Pan awoke to his body shivering, his hands cold as ice, despite the Neverland sun bearing down on him, peeking through the dense canopy of the Fairy Tree.
He sat up in a rush, pushing off the branches to narrowly escape the dark figures that stood around his sleeping cot. No. Not figures...
Pan let out a groan, massaging his temples as the shadows leapt from the Tree to wrap around his own shadow on the ground. Why did it have to be today? He hadn't gotten a day's rest since the barrier rite, and he was feeling the effects: his body felt heavy and sore, still healing, and his mind was slow, both from the Rite and the tears.
He drifted to the ground where Bramwë sat with Cassandra and Tamaerean, all three crushing the Fairy Tree leaves into paste. They would later dry out the paste, which would harden slightly and become malleable bandages. At that same moment, his attention was diverted by six, seven... ten faint stars blinking with light. Of course a handful of souls would receive their Judgments when he was being suffocated by movable shadows, or at least, his shadow was.
"Here," Pan pulled off the bag he had made to hold souls, crafted from the branches and leaves of the Fairy Tree, and handed it to Cass. "Gather the ones that are being called, take them to the pillars."
"And you are..." Cass stared at the dark shroud that covered Pan, the shadows curling around his feet like cats.
"Seeing the Death god," Bramwë answered, brushing against the dark masses. "I remember them. So very.. Interesting. Kind even. Though they did send me here, a literal prison, but, alas, I can't be angry given the fact that I live a better life now than the one I lived before." She stared almost fondly at the shadows before turning her attention back to Pan. "Send my regards."
Pan shivered against the bleak coldness that brushed against his skin. Unlike the astral plane, which was dark and full of nothingness, the Second Star was bright white and very, very cold.
Death wandered throughout the Star, pacing back and forth as they began to speak. "Pan. I was worried you might not notice the summoning."
"It was Bramwë who first noticed."
"Ah, yes, the fey..." Death stopped short. "I remember I placed her on Neverland, chained to the Fairy Tree like a wraith is to the Auktross. For what reason... ah, yes, the oracle told me she was needed there."
"You're getting off track," Pan snapped, resisting the urge to walk over to Death and drag the god to one spot and hold it there. "What is it you need to speak about?"
"Hm? ...oh yes. Come with me, there is something I must show you on Earth."
"It hasn't been a month yet," Pan said, bewildered. Ever since his restrictions, three days a month, on Earth had been set, there had been no sneaking around it.
"No need to worry about that, as I am the one that set that restriction on you. Now, we must be off, there is much to see." Death waved their cloak, beckoning Pan to follow him.
"You set it?" Pan stepped up beside Death. "You've just been orchestrating my misery for years, haven't you?" Death swung his cloak from both sides, casting it over Pan, encasing him in darkness.
Not the nothingness of the astral plane, but pure, unadulterated darkness, faint wails and shrieks sounding off all around him.
It was gone just as quickly as it had surrounded him, and he took a deep breath of fresh Earth air.
"Do not ever do that again," he said, breathlessly. That two seconds had seemed an eternity.
"It is essential, as now no mortal will see you as long as you travel beside me," they responded, and Pan noticed their voice was stronger, not so... decayed, as it were. "This is the London hospital, and if you look closely, you may see what it is that has brought me to contact you."
At first, Pan only noticed sick patients being shuttled through hallways, or grieving family members. Then, he saw it, as a nurse rolled a dead body past them, Death reaching out and touching the person, effectively assuming the man's physical features, and securing the soul that sat upon his chest. The soul brightened seconds later and was gone, as Death had no need for afterlife pillars.
Around the head of the dead man, there were two small bits of fairy dust.
"How did he die?" Pan asked Death, staring intently at the dust, his suspicions confirmed moments later.
"Overdose. On a drug derived from the poppy plant. They call it opium."
"Humans and their drugs," Pan smirked, Death giving him a sidelong look through a blue-ish face, not the prettiest of the dead, but more wholesome than the last few times they had visited with each other. "Anyway, that's just one human,who happens to have fairy dust near him, what does this drug have to do with Tinkerbelle? Or that fey you mentioned?"
"There have been a handful of humans that have died recently, all from overdoses, all with fairy dust trails, and all within this vicinity."
"So you think that someone has been using Tinkerbelle's tears to, what, increase their drug profits?" It sounded absurd, but then Pan thought about it, and he found himself wanting to get a hold of this opium drug and use it himself. If humans were dying from it, then perhaps it would have a more potent affect on him than just the tears. "You think this has something to do with the fey?"
"Perhaps. I will lift your restriction, so that you may find out. I do not like this idea of mixing realms, and for humans to be dying because of your careless actions," Death stared, their eyes bulging from the puffy face it wore. "It is something you must remedy, and quickly. Fey and fairy, you must fix both."
"If you were so worried about my having fairies on Earth, why didn't you say so earlier?"
"Earlier? I am telling you now, am I not? Besides, I never thought you would lose one.
"Now? The last time I brought the fairies was," Pan racked his brain, "over a decade ago."
There was a silent pause and Pan began to grow restless at Death's silence.
"A... decade? Has it really been ten years since then? I thought it had only been perhaps a month or so."
"A month? What... what in the hell are you talking about?" The words tumbled out of his mouth in shock, "If you think only a month has gone by since I last brought the fairies here, then, well what about when I am here every month?"
"I am not sure I understand your question, Pan. You are here for three days every month."
"So, by your reasoning, I've only been to Earth once since you last saw the fairies."
"Hm. That may be because I have absolutely no ability to calculate spacial time in concurrence with myself."
Pan stared at Death, who was swinging around his Scythe on his now fully fleshed arms, mouth open. "You what? Then... what? You're fucking with me right now. That means that everything you told me about that fey getting to Earth could have happened a few weeks ago, possibly years ago, and you have no idea which it is!"
"You seem troubled, Pan. I have told you everything that you should be aware of, and now it seems as if I have spent too much time here, there are so many souls to gather." At the mention, two said orbs of light flew past Pan and into the Scythe, the obsidian metal flashing brightly before dimming.
"Oh for fuck's sake, Death," Pan groaned, putting his head into his hands. "You're sure I'll be able to come back whenever I want to?"
"You're here now, are you not?"
Pan bit down on his tongue hard enough to draw blood to keep from throttling the god. "I'm leaving now," Pan breathed out, creeping into the shadows, and sure enough, they pulled him through the Second Star and back on the Fairy Tree camp. Bramwë looked up at him from her resting place, where she had been conversing with Tamaerean and Cassandra.
"How was it?" Cass asked, scratching at her shoulders.
"Yeah, what did you find out from Death?" Tam echoed, swinging Pan's bokken at the Fairy Tree's massive trunk.
Pan looked at the three, crossed his arms, and narrowed his eyes, "The old fool can't tell time."
"Eh, what?" Tam tilted his head, licking his lips as he spied a patch of berries.
"They can't tell time. They have no idea how much time has passed. They were talking to me about the fairies, and thought the last they had seen of them was just a month ago."
"Why is Death worried about the fairies?" Bramwë asked, her full attention on Pan. "I would presume that he has more pressing matters than to worry about Neverland and it's occupants."
Pan sighed. Here it was. The whole truth.
"Death is concerned about the mixing of realms. They're worried about the loss of Tinkerbelle and the emergence of a fey, though they're just telling me this now because they have no idea how much time has passed. They said the fey was able to escape from Limbo because the Neverland barrier was too weak, and there is no way of telling when exactly the fey crossed over."
Her word cut through the air with such malice and hatred that Pan and his Lost Boys stared at her with surprise. Her eyes were narrow slits, aimed straight at Pan.
It was a look he did not like, especially on Bramwë.
"Death has explicitly told you a fey has crossed over?"
"Yes," Pan answered slowly.
The curse that came out of Bramwë's mouth was foul, long, and terribly atrocious, even if Pan couldn't understand the language she spoke in. His mouth dropped open, as did Cass and Tam's.
Never before had Pan heard something like this, he didn't think Bramwë had ever spoken in her native tongue. The sound was shrill and aggravating, but full of unspoken threats and lies.
Bramwë stood and marched over to Pan, her arms shaking. "Pan, you must do everything you can to kill that fey. You find it, and you cut off it's head and attach the body to the Auktross and the head on Skull's Rock, so they will forever be separated and there is no chance of revival." She looked away for a second, and Pan noticed her lower lip quiver ever so slightly.
"Unless of course, this fey happens to a member of the royal family."
She said the last so quietly, Pan had to lean in to hear, while Tamaerean filled in Cassandra as quickly as he could, telling her word-for-word what Bramwë had told him about her home, the little bastard, sneaking up on their private conversations. He'd have to talk to him about that, later.
"What's the difference between fey royalty and non-royal fey?" Pan asked, taking a seat, pulling Bramwë down next to him.
"Fey royalty are... forces of nature, so to speak. Or, that's what I was told. They can never die; even when inflicted with fatal wounds, they are reborn in Limbo sometime later. My sister has ruled the Unseelie Court for as long as I can remember."
"Wait, your sister, Titania, is the Queen of Limbo?"
"Do not speak her name, Pan. When a fairy's name is known to you, it's a kind of... summoning. You become aware of their existence, and they become aware that there is someone else out there that knows of them and their true identity. It was absolutely foolish of me to tell you her name, if she happens to be the one that has crossed over." Bramwë took a shaky breath, her eyes glazing over. "Foolish of me."
That must have been the feeling Pan had felt when he'd gone to Earth, that strange, ominous feeling that had taken hold of his entire body. The fey, and not just a common fey, but a royal one at that.
Then there was no doubt that this fey was Titania as that was the only other fey name he knew besides Bramwë.
"Has anyone from Limbo every visited Neverland?"
Bramwë shrugged, her shoulders sagging forward, in contrast to the usual pristine posture she always carried. "It is a possibility. There were so many open gateways at the time, I'm sure many led to other strange realms, though Neverland and Earth may be the closest neighbors Limbo has, so the vast majority came from the closest, Earth, and I assume some to Neverland. Though, I never heard any mention of any other realm besides Earth."
Pan rubbed his chin, pondering. So, maybe by chance, no fey crossed over into Neverland, so there was a possibility that the fairy dust he had been seen on Earth had no correlation to the fey that was on Earth.
Though, it did seem highly coincidental that this would happen within a few short days of each other. As of now, he would search around for answers to both, and perhaps they would lead him to one person.
"Eh, sorry to interrupt, but Bramwë, if your sister is the Queen, then what are you?" Tam asked, craning his neck to look around Pan and focus on the small fey.
Bramwë stared at him, cocking her head to the side. "I do believe that is possibly the dumbest question I have ever heard you ask, Tamaerean. I am a medic, of course."
"A medic? But if you're royalty, than why are you a medic?"
She shook her head, "Yes, my dear sister is the Unseelie Queen, but I belong to the Seelie Court under her husband, King Oberon. We shared the same Unseelie father, but my mother was a Seelie, and many in the Court found that in disregard to our laws. My mother was killed, and I was sent to a Kingdom much different than my own, where I was taught to heal and care for the fey and," Bramwë scoffed, "those despicable changelings, and the human babies brought over. When I was murdered on Earth, I was under the jurisdiction of Death, and they brought me to Neverland to be reborn, and now I am tied forever to the Fairy Tree."
"Seems to me, either Death knows what he's doing, or he just has a sick sense of humor." Tamaerean said, placing his leaf paste on a plank of wood to begin the drying process.
"There is one more thing," Bramwë said softly, looking over at Tamaerean and Cassandra, "Should you encounter a fey, do not fight it. It will have uncommon abilities, and they will be strong. For some reason, the Earth secretes massive amounts of magical energy throughout the lands, and when fey are able to access it, they are able to obtain the abilities not so unlike your ancient human heroes. Not on par with the gods of old, such as Osiris, Zeus, Tiamat, but perhaps closer to the human children of these gods. And, as nearly all of the old gods have disappeared, this fey may as well be the most powerful thing on Earth at this moment."
"But, Pan," Cassandra said, motioning to him as she breathed against the leaf paste, quickening the hardening. "You're a full-fledged god, aren't you?"
Oh, gods. Yes, Pan was a god, and his power and magical energy he naturally absorbed and secreted while on Earth was immense and sometimes overwhelming, though that paled in comparison to the wealth of power he'd had before he'd begun crossing over back and forth, and not to mention the barrier rituals that sucked out most of this magical abilities-except the last one that had completely drained him of any and all of his nature magic. He destroyed his mind and his body on a monthly basis.
"I may have been one on Earth... but now... well I maybe as well be one of those useless demigods, that have some power, but that fizzles out over time until they're viciously murdered by their own gods."
"Well, that certainly doesn't help with moral support," Cass grumbled, shoving her leaf bandages into her sack. "So, what's the plan then, Pan? If there's the possibility of fey, or a fey, being on Earth, how do we fight it? Will we fight it? Here, on Earth? What?"
Pan glared at her, massaging his temples, below where the horns on his his protruded and curled. "Give me time to think," he spoke softly, though there was no mistaking the full-on death glare Cass received. She grinned at him. "Ugh, Tamaerean, come with me, we're reliving Daeva of his duty and we will track this Neverbeast, see what exactly he's been doing."
There a groan of protest, but he obliged, and followed Pan through the low underbrush, past the Fairy Tree perimeter. Staying low to the ground, Tam let out a low whistle. It was followed moments after by another whistle. They followed the sound until they found Daeva, the dark-skinned Lost Boy blending among foliage he had placed around himself in the impression of a large grove of bush, his dark green reptilian skin adding to his cover.
"For gods sake!" Daeva whispered, brushing aside his cover of flora, "I thought I'd be here for ages."
"We've come to relieve you," Pan said, crouching next to him. "Take Tam's post above the Fairy Tree and have Grunt, Tiva, and Markov continue their perimeter rounds. Also, set Barix out by Skull Rock to keep an eye on the souls. Take off any scouts and have them watch the outposts on Hangman's Rock, Mermaid Cove, and Cannibal Cove."
Daeva yawned, stretching out his arms and back. "Will do, sir. This bastard has loitering around this area for awhile. I'm not quite sure what it's doing." His face paled. "It's one of the bigger ones, so I'd keep my distance."
Pan nodded as Daeva flew off, then motioned for Tamaerean to take Daeva's place. The Boy gave him a sidelong glance but obliged, sitting in the dense underbrush and began to place giant leaves over his head until just his dark eyes were the only things one could see if they looked extremely close.
"Great, now I want you to watch this creature, follow it, until I come and relieve you of duty. Under no circumstances should you kill it."
"What?" Tam snapped,"I thought were were going to kill this thing.
"No," Pan said after a minute, "This Neverbeast activity, coupled with the Tinkerbelle and fey issues has me very worried. I don't think they're coincidences at all." Pan leveled his hard gaze at Tam. "Watch, listen, and learn."
"And you think I'm going to learn anything by watching it? It's just.. Just a thing, it's not intelligent... right?" His voice faltered at the end, and his eyes grew wide.
"Yes, I think this Beast is intelligent, if it's the one I'm thinking of."
"So, what do you think of Bramwë and Death?"
"I think everything is kind of all over the place right now. I'm going to be searching for this fey, while also searching for Tinkerbelle."
"Why are you searching for Tinkerbelle? I mean, it's been years and there hasn't been any sign of her." Tam looked up at Pan and cursed. "Unless you've found something? Are you keeping secrets, Pan?"
"No," Pan said, harsher than he'd meant, "Death showed me a trail of fairy dust on Earth. And it is not an isolated incident, humans are dying because of the potency of the tears."
"You think this fey could be involved with that?"
"Maybe, there is too much I don't know to make a correct assumption. This is what I want you to do. Stay here and keep watch on this Neverbeast, follow it, try and learn what exactly it is doing."
"So, I'm stuck in a bush for a few weeks then. What about when you go to Earth? None of the others have been trained in soul collecting."
"I'll take Cass and no one else."
"You're going to go full-head-to-head with this crazy fey witch? What the hell, Pan, you need me!"
"No, I need you here. You're the best fighter I have. In one week, I want you to bring all Lost Boys to guard the Fairy Tree and Skull's Rock. If worse comes worst, then you will be the front line against any threat, and your first priority is the fairies and the Tree."
Tam sighed, "I guess I won't be needing this then," he said, handing Pan his bokken. "I just know I'm going to be stuck here for a few thousand years. I'm telling you, I think this is just another mindless creature that wanders around and does nothing but kill us all, which means we need a surprise attack to destroy all of them."
"Neverbeasts are always alone," Pan countered, "Now, tell none of this to the others, or I swear to any god still living, I will cut your throat myself and watch you bleed out."
"Ooh, sounds like someone is need of a nap," Tamaerean snapped, snuggling deeper into his hiding area, barely visible except for his narrowed eyes. "What are you doing? I just... I thought I saw you... shiver?" Tam stared at him hard. "Gods be damned, are you afraid of Limbo and the fey?"
The question cut through Pan like a knife, the dull and blunt kind. He'd never been afraid of anything.
But there it was, that feeling that set his mind on edge with unease, captured in one word. Fear.
"Yes," he said simply, the confession making him feel strange. He heard Tamaerean suck in a breath, let it out slowly, and then spoke, his words frantic, "then what the hell am I doing staying here when you're going to be off searching for this thing? You need me!"
True. Tam was more capable than the rest in terms of fighting, hunting, soul searching, and flying. But if there was the off chance that the fey slipped by Pan and somehow made it into Neverland-if that was what the fey was after-he would need his best here and ready to take them on.
"I need you here." Pan said, crouching beside Tamaerean, thick roots growing up beside him to shield him. Tam sniffed at him before growing quiet. "Do you hear that?"
The Lost Boy shook his head, squinting in the growing darkness. There it was, a low growl, similar to the other Neverbeasts, but different. It conveyed an emotional response in Pan, and he felt as if the Beast was growling in pain and anguish.
An hour later, the Beast emerged out of the trees, heading in the direction of the Fairy Tree. Pan felt his body go rigid with surprise.
This beast was one that had long skirted the efforts of Pan and his Boys, it was intelligent-unlike the other Neverbeasts that lived off pure bestial instinct-and the origins of its creation had plagued Pan for many years. It's body was made up of different animals, so to speak, though Pan had never been able to identify the creatures, but it's head. It reminded Pan a little of Bramwë, especially the eyes. As Bramwë was currently stuck to the Fairy Tree perimeter, as far as the canopy of branches and leaves stretched, she had never been able to actually see the beast, or he would have asked her about it.
The head looked somewhat akin to a human, the shape and structure of it at least, with large beautiful antlers that sprouted from it's head, which would have otherwise made it almost lovely to look upon if not for the grotesque stitches and cuts that covered it, especially around the neck, which made Pan think that the head was one creature, attached to this body of various others, different than the other Neverbeasts. Those ones were made differently. Some would have the body of one animal, and the head of another, or the legs and backside of one and the front of another. But, this one, which Pan fondly called the Neverbeast King, was made up of all sorts of things.
He shuddered, always queasy when going after this King. There wasn't much that made Pan feel that way-hell, he was friends with Death-but this thing certainly did.
"Oh gods," Tam breathed, "I hate this one. It's the ugliest thing I've ever seen. What do you think it wants with the Fairy Tree? Last I checked, the Beasts don't eat the fairies, they just kill them, and you know, anything they can get their hands on."
"Which is why you're going to find that out. Do not engage unless it's an immediate threat, but under no circumstances should you kill it. I mean it, Tam.
The Beast turned its head in their direction and both froze, holding their breath so as not to make a single sound. It stared at their hiding places for a few moments, before turning the other direction and lumbering off to a nearby tree where it climbed atop it's branches, which groaned in protest at the immense weight.
"Taking a nap?" Pan grunted, forcing the roots that hid him back into the ground. He let himself gently push off the ground, and Tam gave him a thumbs up, which Pan promptly ignored, and moved slowly towards the Fairy Tree.
"The mermaids are singing a lovely song tonight," Bramwë murmured when Pan neared the Tree, now aglow with bright pink energy,
"Sounds like they're dying," Pan remarked, ears tuning into the faint, ghostly sound of mermaid song. It was low, mellow, dark. He enjoyed it, though he would never mention the fact to that little wretch Poppy. "Bramwë, what are your opinions on the Neverbeasts?"
"Hm," Bramwë set down her small comb, and crossed her arms. "I've never actually seen one, so I cannot say I have any opinion of them."
"They were here when you got here, though, right?"
"Yes, but they have never wandered close to the Fairy Tree. I believe there's always been a sort of magical barrier around the Tree, though now that there are Lost Boys, and you, I believe the magical barrier will cease to exist. How many more Neverbeasts do you think are still around?"
"Well," Pan sighed, resting against the Fairy Tree, which began to hum in a low melodic tune. "We've killed quite a few over the last couple of decades, but they're learning, in a way, and only come out of the underground caves occasionally. The one I'm worried about is the Neverbeast King."
"Are you referring to the one that has been poking around the perimeter? I could barely make him out, but he was quite enormous."
"To be honest, he kind of looks like you," Pan said, then immediately regretted his choice of words as Bramwë's gray eyes stared him down.
"You think I look like a horrid beast?"
"No, no, this Beast... is different than the others. While regular Beasts are made up of two or three creatures, this one is made up of dozens. But, it's his face, his eyes. They just remind me of you."
Bramwë was silent for a long time before she spoke, her voice grave. "Perhaps... perhaps it is possible that a gateway was opened between Neverland and Limbo. But, you would have to ask Vila, and she has never spoken to anyone since I've been here. She lives in the center of the Hangman's tree."
Vila. She was known as the first fairy to be born from the Fairy Tree, and had ruled before Bramwë had come along, after which, she allowed Bramwë to take over as queen and exiled herself to Hangman's Cliff with the older souls.
Pan cursed. He would have to speak with her, as the Neverbeast activity of late was getting to be worrisome. He could not afford to lose any more Lost Boys, especially with the threat of this fey.
Damn, there was just too much going on, and only one Pan to take care of it all.
He'd have to think of a plan. He had Tam watching the Neverbeast King, Cassandra would have to come with him to Earth, so that left around six Lost Boys for him to divvy up duties.
He'd keep Tiva and Markov as the perimeter guards, as they were the best with a bow and arrows, and he'd have Grunt and Daeva watch Hook, which left Barix to keep an eye on the souls, and then there was Frederick.
Sweet, gentle Frederick would be the one tasked with talking to Vila. As the most likable Lost Boy among the fairies, he would have the best chance. Or, he could convince her to come down and speak with Bramwë. Either option was a good one.
Now it was time to call his Lost Boys in and give them their assignments, along with letting them know that hell was possibly coming to Neverland.