“Scowl as much as you want to,” Aubré told Stefan, his expression just as disdainful, “but Tobias wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for Lady Ashleen and Brom. He knew what was happening to faerie-kind back when he began his quest, and he knew that it would eventually happen to my people as well. Additionally, there were creatures native to the shadows being harmed by the loss of magic.”
“My great-great-grandparents scarcely made it out of the former Fae lands before they crumbled.” Tobias had a sad look on his face as he spoke. “Each time parts of the world cracked and crumbled, the beings living there had to take refuge in other parts of Tierney Ríocht.”
“It was much the same for my family,” Evander added. “Fauns and satyrs alike were endangered by what was happening to our world. The fauns did what they could to make a peaceful escape, and they helped those they could, even if they were satyrs. In the end, they were betrayed, and many fauns who would have otherwise escaped were slaughtered.”
“That’s so mean!” Larsa cried. His eyes where welling up.
“Satyrs are vile bastards,” Stefan said. “Duly noted.”
“Don’t speak so lightly of it!” Aubré snarled. “The fauns were very nearly wiped out, and even after all these centuries, their populations haven’t recovered. They are inherently good– so good that they couldn’t even kill the ones who were willing to kill without a second thought.”
“And you would?” Stefan countered. I don’t know what he was trying to prove; he was usually above being so adversarial.
Aubré glowered at him. “My people will do what they must in order to defend themselves. We cannot all be gentle and timid.”
“Hey,” I interjected, “we really need to refocus here. Stefan, let’s just assume that their world is threatened, okay?”
He scoffed. “You want me to have faith in them?”
“Is there truly nothing that you believe in?” Aubré asked. “Do you want to see what happens when you deny the existence of magic? Do we need to take you to the edges of Tierney Ríocht so that you can stand at the precipice and watch it crumble?”
I wove my fingers with Stefan’s and squeezed his hand. “Please,” I begged him, looking up into his eyes. “I know you believe, Stefan. Don’t say you don’t. I… I can’t do this without you and my side, Stefan. I…”
“Evander,” Brom said, his voice heavy with grief and disappointment, “I think it might be best that you gather the energy to open a gateway back to Earth.”
“You’re sending him home?!” Jean-Marc gasped. “But– Brom, the shields! We need–”
Brom held up a hand and shook his head. “He’ll do more damage denying the mysteries of our world than anything else. He can go home, and Leila can use the same gateway to get her key and her instrument.”
“No!” I cried. “I– I can’t… Stefan, you know I can’t play–”
“He’s not leaving,” Larsa declared. “Stefan practices Ásatrú; he might act like a skeptic, but he believes in spirits and the gods and magic just like I do!”
Stefan glared at him.
Larsa glared back. “You’re just scared. You act brave and tough, but when there’s real danger, everything changes.”
“Should I stumble head-first into danger like you do?”
“Maybe you should! You’re mad at Leila for not telling you about this place, but–“
“Fine!” Stefan snapped. “You want me to stay? I will! I already told Leila that I’d do anything for her, and I plan on keeping my word. I just need to know that she’s not being taken advantage of.”
While they bantered, I looked down the table at Evander. He look worried. More than that; he looked sad, maybe even scared. No wonder he was so perfectly willing to serve and assist me. His people had been betrayed, their population… I didn’t know to what extent they’d been wiped out, and I wasn’t about to ask. Like Stefan, he would do anything for me– just for a different reason.
“We need to read the ballad,” I announce, my tone firm and imperative. “It has a lot of the information we need, right? It’s about time we stop putting it off and get started on reading it. Right after breakfast. No more delays.”