She shivered, she was so cold – everything was so cold. It like breathing in winter air, it was like lying in snow, it was like- She felt a blanket being pulled up over her, and finally she registered that she was lying on a bed. A bed was good, it was better than-
‘Hello?’ she said quietly, her voice cracking on the second syllable.
‘It’s all right, I’m here.’
If she hadn’t been so cold, she would have started in shock – him, it was him, but why was he- Another blanket was dumped onto the pile, and warmth finally started to sink into her stone cold skin. She tried to open her eyes, but it was hurt – it was brighter than she had expected – not that she had known what to expect. She flexed icy hands, almost expecting them to crack and break apart.
‘I saw…I thought I was-’ She took a breath – it hurt to breathe, and there was a strange…unnatural feeling to it, almost as though her body wasn’t used to it. She took another painful breath. ‘I thought I was-’
‘You almost were,’ he said. ‘You should call it a miracle.’
It was strange, by all rights, his voice shouldn’t be a comfort, it shouldn’t be doing as much to warm her as it was, but it was familiar, and anything familiar was good. Very good. Better than confusion. Better than death.
Miracle? She held herself groan at the thought. ‘I don’t like that word.’
This made him chuckle. ‘How do you feel?’
‘Fine,’ she lied as she rolled over – not an easy feat given the number of blankets over her. Her body protested greatly at movement, but she pushed the feeling down, and finally managed to get a good look at him. ‘What are you even doing here?’
‘Who do you think rescued you?’
Her arm screaming in agony, she reached a hand to her face and rubbed her eyes. ‘I didn’t need rescuing.’
‘That’s bullshit and you know it.’
She smirked. ‘Yeah, fine.’
‘There was so much damage to your chest…You really almost didn’t make it. Are you sure you’re feeling fine?’
She took a moment to take stock of herself, all of her memories felt intact – not that she would know if something was missing, and she had no unexplained violent urges. ‘Yeah, I think I’m all here, I don’t think I’m a dead girl walking.’
‘Good, cause I don’t have the Ghostbusters on speed dial.’
She found herself smiling at him. ‘It’s weird,’ she said, ‘I never thought I would be glad to see your ugly mug.
‘Be nice Eeeny,’ Tian said, ‘you owe me more than you think.’
She glared at him as best as she could – she was too tired to muster a proper angry expression – a weakness she hoped he would forgive. ‘Thanks Tian,’ she muttered, ‘I’ll remember that at my execution.’
‘Then don’t go back.’
She sniffed the air. ‘Where the hell am I anyway?’ The presence of goblin and her life, and the lack of beeping machinery indicated that it wasn’t the Agency infirmary – the smell of must though…
Tian wiped her forehead with a warm, damp cloth. ‘You know where you are.’
She pushed herself up and looked around the small room. It wasn’t a cheap hotel, it wasn’t some derelict building, it was the same haphazardly-designed mix of old and new that pervaded every room of- ‘The Court? You brought me to the Court? Are you insane?’
He grinned. ‘Well, it is Madchester.’
She swung her legs over the side of the low bed and pushed herself up and took a step toward the door. ‘I am not staying, here, I am-’
‘Then where exactly will you go?’
‘Madhe,’ she whispered. The queen stood in the doorway, her thin form bulked up by the costume she wore – today’s theme was apparently red, a long red dress dragged along the floor – no servants were holding it up, so the delicate satin was ripped and torn – though the rest of the skirt was immaculate, adorned with what were undoubtedly rubies. Red vinyl gloves squeaked as she gave a small, royal wave. The sleeves of the dress had been torn away, but were tied around her upper arms. A heavy gold chain hung around her neck, carrying a vial filled with a rainbow-coloured spark that she could only assume was a piece of starbright.
‘Where will you go?’ Madhe asked again. ‘You were nearly executed as a traitor, if you go back, they will finish the job. Suicide is so ugly, but if you are so inclined, there are a dozen here who would gladly take your life. I do not image it would be as quick as a bullet to the head though.’
Running was pointless, but that didn’t stop her from looking for other exits. ‘How did you know I was here?’
‘You insult me, child. Do you really think a servant, a…a…a goblin of all creatures could hide something like you under my nose, or bring you here without my help, or give up so much of himself to save you without my help.’
She looked back at Tian, he met her gaze and nodded then went back to staring at the floor.
‘You should be skirting the top of Lady Death’s realm like a cloud skimmer, instead you’re standing, angry and thinking of ways to leave my court.’
She sat on the bed, the ancient springs squeaking at the sudden weight. ‘I’m trapped here, aren’t I?’
Madhe smirked. ‘Trapped. Safe. In this case their meaning is the same. The sanctuary of Madchester is yours for the taking. Rest, recover, I shall have someone bring you some food. Goblin, I need when you have a moment.’ With a flourish, she turned and left the room, slamming the thin wooden door after her.
Tian picked up a pitcher. ‘Do you want some water?’
‘Yeah,’ she muttered. She moved back on the bed, drawing her legs up to her chest. ‘Just what the hell did she mean?’
‘Does it matter?’ the goblin asked as he handed her the glass, ‘you’re here and that’s all that matters. You’re alive, the means doesn’t matter. Did you question your mother when you were born? I don’t think so.’ He seemed to consider this for a moment. ‘But then again, Eeny, this is you, you always look gift horses in the mouth.’
She curled her lip and threw the water in his face. ‘This is different, so don’t make light of it.’ She growled and pushed the glass against him. ‘Now get me some more water.’
He wrapped his hand around the glass. ‘As you wish.’ He rose and walked around to the pitcher again. Here you go,’ he said and she looked up in time to see him upturn the pitcher over her head.
She jumped out of the bed, hissing and shrieking. ‘You fucking bastard, you- Ooh, now I know why goblins are useless.’ She grabbed the bottom, dry end of the blanket and attempted to sop some of the water away.
He stared at her for a moment, then removed his jacket and held it out.
She glared at him, hoping that he would spontaneously burst into flames. ‘Oh, don’t even try and be cute…’
He indicated vaguely at her chest, then looked away. She looked down at herself – she’d been aware that she wasn’t in the same suit she’d been shot in, but until now, it hadn’t mattered. The nightshirt was almost see-through thanks to the water. Bare, pink breasts peeked through the thin material.
He took a step forward and proffered the jacket. ‘I didn’t-’
She straightened her back. ‘Of course you did – you’re nothing but a fucking pervert.’ She lifted her hands to her chest and tore the shirt open. ‘You wanted a show? Here, take it all in.’ She reefed the shirt over her head – glad that at least the pyjama bottoms were flannel. She took a step toward the goblin. ‘Stop staring at the floor, freak, look at me. Look at me! I don’t know what you did, but yanno, I could be grateful. But this, this is all you’re ever going to get. Just because you saved me doesn’t mean you get sex. You’re not good enough.’
He snapped his head up, his dark, beady eyes staring into hers. ‘Don’t flatter yourself.’
‘That’s a question,’ she said as she wiped some water droplets from her breast. ‘Do goblins even have dicks?’
‘I’ve seen strippers with more shame,’ he said quietly, but she could hear the rage in his voice. He pushed past her and out into the hall beyond the room – or, what she had begun to think of as her cell.
‘So that’s a “no” then?’ she yelled after him.
He disappeared around a corner a few metres down the hall, so she slammed the door – if nothing else than to make herself feel better. She turned and slumped against the door – the thin wood creaking even against her slight weight.
‘Stupid fucking fairies…stupid fucking fae…stupid stupid goblin…godsdamn you Tian.’ She knocked her head against the door, then looked down at her chest. There wasn’t even a scar – breathing still hurt, but that would likely pass. Shot…she’d been shot… ‘Fucking cunt,’ she whispered, ‘I’ll fucking kill you.’
Wonder if the bullet’s still in there… She stared around the room. There was the damp bed and the small table, the chair Tian had been sitting on that looked as though it may have been older than the Court itself, and a somewhat awkwardly-shaped wardrobe in the corner.
The chill of wearing nothing but pyjama pants was getting to her, so so fought her distrust of the Court and crossed the room to the wardrobe. The solid doors were a bit of a struggle to open – almost as they were fighting to stay closed, but eventually gave into her wishes.
‘Yay for gender roles,’ she muttered as a wall of dresses stared back at her. Well, only some of them stared – those decorated in the patterns of eyes, or with eyes trapped in crystals. ‘Oh come on Madhe, you wouldn’t…’ she said as she reached for a crystal on the neckline on a gaudy orange dress. It blinked as her finger approached. ‘Gods, I hate Madchester…’
She pulled the orange dress off the hanger and threw it toward the curved back of the wardrobe, letting it crumple into a pile of silk and terry toweling.
More dresses joined it – those that stared back at her, those that offended her sense of fashion, that that would be impossible to run or fight in. After a few minutes, she was left with eight dresses and a few skirts. She pulled a simple green velvet dress over her head, then spent a few minutes tearing the modest slit open more – both to show off her leg, and so that she could kick people if necessary.
Like certain goblins.