Maggie Cartwright, Chapter Ten: Challenges

“Wait.” Maggie stopped, stunned. “Why are we going to the Leannán Sídhe?”

“Leana has been around a long time, and she knows power,” Frey explained. “She’s given it away, she’s taken it, and her memory doesn’t blur with time. If anyone on the continent knows what these things are, it’s her.”

“Besides,” Vera added, smirking back at Maggie. “She’s just so much fun.”

Darius leaned in next to Maggie, speaking in a low tone. “You know the rules around our auntie, don’t you?” 

“Of course. Don’t give her anything without asking for something specific in return, and don’t accept anything unless she says it’s mine without obligation,” Maggie said. “I know. I’ve met the Leannán Sídhe.” Regardless of what the team did, she wasn’t going to use any cutesy nicknames. Call her what they liked, ‘Aunt Leanna’, ‘The godmother’, or any other of a million alternatives, it didn’t make the Leannán Sídhe any less dangerous. 

“And?” Darius asked.

Maggie frowned, noting that the whole group had stopped, looking back at her expectantly. 

“I left empty handed.” she looked away, dismissing the route that the conversation was taking. “Nothing happened.” 

“Something always happens,” Vera said. She didn’t add, ‘You’re lying to us’, but it was implied. 

“I didn’t like the terms she offered,” Maggie clarified, giving the minimum amount of information necessary to stop talking about it. “So I walked. I don’t really like the Leannán Sídhe.” 

“Well, like her or not, we’re going to see her,” Frey said, looking away and continuing to walk. “If you can’t be civil, go find something else to do.”

“I can be civil.” Maggie hustled to get alongside the rest of the group. “I’m only saying I don’t care for how she does business. It gives the rest of us a bad name.” 

They exited the tramway station and entered the old town. Compared to the neat, deliberate construction of the newer parts of the city, the old town was very much a free for all. Large, hollowed out chunks of cave had been excavated, and then buildings had been stacked back inside, built on top of each other to maximize space. 

There was more wood construction in old town than the rest of the city combined, despite it being a quarter the size. Shops, sometimes built out from old homes or just built as blocky things out in the street, were scattered all around. 

Maggie ignored the vendors. This close to the train station, they were effectively in a tourist trap. Nothing of value would be sold around here.

“Right over there,” Frey said, pointing to a shop of knickknacks as they passed it. “Is where I bought my sword. I tell you, Mia can find anything if you’ve got the coin.”

Grumbling, Maggie kept her head down and kept walking. 

Fortunately, nobody harassed them. Even the most aggressive of merchants were keen enough to avoid hawking their wares to a team of well armed warriors moving through the street with a purpose. Only Twig stopped, bartering for a moment to buy some sort of street food on a stick. Glancing back, Maggie read the sign and saw it was something called ‘Kkul-tarae’, a name she didn’t recognize, though the bee on the label told her it was probably made from honey.

Some things were the same across all the Fae. Maggie rolled her eyes. 

“You’re a stereotype, you know,” she told Twig as the svartálfr caught up to the group. 

Twig shrugged, unconcerned, and bit into the snack. 

The Leannán Sídhe’s temple was deeper into old town, but the singing was audible well before the temple could be seen, echoing through the streets at a pitch that carried over the vendors. The song was enchanting, both in the sense that it was the most hauntingly beautiful melody that most people would hear in their life, and in the sense that it literally carried magic—though, only to those within the temple.  

Maggie kept her head down, focused on things besides the music, and kept her hands on the hilts of her swords. She wasn’t worried about a fight, so much as a thief who might try to lift one of the weapons and disappear into the crowd before she could pursue. The spearhead in its pouch over her shoulder would be harder to snatch and grab, but she kept an eye on it, too. 

Either her strategy worked, or nobody was trying to steal her swords. Either way, they made it to the temple in peace. 

It was unlike the other buildings in old town, hewn from stone with an artist’s touch. The temple hadn’t been built, exactly, but rather it had been carved out from the old bedrock. Everything was a single, uniform piece, without a single seam or mortar line to be seen. Naturally, there was a statue of the Leannán Sídhe carved out in the front, showing her in all her smooth, feline grace and splendor. 

Show off, Maggie thought, as they walked around the statue and into the temple. She lagged behind the team, staying for a moment to look up at the stone. 

“She builds herself a statue and calls herself a goddess,” Maggie commented, dryly. 

“Oh?” A sprightly looking elf in long robes turned and raised an eyebrow at her comment. She looked like a supplicant, someone who came to the Leannán Sídhe to beg for some kind of blessing or boon. 

Leave now, Maggie thought. It’s never worth the cost. Out loud, she said, “A lot of things can live for millenia. Being old and arrogant doesn’t make you a goddess, it just makes you insufferable.” 

“You speak awfully freely for someone in her temple,” the supplicant said. “Are you not worried about the consequences of an insult?” 

“I haven’t insulted anyone,” Maggie said. 

“You said the mother of muses is no true goddess, you called her arrogant, insufferable.” The woman cocked an eyebrow. “Is that not an insult to you?” 

“Maggie,” Frey snapped, looking back, only catching the end of the conversation. “What are you doing?” 

Maggie smirked, looking over at Frey. “We came to talk to her, didn’t we?” Then, looking at the Leannán Sídhe, she added, “You know I never said those things. I was careful with my words.” 

The supplicant—that is, the Leannán Sídhe—didn’t skip a beat. “You were, and you’re quick,” she said. “Most don’t notice.”

“Wait, hold on a moment, what?” Darius asked, frowning. 

“Isn’t it obvious?” Maggie asked. “She’s literally standing right next to a statue of herself. Just because she’s dressed down and she’s not ten feet tall doesn’t change what she looks like.” 

“Let’s take this inside,” the Leannán Sídhe said, smiling. “You’ve grown quicker since the last time we met, Margaret Cartwright.” 

“I’ve got some basic pattern recognition skills,” Maggie replied. “Anyways, I’m not here for you. She is.” She gestured to Frey.

Frey was scowling, but when she turned her gaze to the Leannán Sídhe she smiled. “It’s an honor to speak with you.” 

“And you as well, Olive Frey Amelia-Rose,” the semi-goddess replied, sashaying into her temple with a knowing smile.

Maggie raised an eyebrow. Olive? 

Then, she felt her stomach drop as she interpreted the smile. She already knows what she wants from us.

The Leannán Sídhe was ‘subtle’, but she wasn’t subtle. If she was already smirking before the conversation, it was because she knew how the conversation was going to play out, and she liked what she was going to get from it. 

Well then. Let’s just hope we can afford to pay. 

They followed her through the temple, past fountains and glittering murals of natural crystal. The Leannán Sídhe’s chamber was behind a doorway filled with flowing silk curtains, there was no furniture save for a single throne, sized for someone of immense proportions.

Only one person was to sit in this room. It made the power imbalance clear. 

As the Leannán Sídhe approached her throne, she grew, her scale increasing to something more befitting a self-styled goddess. Shifting from a mortal of average height, she grew until she was eleven or twelve feet tall, a woven crown shimmering into visibility on her head as she took a seat, her elbow propped on the arm rest and her hand on her chin, inspecting the team.

She was a being of ancient, raw magic. There were legends about how she became so strong, including some who said that she was there for the birth of magic itself.

Maggie was unimpressed by those rumors. Power was just power. It didn’t get any special boost for being old. 

“So, what did you come here for?” the Leannán Sídhe asked.

Frey knelt, looking down at the floor. The rest of the team followed suit, and though Maggie was dubious, she did too. Their leader spoke, a little slowly, as though she were trying to ensure she was using the proper sentence structure. “We come seeking knowledge of an ancient power.” 

“Tell me,” the Leannán Sídhe said. “What ancient power do you speak of?”

“It is… an unknown being,” Frey said, pausing for a moment. “We seek knowledge of its history, and origin, so that we can know if it’s truly been defeated. Surely you felt the power building this morning?” 

“Do you doubt my senses?” the Leannán Sídhe said. 

What is even the point of this show? Maggie wondered. She knows what we want. She knows her price. This is ridiculous. 

“I have no doubts in your ability,” Frey said. “I only seek your knowledge. If I describe a beast and its minions, what would your price be for telling us everything you know of its ilk?”

“The description won’t be necessary, I know the enemy you faced today,” the Leannán Sídhe said. “And for my price, I ask only one thing.” 

Here it comes, Maggie thought. What’s it going to be? 

“A sword, from your smith.” 

“Nope,” Maggie said, getting to her feet and spinning towards the door. “Nope, nope, nope—”

Frey got up and caught Maggie’s arm before she could leave. “Maggie.”

“We don’t need this,” Maggie said. “We already killed most of them. We’ll kill the rest. I’m not giving away a single one of my blades.”

“We’ll pay you for it,” Frey said. “It’s in the budget.” 

“Money’s not the issue,” Maggie said. She could use the money, but it wasn’t worth compromising. 

“Then what?” Frey asked. Looking back at the Leannán Sídhe, she called, “Is that the only price you’ll accept?”

“It is,” the semi-godess replied from atop her ridiculous throne. 

“Is there any way to convince you?” Frey asked. 

“You said I shouldn’t insult her,” Maggie replied, under her breath, but she nodded. “If this goes poorly, don’t blame me.” 

Frey furrowed her brow, but she didn’t say ‘no’. 

Maggie spun and stared the Leannán Sídhe right in the eye as she started to take off her loose armor. “You want one of my blades, then? I will make one for you, designed perfectly for you, but I have my own condition.” 

“What’s that?” the Leannán Sídhe asked, and everyone else seemed to be wondering the same thing.

Maggie drew one of her swords, levelling it at the ancient, powerful being looming in her throne. “You have to show me that you’re worthy. Then, and only then, will I give you leave to buy one of my swords.”

The whole room was already silent, but at her ultimatum, nobody so much as breathed. All eyes went from her, to the Leannán Sídhe.

The goddess laughed, and her voice was rich and golden like a whole chorus of singers. “You want me to fight you in an honor duel?”

“Hell no,” Maggie said. “There’s not going to be much honor in this, I just want you to fight me.” 

The Leannán Sídhe’s eyes flashed, and Maggie recognized something in that expression. Excitement. “I accept.” 

Chapter Eleven of this story is already up on Patreon, if you can’t wait to read it! I’m trying to get out a chapter a week, so if you’re patient you can read it here in a few days.

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