Ghost enters an elfin city.
The very best days of a temperate autumn are unlike anything else. The air is cool enough to make your sweater hug you with paternal warmth and brings a flush of energy to the cheek. The leaves erupt in a celebration of colors, mingling joy and age and beauty and endings in a beautiful symphony. There’s an energy that makes working pleasant, a peace that makes doing nothing rewarding, and sense of a gathering end that makes everything seem more vital and sweet.
In the mortal realm, if you had a land of perpetual autumn it would just be a chilly land with parti-colored leaves. But the fey can do that which the mortals cannot, and the great elfs often pick something like a season of change and fix it as an eternal aspect of their realms. Queen Autumn Glow, elf ruler of the city Autumn Glow in the Lands of Perpetual Autumn, may not have had much creativity when it came to naming things but she had managed to live the best autumn day every day for hundreds of years. Every single day the leaves were just reaching the height of their colors, every dawn was the most brilliant sunrise of the season, every day was the same temperature and yet a bit cooler than the day before. She managed to capture both place and motion in a perfect living snapshot as only an elf can do.
In her first visit, Ghost had found this land one of pure delight. Such beauty, such energy, such pervasive contentment and joy she had never dreamed could exist. Once her case had been dismissed by the queen it had attained a kind of taunting quality, a land of delights where others lived but she could only visit. Now she was back, perhaps to stay, but back as a wiser, more traveled person. Had not the Unseely, tainted and dark as they may be, been able to slay more ugliness than these people could handle?
Ghost saw the laughing satyrs and flights of pixies now as dancing in an autumn delight forever only by choosing to ignore the winter that waited just beyond. Where were the harvesters? Who was laying in store for the winter to come? Ghost laughed and danced with them, but did so now as seasoned adult might frolic with innocent children. It was a joyful pastime, but just a pastime, not the opening of a lifestyle.
Would Ghost have given up the perspective of the maturity to regain innocence? She didn’t even think of the question. As she danced and frolicked from one group of beautiful fey to another, she always worked toward the city to ask the queen for release from the blade; and yet in her heart it was just to remove the tingle in her arm, not to restore her previous mindset. She wasn’t even conscious that her mind had changed. Such is the surety of experience; it asserts its own inevitability so effectively we rarely even notice it exists.
Surrounding the city of Autumn Glow is a marvelously large ring of living maples growing so close together that their lower trunks merge into an effective wall. It is a thing of beauty, a testament to life and cooperation, a choir of reds and golds, a monument to the magic of autumn. But Ghost saw it also as a wall, a protection, a guard against the forces of winter and time that might attack at any time. The queen at least was no child. But would the guards at the gate notice the shadow within her? Would she be repelled as one who was bound to the Unseely? It was with some trepidation that she approached the dozen centaurs that stood about the majestic arched gateway into the city. They appeared to be chatting relaxedly and paying no mind to those entering and exiting the city, but Ghost had no doubt they were really there as guards and that if they suspected her of an Unseely connection they would treat her with real hostility.
Ghost approached the gate gradually, moving back and forth from one group of passers to another and watching the centaurs for any sign of suspicion. At last she was close enough she needed to commit one way or another and moved through the gate in what she hoped appeared a casual manner without lingering within their notice.
The centaurs let her pass without comment.
Inside Autumn Glow was a true city, houses and streets and lots and lots of people. It was a beautiful fey city in the very height of autumn, but it was still a city. Merchants and craftsmen, shoppers and loiterers, couriers and street cleaners, all the normal signs of people making a life in a crowded land. Ghost was glad for her costume, for here as in the human lands it seemed to help her blend in and besides the air was growing quite brisk as the afternoon wore on to evening. She made a point of going near the food sellers; most were willing to give samples of their wares in hopes of enticing a buyer and Ghost was able to stave off the worst of her hunger at not expense.
It was still some hours before sunset, so Ghost worked her way toward the queen’s palace. Figuring out lodging and a longer-term survival plan could wait.