. This was the greatest tree he had ever seen. The balcony the royals stood upon was the grandest in the grove. Mandrake saw many more nobles and royals stepping out onto the balcony. He watched all their faces twitch and spasm in loathing. They cast glances at him like slings and arrows.
Mandrake’s heart tolled out like his doom. He saw no kind face here. His stomach began to shrivel and twist, his bile hardening to a lump in his belly. He trembled. Defeat dropped onto his shoulders like a weight.
Lotus spoke, but no conviction bolstered his words. “What you claim is impossible. You are no fairy. I have no son.” Mandrake looked to his mother. She shook her head and turned, entering the dryad, a flock of fairies gathering around her. His eyes slid back to his father, as a black-haired fey whispered into the king’s ear. Ebony Rose. That was his great uncle, Gentry Ebony Rose. He held the king’s attention for a long time before releasing it covetously. Mandrake stared at him, the riot of emotions within too complex to sort.
“Drive him from the city,” Lotus commanded.
“They will all die,” Mandrake said, motioning to the beetle guards around him, “every one of them.” He cast a warning glance at the guards, then threw his attention back at his father. “I will not be expelled from my city.”
“Let us have one thing clear. This is my city, stranger, not yours.” Mandrake felt a heavy hand clench his heart and squeeze it. He looked at his father’s face, seeing anger and disgust.
This is not the way it is supposed to be. You are supposed to love me. You are supposed to welcome me. Mother should hold me.
“Bring him into the great hall. I will ask my advisor what to do with him.”
Mandrake’s hold on his temper was slipping. “You will not order me to your hall under guard, father. You will welcome me into the home of my family.” The musk, an assault unto itself, seemed to batter down the bravery of the guards around him.
His father opened his mouth to throw a response, but Ebony stepped in the way. “You are welcome into the house of your family, Mandrake.” He turned, whispering harshly to the king. Lotus threw up his arms and flew into the dryad. Ebony outstretched his hand toward Mandrake, who followed into the great tree.
Once inside, the sheer beauty of it overtook Mandrake. A thick tunnel ran up the height of the tree, doorways opening to halls that traveled each branch. The dark reddish tint of wood made the tree seem warm and comfortable. There was love in this dwelling, love for the city and love for those housed here. He wondered if the dryad loved him, and shied away from the question, as if it were a flame eager to sear him.
Mandrake’s eye ran the expanse inside the tree. The inner wall formed a mural. The likenesses of every fey living in the dryad appeared on the mural, each noble captured perfectly and lovingly. Mandrake scanned the surface, seeking his own face. But he could not find it. He followed his great uncle up the tree, watching the faces of his kin creep by. He stopped when he found his mother. He gasped, running the tips of his fingers gently across her cheek. The tree trembled, or shuddered, he could not tell which. A smile broke across his face, vanished, then reappeared.
“She is so lovely,” he gasped, barely allowing himself to breathe the words.
“Do not tarry. You are not a guest here.” Ebony’s voice was hard, caustic. He threw a disquieting look over his shoulder at Mandrake. A vision of violence whipped before Mandrake’s eyes. He could feel blood splatter against his face, could almost hear the echo of Ebony’s scream in the cavernous abyss within him. Mandrake could smell his musk roll out of his pores. He flashed a savage smile at Ebony. Ebony’s eyes darted away like a terrified rodent, and Mandrake promised himself he would not give them too much respect. They could do none of the things he could. They had not shown a trait worth respecting.
His heart hardened and he did nothing to stop it. Not her. I will love her openly. She will embrace me. She has to. She is my mother. He smiled and continued to drift up the tree. Somewhere near the top, they reached a wall blocking any further passage. They were two-thirds of the way up the tree. He waited. A way to the left opened for him, and he stepped into a large room.
A smooth, blank wall faced four thrones with balconies rising away behind them. Mandrake considered alighting on one of the thrones, but he would not antagonize his father. He stood while fairies began to fill the balconies above. Ebony faced Mandrake as nobles entered the room, whispering and pointing. Ebony’s face, unreadable, searched every curve, every niche on Mandrake’s. He studied Mandrake, his lips speaking softly, silently.
The main door opened and the blue-haired fey entered. Small, almost puny, he seemed unafraid—his demeanor, active disdain. He walked close to Mandrake, his eyes stabbing out as if to gouge him. He walked a half-circle around Mandrake, his arms folded behind him, pressing his firefly wings against his back. Mandrake watched him glare with a slight smile on his face.
“Is something funny, monster?” His voice was strong and violent, like a whip cracking the air.
In the face of that wrath, Mandrake’s smile retreated. He looked to his feet, seemed to find anger there, and looked back up at the fey before him. “Who are you?” Mandrake asked.
“Prince Azure Rose, son of Ebony Rose, heir to the throne of Liefdom.”
Mandrake shot his finger out, his barbed prong sliding slowly in the face of his cousin. “We will see about that last part.”
“Shall we now?” Azure asked. He stepped forward but his father was there to stop him.
“He is not to be angered,” Ebony said. His voice was sharp and irrefutable. Azure turned, stomping to one of the lesser thrones. Azure’s right wing was small and slightly curved. Flying would be impossible with a wing like that. Mandrake allowed himself a smidge of pity for his cousin.
Lotus stormed into the room, the beetle-winged guards snapping to attention. He dropped delicately into his throne. He stared at Mandrake and seemed about to speak. Then, with a flutter of cloth at the door, the queen entered.
Mandrake dropped to his knee, his head low, his heart a flurry in his chest. She stopped halfway to her throne. Mandrake kept his eyes low.
After she reached her throne, Mandrake looked up. Her face was a mask of anger. He decided his father was the cause of it. Her son had arrived, and Lotus was trying to throw him out. Scarlet Rose must be furious.
Mandrake turned his eyes to his father, who stood up.
“First, let me say, if you utter the words ‘prince’ or ‘heir to the throne,’ I will have you killed,” Lotus said.
Mandrake felt as if he had been kicked. He looked to his father, his eyes searching for the joke. Have me killed? He said he would have me killed. Mandrake looked to his mother, her face stone, unreadable.
“You can’t kill me, father. I will not dare you to try. But these fey you have surrounded yourself with,” Mandrake motioned to the guards around him, “they are for appearances. Do not, for a second, think they are more.”
A chord of disgust rang out from his mother’s throne. Mandrake looked softly at her, confused. She would not meet his gaze.
“We will get to the bottom of what you are,” Lotus said. “Then, we will decide how to handle you.” He turned his eyes to the blank wood behind Mandrake.
“Missiniah, Lady of the Great Tree and guardian of the house of Gentry, please come to me. I am in need of you.”
Mandrake turned as the wood began to shift and change, the lines reforming, the grain gathering to form a face. Mandrake turned his back to his family to look up at a glorious face, an image of such delicate beauty that his chest tightened and he sweat. His eyes caressed her features, gently touching the corners of her mouth and the long bangs that framed her face. Her lips pursed as she turned her dark eyes upon the king. Mandrake dropped to his knees again, lowering his head.
Her voice was sweet and high, cultured and fine, like the voice of a woman raised in nobility. “My King, I come to your call. I lay myself before you, ready to aid you in any way I can.”
“There is a thing before me,” the king began, “that insists we call it fairy. It claims to be a Gentry, and even calls itself my son and heir. I find it loathsome to behold, and would run it out of my city and cast it out of The Veil if it were in my power. Tell me that you see wisdom in this. Tell me I should exile it and I will.”
Missiniah’s eyes rolled to Mandrake and he tried to smile, but his rage and his hurt would not allow it. She gasped and recoiled, her face taking on sharp angles of disgust and derision. She looked away, gathered herself, and looked again, peeling her lips back in distaste.
Mandrake stood. He glared at this dryad, doing his best to keep his prongs sheathed in his wrist.
“What is it, Missiniah?” Azure cried out. Mandrake’s temples ached and his belly rolled. His legs turned to water and he fought to stay standing.
“It is a fairy,” she proclaimed. “I have seen another of its type, many ages ago. Time has nearly forgotten her. She was abhorrent to behold, as this one is. And she was dealt with.”
Mandrake didn’t like the way that phrase came to the air. It had a threat nestled inside it. His musk rose up into the air ever so slightly.
“Her name was Gentry Flytrap. Her flower was so vicious and deadly, the others of her kind despised her nearly on sight. She was huge and carried the same exoskeleton this thing does. She, as well, stood head and shoulders over even the tallest of fairies. She was a vile thing, violent and sullen. She was deemed a monster, as this thing surely is. She was executed.”
His prongs slid from his wrists and his musk filled the room. A near panic washed over the balcony, as hushed cries fought the scent of the mandrake bloom. Azure gagged in the scent. The beetle-winged guards lowered their spears, and the queen rose and rushed from the room. Mandrake turned his attention upon Missiniah. His anger hardened his face to a visage of steel. With a tone as deadly as his body, he said, “I invite you to try.”
His body thrummed with promised action, ablaze with anticipation, while his mind stood still and coiled.
“You do not frighten me, fairy,” Missiniah said.
“How, Missiniah? How was she executed?”
“She was taken to a grove outside the city, and the fire thistle was fed to her. She ate it willingly. It slipped into her body and she slept. A peaceful death, a merciful death.”
Missiniah’s eyes swung to Mandrake. They seemed to grow larger as he stood in defiance to them. “They finally decided that any child tied to a fairy like her could only be sour and evil, a tyrant waiting to take the throne. For the sake of the city, for the sake of The Veil, and for the sake of the humans her child would one day rule, she was put to death.”
“Gentry Flytrap was a fool. She should have destroyed you all.” Mandrake turned to face his father. “I will not be taken.”
“We already have you. Guards, gather him up and escort him from the great tree. We will take him to a—”
The deadly guard stepped forward, his spear thrust in Mandrake’s face. Mandrake moved with swiftness, his hand a blur as he grabbed the spear and pulled. His fist lashed out wide, his prong slicing. Blood flew in a slow arc. The spear hit the floor. The guard stumbled backwards, his mouth moving, his eyes frantic. He fell to the ground, his throat cut to ribbons. Mandrake tossed the severed hand of the guard at his father’s feet. The appendage flopped and thudded to a stop, and Lotus screamed. Azure gagged again, turning his head. The nobles on the balconies above fled. Ebony stared at the severed hand, and Mandrake looked up to the guards around him.
Three nations away, in the world of man, a child named Bretten grabbed his throat in his sleep and died. His nightmare fairy had been killed, and the dream had been so horrible that his little heart seized in his chest.
Mandrake plucked up the corner of his shirt, slowly wiping blood and tissue from his prong. “I submit that as a warning to you, father—you and anyone else who would attempt to harm me. The child I protect is precious to me. He will not fall. Come at me again and I will destroy every one of you.” His cleaned prong swung to encompass the room. “I will kill you all, and as a result, the children you protect.” Mandrake turned to face the dryad, his eyes two balls of fury. He did not speak. He simply stared until she faded back into the depths of the wall. Mandrake spun. He leaned forward, throwing his body into one quick burst of speed. He crossed the room before anyone could stop him. The guards behind him turned their spears up, their faces locked in terror.
Mandrake wrapped his hand around Ebony’s throat and squeezed slightly. His eyes pierced into Ebony’s and he curled his lip. His emptiness grew, and it felt wonderful. He growled low in Ebony’s ear.
“You are coming with me. I will not have her closing up around me and crushing me to death. Missiniah kills me, she kills you, too.” He didn’t recognize the voice leaving his mouth. It felt strange on his tongue, metallic and serrated.
They traveled the distance of the tree, leaving through the same door they had entered. Mandrake caught himself looking for his mother. What would she do when she heard they had tried to kill him? The thought that she knew, that she would agree, that she wanted him dead as much as the rest of them did, was too repugnant to entertain. He refused to let it bite into him. He kept his mind on Ebony until the door was behind him.
He released the fairy, who rubbed the place where his hand had been. Mandrake tried to quiet his anger, letting himself feel the cool wind on his face, and reached out for the sounds of the city. Ebony’s voice pulled him back. “I have been able to grant my child an unnaturally long life.”
Mandrake heard the words, but could apply no meaning or reason to them.
“He is a wizard, a powerful one. I will speak to him about you.”
Mandrake heard the threat and smiled at it.
“I will not try to have you killed again, Mandrake. You have my word on that. You are far too deadly for any fey to handle. But if you ever hurt another fairy, if you harm one citizen of this city, I will send for my child and he will deal with you.” Ebony felt pride at his threat; Mandrake could see it in his face.
Mandrake shook his head. “I wish no harm on anyone, Uncle. But if your child comes to deal with me, I will kill him, too.”