Deep in the Wood Between, where only the bravest might wander, a tree was discovered, a most magical tree with bright red berries and inside these berries were two seeds. Whoever discovered them brought them back to the worlds woven into the Wood, and soon all manner of folk were speaking of the wondrous coffea tree and seeds which they mistakenly called beans.
It was soon discovered that these beans could be ground into a fine powder and turned into a drink, and soon all manner of folk were drinking this wondrous coffee.
Some liked it strong, some liked it weak. Some liked it hot, and some liked it cold. Others preferred tea.
But the great evils of the far-reaching world liked it as served in a small brew tucked away in a dark corner of Goldstone Wood. There Vartera mixed the drink in her great cauldron, and everyone evil agreed (with a great smacking of lips) that she was a far preferable barista as compared to their first, the late Meadhbh (whose drinks disagreed with any stomach, even wicked ones).
This highly exclusive brew was known as THE BEAN IN BETWEEN, and it drew villains from Far and Near, not only for its most excellent drinks, but also for its excellent company, for even villains sometimes like to sit down and relax and chat with friends—though these chats might turn ugly at an alarmingly swift pace.
One never knew who they might find inside the brew, for the Wood was a most independent entity and it had a habit of staying out of Time, which meant any folk from any Time, past or future, might accidently get thrown out of their proper timeline.
Such an example could be found in two shadowy figures hunkered around a table in the darkest shop corner. One might have easily told from their features that they were brothers, that is if one could have seen any features at all. They were known amongst fairy folk as beaters, and as even villains liked to keep their distance from them, the only real conversation they could find was with each other. They weren’t interested in coffee, but it was a fine place to talk (talking being a relative term of course, as most wouldn’t consider their dark tongue to resemble anything called talking).
“Mortals are no more than a mouthful,” the one called Yukka complained. “They perish so swiftly, I barely taste their pain.”
“If only for the days of old,” his brother Guta replied. “The days of faerie feasts.” (One must be informed now that they had never in any history been invited to a feast. They were the sort that liked to crash a party, and by faerie feast, they meant feast on faerie).
For the most part, Evil likes to be absorbed in itself, but every once awhile something interesting will catch its ear, and the beaters’ speech struck the Dragon’s ear, and he found it interesting. Or irritating. He swung away from the counter in a billow of smoke and the heat of his scowl burnt the beaters all the way from across the room. “Ah yes,” he said, his dark teeth flashing. “Guta and Yukka. I’ve been meaning to talk to you. You’ve been stealing some of my prey.”
It is impossible to say they tried to look innocent. Perhaps they became offended or at least defensive. “Broken hearts abound around us,” one argued. “Surely you can use that to your gain.”
The Dragon smiled, and several of the less stout villains fled from the shop. “You’ve been taking the best of the crops.”
It is a universally acknowledged truth that great evil never likes to submit to an evil greater still, and Yukka hissed back, “We shall feast on whoever we choose and we will go wherever we like.”
More folk fled the shop.
“Ah, Yukka,” the Dragon said, smiling still. “Have you ever thought of going to the Netherworld? I hear the Black Dogs are gracious escorts.”
“Escort dogs who and where?”
The smile fell from the Dragon’s face. Yes, now that he thought about it, the Black Dogs were not born yet in Yukka’s Time and apparently, he had not encountered them in the Between. Bother it, Time was such a messy thing and any threats of oncoming doom could fall most flat when one wasn’t careful.
A very cool laugh lilted through the air, cold enough to deaden the heat of the Dragon’s presence and send a shiver through every bone. “Careful, brother,” a voice whispered. “Careful which games you play. Your tongue may well speak before you think.”
The Dragon turned and glared to another corner of the shop where a winter mist had gathered in the shadows about a small table. Seated there was a lady, tall and terrible, so great that one might have first thought that she towered far above the brewery even though she sat so gracefully inside. The winter mist was her long white hair, which drifted in a slow unseen breeze and bit like frost. The rest of her, skin and dress, were dark as night, and only her white eyes could be seen in the shadows. On the table before her were a set of dice.
“Sister,” the Dragon greeted, his smile returning, but looking more like a grimace of pain or a leer of rage. “In the pleasant Time from which I have just hailed, you were locked away, no more than an unhappy memory. I’d rather hoped it would last forever.”
“In your dreams,” the Lady said mockingly, and indicated the dice with a sweep of her hand.
The beater brothers forgotten, The Dragon stalked over to the table and sat upon the stool, stretching his long legs out to the side. His shoulders hunkered around his head like batwings as he bent down to finger the dice. “How did you know I wish to play?”
“You always want a game,” the Lady said.
“It’s for a boy,” The Dragon said.
“Man, woman, boy, girl, I care not which,” the Lady replied, her voice flat and freezing as ice.
Everybody still brave enough to be in the coffee shop leaned forward in their seats to watch the dice roll. Even Vartera stopped mixing her drinks and stretched her body over the counter to see.
But then quite suddenly and rudely, the game was interrupted by the sound of the door banging open. Every evil gaze flickered vengefully to the intruder and then every evil gaze blanched.
Filling up the doorway stood the impressive figure of Etanun Ashiun, his flashing sword held ready in his hand. Sir Etanun Ashiun, Knight of Farthestshore and decidingly All-Around Good Guy.
“The sign says VILLIANS ONLY!” Vartera shrieked. “Don’t think that you can come in just because you got a little dragon-poison-crazy.”
“This party is over,” Etanun said grimly, his sword slashing to the side.
The Dragon narrowed his eyes to observe the knight more carefully. Which part of Time he came from was critical to whether the Dragon would stay or fly through the roof. But yes…yes, there a certain tension and deeper shadows to Etanun’s features, a sickly gleam hidden in the depths of his eyes, and yes, a fading scar on his neck could just be seen. Dragon-poisoned. Whether for the first or second time did not matter, but the Dragon hoped it was the second. He rose from his sister’s chilly corner and swept over to Vartera’s counter.
“A drink for my friend, Etanun,” the Lord of Death in Life said, then leaned casually back against the counter, elbows propped behind and ankles crossed, and cast a friendly look the knight’s way. “So Etanun, I hear you’ve been having girl trouble.”
Etanun threw a dark look at all the staring villains, but he stepped from the threshold and came to the counter, his frown deepening. “What do you know of it?”
“Plenty,” the Dragon said, then called to Vartera, “Extra shot of Villiana.”
“Extra shot of what?” Etanun repeated, startled.
“Vanilla, what did you think I said?” the Dragon replied. He decided to risk the chance that he was speaking to Etanun Twice Poisoned and said, “So major jealousy issues, hmm?”
Etanun slumped onto a stool with a heavy sigh and raked his hand through his hair. “Ytotia killed my One True Love.”
“That’s just sad,” the Dragon said. “I mean, you hear about girls fighting over a man, but killing? Who would have thought it?” He accepted the drink from Vartera with a smile then slid it over to Etanun. “So tell me more. How have you been handling that? I mean, talk about the guilt.”
“I had no idea Ytotia was going to turn into a dragon just because I turned her down!” Etanun exclaimed, slamming his hand down onto the table. “I mean, how was I to know she’d obsessed over me so? I was just being a gentlemen!”
“That’ll teach you to be nice to a girl again, huh?” the Dragon chuckled.
“It wasn’t my fault!” Etanun retorted angrily.
“Of course it wasn’t,” the Dragon soothed, scooting the drink a little closer with a long claw.
Etanun absent-mindedly took a swig while he continued on, “And now all the Houses of Lights are burned down and the worlds are in disarray just cause some crazy faerie queen had a crush! Who would have thought someone so small and fragile could have turned so destructive?”
The fire in the Dark Father’s eyes lit in eager pride. “Oh, I know. I really wouldn’t have thought it either. The transformation was so extreme, I impressed myself.” The gleam in his eye sharpened, and he cocked his head like a bird considering a treat. “Just imagine if someone already mighty and powerful gained my strength as well.”
“That would be a disaster,” Etanun muttered, taking another drink.
“Mm-hmm,” the Dragon purred, mouth curling up into a hungry grin, and everyone evil in the room stiffened in expectation of the Dragon claiming the knight as one of his Children then and there.
But they were again suddenly and rudely interrupted by the door swinging open. Bright light burst in, and nearly every villain shrieked and dove for any available shadow. When the light concentrated, those who weren’t momentarily blinded could see Akilun Ashiun standing in the door. Sir Akilun Ashiun, Knight of the Farthestshore and decidingly Undisputed Good Guy.
He strode through the room to the counter, the lantern in his hand swinging with grim resolve. “Etanun!” he exclaimed upon seeing his younger brother seated next to the Dragon. “I thought you’d come to break up the party, not join in!”
“Oh, don’t be such a mother hen, Akilun,” the Dragon scolded. “Etanun’s not a child.”
Ignoring the Dark Father, Akilun snatched up Etanun’s coffee and sniffed it suspiciously.
“It’s just coffee, Akilun,” Etanun said in haste.
Akilun raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “Have you checked who’s serving the coffee?” he asked with a dramatic gesture to Vartera.
Akilun threw him a swift glare, then took Etanun’s arm and pulled him to his feet. “We’re leaving. Once I’m quite sure you’re not poisoned, we’ll destroy this place.” He turned to go, but found himself nose to nose with none other than the Lady of Dreams.
Her white hair and eyes glowed in the light of the lantern, but there it turned into a deathly radiance. The rest of her remained dark as ever, not reflecting a glimmer. “Ah, Akilun,” she whispered. “The wiser of the Brothers. Hot-headed siblings are so difficult to deal with, are they not? I have discovered many similarities between us. You bring Hope and I bring Dreams. They are not so very different.”
Akilun’s mouth pressed into a hard line, and his grip on the lantern tightened. “We have been through this debate before, Life-in-Death. You know they are vastly different. The Hope I carry is grounded in the faith of Lumil Eliasul; the Dreams you offer will lead nowhere but Death.”
“So you say, but have you considered--” the Lady began.
As the two began to argue, the Dragon took Etanun’s other arm and tugged him back down onto the chair. “Looks like they will be a while yet,” he said. “Isn’t it so annoying when siblings act as if they’re smarter than you? My sister’s so arrogant, it makes me ill.”
Those sitting still in the coffee shop sipped their drinks and watched the exchange with fascination. The Brothers Ashiun caught with the Lady and her Dark Brother? What would follow?
No one ever got to find out, because quite suddenly and rudely, they were interrupted for a third time by the door banging open.
“I say, looks like we discovered a rat’s nest, old girl!” And in stepped Eanrin. Sir Eanrin, Knight of Farthestshore, Bard of Rudiobus, and Owner of so many other Titles that it would be tiresome to list them all. Clad all in scarlet he was, with a scarlet cap perched upon his yellow hair. His golden eyes gleamed in his fair face, and his mouth was twisted into a cattish smile. Indeed, some looking at him saw not the man but the cat he was also, orange, fluffy, and equally charming.
Behind him came Dame Imraldera, also a Knight and the Keeper of the Haven besides. Though a mortal, her exotic beauty did not dim beside the Fey Folk, and she met every eye in that room with calm. “So it is true,” she said. “Evil does like company.”
“Easier for us, ta-ha,” Eanrin said, setting his hands on his hips. “All right then, you despicable lot, it’s over now.” He paused and took a sniff. “Ah coffee, is it? I say, I haven’t had a good cup of coffee and cream in some while…”
“Have you bothered to see who’s serving the coffee?” Imraldera said, waving a hand towards Vartera.
“Very excellent point, princess. All right then, you monsters, say your prayers if you have any, because the time has come—” His speech broke off, and his eyes rounded to huge golden discs. A strange meowling growl tore from his mouth and then he bounded across the room to where Etanun sat.
“You!” the Bard cried, glaring at Etanun. “I thought you died when the tower fell! A fine thing for you to show up here, amongst like company! You, Sir, are an absolute disgrace to Knighthood, I say! And I demand an explanation from you for sending Imraldera off on a mission without consulting me! Why, I never—”
“I’m sorry,” said Etanun, his brow furrowing in confusion. “Do I know you?”
“Sir, there are no other Knights besides my brother and I,” Etanun said sternly.
“You conceited thing! The Prince made me one and you don’t have the authority to say I’m not! Well, what about the War of Rudiobus, hmm? What about that! I’m Sir Eanrin of Rudiobus!”
“Oh,” Etanun said, recognition dawning. “That’s right. I’m sorry, I can never tell the Little Folk apart.”
Eanrin’s jaw nearly dropped to his chest and his eyes rounded yet more in feline fury. He tried to form words, but all he could manage for several moments were sputters and hisses. “Why---why---why! Why, I wear scarlet! I’m the Bard, I’m the Jilted Lover of Lady Gleamdren, I am—” and here his very voice trembled with wounded dignity—“I am utterly UNIQUE! How dare you insult my individuality! You Sir, are a—”
In his tirade, he’d lifted his finger and shook it under Etanun’s nose, and Etanun started frowning down upon it. Before Eanrin was quite finished, Etanun pushed the finger away with firm force.
Here things might have turned very ugly indeed, and all the villains watched with keen interest and excitement, but they were sadly disappointed in their hopes, for at that moment, Imraldera and Akilun rushed over and caught their respective fellows.
“Eanrin, Eanrin, that’s enough, what are you going on about?” Imraldera exclaimed.
“Do you not see, old girl, this is that cad who sent you off to get captured…” Eanrin’s voice faded away as he stared at Akilun, standing beside Etanun and very much alive. He blinked and blinked again, and then his face paled. “Oh Lights Above,” he groaned. “Imraldera, do you know what this means?”
“That I’ve finally met my favorite Knight?” Imraldera said happily. She bestowed one of her lovely smiles upon the eldest Ashiun. “Sir Akilun, I must tell you how much I’ve admired your work. You’ve been an inspiration and a model for me ever since I discovered your books in one of the old havens.”
“Lady Imraldera,” Akilun said with a bow. “I’ve heard the Songs prophesy of you, and I must say it is a great honor to meet you ahead of Time.”
Eanrin glanced back and forth between the two of them rapidly. The growing suspicion and hurt in his eyes collapsed in a wounded wail. “Akilun’s your favorite Knight? What about me? What about my work?”
“Oh what are you fussing about, cat?” Imraldera said, frowning. “You haven’t even had coffee to excuse this ridiculous behavior.”
“Speaking of coffee,” the Dragon roared over Eanrin’s next outburst, “how about a round for all our good knights!”
The Bean In Between erupted into a chaos of shouts and protests. Villains yelled complaints about how this used to be a more exclusive party, Vartera yelled about how it was VILLIANS ONLY, and the knights called out things like, “We shall not take a sip from your brew, foul Dragon,” and “I’m not at all convinced it was actually coffee! How dare you try to poison me, you worm!” and “Ridiculous behavior, really! I was defending you!” and “How by Lumé were you defending me? It sounded to me that you were defending yourself!”
In all the chaos, nobody heard the door open again and nobody saw a new person standing in the entrance. But though he did not yell, everyone heard him speak.
“Good day to you,” said the Prince of Farthestshore.
A silence deader than the Netherworld fell upon everyone in the brewery, and they turned horrified eyes to the speaker. The villains didn’t dare move, and the knights looked rather abashed.
Akilun was the first to move, dropping quickly to his knee. “My lord,” he said, “What would you have us do with this place?”
Before any answer came, the Dragon scoffed. Of course, the Dragon scoffed, eager to prove that his blood had not curdled at seeing his greatest Enemy before him. “Oh, Eshkan,” he said. “How typical of you to spoil the party. Don’t you ever let your Knights have any fun or must you keep them on a tight leash all the time?”
“Oh, they are most welcome to stay, if they wish,” the Prince said with a pleasant smile. “I was simply coming to inform them that they might want to drop by Farthestshore’s Fountain before the crumpets and cream are gone.” He lifted one said crumpet glazed in cream as he spoke and took an appreciative bite from it. “Oh, and the tea and coffee are getting cold.”
“I’ll go make some more then,” Imraldera said, hurrying past him.
An expression of disconcertion came across the Dragon’s face. “Farthesthore Fountain? What sort of trick is this?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, have you not heard of it?” the Prince said, his face as innocent as a lamb. “It’s a new service the Knights are now offering at the Haven. We serve all kinds of delicious drinks and fare to nourish any wandering traveler or weary knight.”
“Speaking of which,” Etanun said, “I feel in need of some iced cream to cleanse that awful brew from my mouth.” He cast an uncertain look at Eanrin. “Care to join me, friend, before we go back to our own Times?”
Eanrin hesitated for only a moment, before he resigned his scowl with a shrug. “Well…I suppose….it is iced cream.”
They sauntered out together after Imraldera, chatting about various adventures and exploits.
The Prince cast one last gaze around the shop, his beautiful eyes finding each and every villain hidden in the shadows. And his gaze filled with pity for those who had lost their way, corrupted by empty promises from the Greater Dark. “If any of you ever want refreshment,” he said, “do come.” And he turned and left, Akilun at his side.
All the glorious light swept away with them, and everybody evil was left sitting in the bleak Bean In Between. There wasn’t a sound save for an occasional creak and the drip of a spilled drink.
Then some unknown person muttered, “I want to go to the Farthesthore Fountain.”
The Dragon scowled. “Oh, do shut up.”
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