Pulling ever so slightly so as not to tear the entire wing from the small fairy’s back, Pan ground his teeth against the shriek of pain that rattled his eardrums. Pushing past the sudden appearance of his small amount of empathy, Pan pulled again, half of the thin effervescent wing now hanging limply off the fairy. The skin on her back started to swell and small red droplets oozed out of the wound, but Pan was more focused on the fairy’s small face, and the black tar-like tear that squeezed itself out of the corner of her bright blue eye.
Catching it before it slid to the ground, Pan gazed at it feverishly, so incredibly impatient. But first, Pan settled his gaze on the small fairy, just about the length of his palm, whose shoulders were shaking with silent sobs of pain. He leaned forward and gently blew on the fairy, watching as her wing knitted itself back together with a small golden light. It fizzled out when the job was done. The fairy glanced up at Pan, gaze hardened with hatred, yet full of misguided love and worship, and kissed his fingertip before flying back into the dense forest, fighting against the gusty winds that was Pan’s current mood.
He did hate inflicting pain on the small fairies, who he’d taken an almost instant liking to when he’d first been cursed to this island, but he’d found that fairy tears of pain were the most powerful, and the most intoxicating, and so it was a necessary evil.
Pan brought the tear to his lips, letting it drop onto his tongue-
A gurgle of water made Pan flinch, the tear falling to the sand, lost. He blinked slowly, grinding his teeth in frustration. Damn it all to hell! Narrowing his eyes, he focused on the creature that dare cause him to lose one of the only things that brought him peace.
Besides him, no one else dared lounge about the beach shores, for fear of the creatures that lurked beneath the clear water that surrounded Neverland. The souls roamed Skull Rock, the Lost Boys stayed inland, even Hook had his crew scale cliffs when they docked rather than chance a dock on the beach. It made for easy pickings.
Mermaids as imagined on Earth did not exist, at least not in the beautiful lovely way they were often portrayed. They were instead, horrifying and terrible, and Pan admired their ruthlessness and cunning.
Out of the water rose such a creature, masses of tangled seaweed sprouting from her head, large webbed ears that flattened against her head to hear the singings of her sisters, her hands smooth and sharp, their webbings disappearing as she snaked onto the sand. Her mouth was small, petite, and, when she grinned at Pan, two rows of sharp carnivorous teeth flashed at him. The eyes of the mermaids were what intrigued Pan the most, as they were incredibly large and doe-like, giving the mermaid a sense of child-like innocence, before they pulled their victims into the depths of the sea, tearing their flesh from their body, the limbs from their sockets, watching their victim die whether from drowning or the torture, who could guess, but the mermaids liked to witness their victims die slow painful deaths. With Lost Boys or souls, or even the humans from Hook’s crew, the mermaids had cravings.
“Poppy,” Pan inclined his head to the mermaid as her fin separated into two legs, complete with scales and barnacles. It was a gruesome sight. Poppy hissed at the pain, crawling up next to Pan, her legs still wobbly.
“I found one of your souls,” Poppy smiled, her rows of teeth flashing again, and this time, Peter noticed the remnants of a corporeal soul’s cloth gown stuck in the back of her teeth. “Naughty little thing, they seem to have found a way past your defenses. Or perhaps that Captain friend of yours has found a way to release them.” Pan groaned inwardly.
Those stupid stupid souls…
Neverland had always been the place where souls that were neither ‘good’ nor ‘evil’ were sent until their fates could be decided upon by the powers that be, but it wasn’t such a friendly place. Pan wondered what it would have been like before he had been sent there; possibly much more nefarious and disturbing. He’d created a base for all souls to stay, at Skull’s Rock, where they were bound by his magic until their Judgment came in. That had been much easier than searching all over the wretched island for a soul that had gotten itself stuck in a sand pit or found its way to the edges of the shoreline.
“I told you I pick the souls for you and your sisters,” Pan snarled, cupping his hands as beads of light blue water emerged from the pores of his skin and coalesced into a small pool. He flung it at Poppy and she writhed in pain, every droplet that landed on her burning into her salty scale covered skin, bubbles forming and popping, oozing with golden liquid. “You do not have free reign here.”
“It is not my fault if you fail to do your duty,” Poppy spat, wiping at the blood that leaked from her mouth. “And the souls you pick for us are old and weak. We want fresh souls, maybe even one of those wraiths you keep locked up in the fairy tree.”
Pan balled up his fists and stood, gripping Poppy by the ends of her seaweed hair. It was slimy and covered in algae. He stalked towards the edge of the water and threw Poppy back to the shoreline. The moment she hit the saltwater her wounds closed and her feet fused together, once again a gnarled looking fin. “I’ll have your souls tonight. Do not touch any others until that time, or you will be answering to me.”
Poppy stared at him, a sly smile on her dark green face. Of course, Pan had no actual power over the mermaids, but he knew they saw him as a threat, as someone with a mind like their own. Though, if he crossed into Mermaid’s Cove, he knew he could just as easily be ripped to shreds like the other unfortunate souls that had done so before. “Is it your time to visit the world once again?” She let out a gurgling laugh. “We are agreed, Pan. I will tell my sisters.” Poppy’s head slowly disappeared under the water, her fin splashing at the surface before she was gone from sight.
“Pan! Those fucking souls are out again!”
Frowning, Pan turned back to the forest outline, where his first in command, Tamaerean, hollered out to him. Tam was… energetic, to say the least. Out of all the Lost Boys Pan had created over the years, Tam had been with him the longest. He wasn’t the first, but he had been alongside Pan for many years, and had danced around the edges of insanity as their time went on. The transition from wraith to Lost Boy was difficult and strenuous, and more often than not Pan had to dissolve the mindless creatures in the Pool of Madness, as they were too far gone to make the mentally exhausting change; but Tamaerean had been a different case. He’d held onto his anger, his vengeance far longer than any other Lost Boy, but he hadn’t gotten lost in the process, and had come out better than the others.
Reaching into his leather bag he had on him at all times, Pan tossed a small handful of fairy dust over his head, the small specks of gold fusing into his skin upon contact. He pushed off the ground lightly, a sense of weightlessness washing over him, and glided over to Tam, the boy’s wolfish face staring up at him eagerly. Bramwë said it was a side-effect of their relationship to Pan, the animalistic qualities his Lost Boys gained over the years, as he was a nature god, and with nature came the animals, the beasts of the wild. Over time, the Lost Boys became less human-like, and more like the horrid beasts that roamed Neverland at night. Perhaps that was their fate, and perhaps he cared more about it than he would have liked to admit.
“Take this, gather up the souls, and fix the barrier. It should hold until I renew the Tree when we get back,” Pan said to him, tossing Tam the second leather pouch he always carried with him, the magical concoction he and Bramwë made every few weeks from the Pool of Tears; a mixture of fairy dust, fairy tears, wraith souls, and Pan’s own inherent nature magic. Tam nodded, the large ever-present smile on his face rivaling that of a mermaid’s. His canines and molars were all pointed now, and added with the fact that Tam could smile wider than Pan previously thought impossible, it gave him an unsettling look. If he were anyone else, Pan would have possibly been frightened, but there was nothing that could frighten Pan now except his own mind, and that was where he lost.
“Yes sir,” Tam said, turning to leave, back into the forest, where the Lost Boys had set up camp near the Fairy Tree. “Are you… going to Hangman’s Cliff?”
“Yes,” Pan said quietly, and Tam nodded solemnly, his eyes downcast.
“I’ll have Cass ready to go, and Tiva and Markov will start watch tonight,” Tam said, reaching into his pocket and throwing a handful of golden dust over his head. He lifted off the ground, gave Pan a salute, and headed towards the Fairy Tree that grew in the middle of the Neverland island, it’s canopy of branches and leaves lending shade to a radius of five or so miles.
Pan turned his attention to the large cliff that jutted out on the edge of the island, where, at the top, stood an old, spindly tree, it’s branches dead and hanging limply, leaves and sprouts shriveled up years ago. There were very few souls up there, as Pan liked to keep them all sequestered on Skull Rock so they wouldn’t get lost or eaten or ripped to shreds, but the ones that were there…
They were the oldest souls, the ones that had gained a small amount of awareness, the ones that knew they were never going to rest, because they weren’t important, they weren’t worth the time; they were consigned to oblivion. Sighing heavily, Pan let himself float ever so slowly to the cliff’s top, where a handful of souls lingered, staring out at Neverland’s vast unending ocean. They paid no mind, as usual, as Pan stopped in front of a soul that had been there for a very, very long time. He was ancient, a wizened beard almost touching the rocky ground, back bent horribly, a wrinkled face none the wiser. It took a few moments, but the soul eventually realized that there was something blocking its view, refocused its eyes and smiled softly.
“Are you here to take me home?” The soul looked at him, and Pan swallowed against the raising lump in his throat. He shouldn’t have felt anything for these souls, they were hopeless, they had no afterlife, they’d been forgotten. But, nevertheless, it still left a bad taste in his mouth when he nodded solemnly and held out his hand to the old man.
He nodded, a peaceful look on his face before his touched his wispy hand to Pan’s and was gone, condensed into a small ball of light. Looking upward, Pan looked for his star, an extremely small, very dim star that blinked faintly with an ever-dying light. Whatever afterlife he would have gone to had he not been forgotten, it didn’t matter anymore; he was now fated to curb the mermaid’s vicious hunger. Pan placed the soul carefully into the leather bag he had slung over his back before he’d left for Hangman’s Tree. There were five other souls resting in the bag, ones he’d collected a few days ago, anticipating the demand for more souls.
If ever he felt hatred for his own self, it was in these moments, lying to forgotten souls that had only been waiting and hoping for years, delivering them to the mermaids, to be devoured to offer a small amount protection to the others. Pursing his lips, Pan drifted in the rising wind towards Mermaid Cove. He had just minutes before the Neverland Sun set beneath the horizon, and then he would be pulled to Earth, whether or not he wanted to go. Which he did; he loved Earth, he had loved it since the Auktross had sprouted from the ground eons ago. But he knew that he would never belong there again, he was bound to Neverland by more than just exile, and though it had taken years before the revelation had finally settled in, he had accepted it, his feelings about it be damned.
“You come with gifts I presume,” Poppy’s bubbling voice interrupted Pan’s reverie. He slowly let himself drop, settling on the small island the mermaids liked to clamber upon in hopes of getting the golden clams that liked to nest atop it. Poppy, and five other disinterested mermaids, stared at him as he reached into his leather pouch. At once the other mermaids’ attentions were fastened on the soul, licking their lips and laughter akin to the sound of grating rocks against each other rang out.
Before he handed the souls over, Pan imbued each with a bit of earth magic, magic of love and health, magic he hadn’t performed since he’d been the Guardian of the Auktross, but he’d found that when he did so, the souls he collected for the mermaids burned a little brighter, and he felt a sense of peace wash over him. It was his ritual, and gave him hope, hope that was likely false and only served to give him peace of mind, that the souls felt nothing, and they were already gone by the time they were devoured.
“Fresher,” Poppy mused, taking a deep inhale of a soul before passing the others to her sisters. “This will be enough for us… for a while. I am waiting to taste one of those wraiths, dear Pan, so please think of me while you are gone.” She smiled, her grotesque, horrifying smile that Pan found somewhat endearing, before plunging back into the depths of the sea.
Pan closed his eyes, letting a gentle breeze guide him to the Fairy Tree where Bramwë waited. It was their night, the night that happened but once every two years, as agreed, a deal made between two immortal beings cursed to live the entirety of their existence on an island lost to everyone but the very few that inhabited it. To alleviate the boredom of Neverland, Bramwë and Pan had agreed on answering one question-just one-that the other asked, every other year, no restrictions. It was something Pan looked forward to, a way to connect with Bramwë, to learn more about her.
“Pan,” a small, light voice said, a hand tugging gently on his foot.
“Bramwë,” Pan opened his eyes, righting himself and lowering himself to the ground, where massive roots of the Fairy Tree jutted out, creating hideaways, sitting places, beds. He sat upon one and watched.
In a circle of fairies, hovering and sitting, sat what seemed a small child, raven black hair cascading down her back, ends tangled in leaves and weeds, a simple white gown, not unlike those the souls wore, draped across her small stature, her milk-white skin stark against the hair that draped her. She was brushing a fairy’s hair with a small three-toothed comb, her movements gentle, precise, loving. Bramwë did this daily, the hair-brushing, the looking after, the motherly aspects any child would expect from a mother, and yet when she looked up, the sharp features of her face casting down any thought that she was a child, Pan saw nothing in her eyes; no love, no happiness, nothing but gray oceans of emptiness.
And yet, Pan knew that Bramwë felt, he knew it. She had said two years ago that she was a different creature, she did not come from Earth, nor any of its connecting realms, but somewhere else, somewhere dark, and they did not process emotions the same way earthly creatures did. She had certainly changed, from the woman that had been peering over him when he’d first come to Neverland, her gaze dark and unfeeling, to where she was now. It may not have shown on her face, but through her actions, Pan knew that she felt things.
Or he desperately hoped.
Bramwë gently set her comb down and the fairies that sat around her nodded respectfully, a few flying up to her and whisperings words in a language Pan had never been able to learn, though not for a lack of trying. The fairies flew off, each one brushing past one of the curved horns on his head before they crowded around the Fairy Tree to find a place to sleep.
“I was of the mind that you may have forgotten about tonight,” Bramwë said in that lovely soft voice she had. It was almost as wonderfully intoxicating to Pan as the Pain tears he violently pulled from the fairies. Almost.
“Of course not,” Pan said, opting to lay beside Bramwë in the mossy grass, relishing the feel of the soft earth beneath his out-splayed hands. “I have an excellent question today, and I will not miss this opportunity for it to be answered.” But, first things first.
Most of the time, Pan tried to keep his emotions in check. He knew what he felt affected the entirety of Neverland, the weather, the ocean, the island itself. It was one of the many reasons he tried to get a tear early in the day, so that none of the inhabitants of this realm had to go through the turmoil that was his subconscious mind.
He snatched the closest fairy he could find, ignoring the hardened gaze of Bramwë’s entrancing eyes, and quickly tore the entire wing off the poor fairy’s back. There was no sound of pain as the Pain Tear rolled down its face, and Pan caught without a moment’s hesitation, consuming it before he could be interrupted again.
At once, the winds died down, and the waves crashing against Neverland’s beaches calmed to a standstill. He took a deep breath, breathing out calmness and serenity. For a moment he was back on Earth, with his brothers and sisters, caring for the Auktross, protecting it. He always seemed to go back to that time when he was in the drug-induced mind state the tear created.
“The Pool of Madness does not help?” Bramwë asked, soothing the now flightless fairy, bringing it close to her chest in an attempt to offer comfort. Pan tossed the fragile wing in the air as he laid back to gaze at the souls of lost. It fixed itself to the fairy, haphazardly attaching to the scarred skin of the fairy’s back.
“Not as much as I would hope,” Pan sighed, feeling along the earth, the Fairy Tree calling to him, the anger of the wraith secured inside trying to overtake his blissful mood. He pushed off the ground lightly, opting to hover an inch or two off the ground instead. He still had a few days before he would begin the barrier ritual, and now was not the time to get lost in the sickness of the wraith’s energy.
“I do not like this, Pan. These are gentle creatures, you should not do such horrid things to them,” Bramwë watched the fairy stagger to the Tree before turning her attention back to Pan. “I know the tears are essential for the barrier, but…” She shook her head, reclining back, eyes focused on the stars. “Tell me your question.”
Pan cast her a side-long glance, before taking another deep breath, his hands tingling from the tear as it worked its magic. “Tell me about the fey.” His last question, what Bramwë was, had been answered with just one word: fey. It was a familiar word, something he had heard of when he’d been back on Earth, but that had so very long ago.
“Very well,” Bramwë said, “but, we do not call ourselves fey, or fairies, or demons. Those names were given to us by the humans, rightly so I believe, when the gateways began to open. I think at that time, Neverland did not have a Pan to protect it, nor a magical barrier strong enough to keep our realm and the human world completely separate. When the gateways first appeared, my race was, in their own way, ecstatic, to be able to leave the dregs of our home and come about in a new one, full of these odd creatures so much different than ourselves. They were not prepared, and we fey realized we could control these weak-minded humans with our gifts, which were amplified in a way we had not thought possible in our own home.
“It is possible that we may have been able to remain undetected by the gods of your world had we not started replacing the human children with our changelings,” Bramwë’s voice took a hard edge and she spit into the grass, disgust in her eyes.
Changelings. This was something Pan knew. “Changelings, they’re fey?”
“Those filthy creatures… they are not fey. As fey children grow from the vines of our sacred world tree, changelings grow from mud pools, their small bodies writhing in the muck until a fey takes pity and decides to raise them. It seemed their purpose was to remind us that we are not perfect, for how could we deign to call ourselves perfection when the likes of these monstrosities plighted our home.
“It wasn’t until a captive human child came near a changeling, and that changeling transformed into a near perfect replica, that we saw what we could do with these things. Our king and queen declared we switch the changelings with human babies, and bring the babies to our world to keep as servants, to study and learn, to what end, I do not know. The humans caught on quicker than we thought possible, and we were banished back to our home.”
Bramwë stopped, looked at Pan, her mouth down-turned, almost a frown, before speaking again. “The fear that humans feel is incredibly strong. They had been underestimated, and that ultimately cost us our freedom to enter freely between Earth and my home, Limbo. We were once again stuck in our dreary world where nothing ever changed. There were still portals, yes, but they were different, a wandering path of nothingness, where many fey lives were lost. I believe this to be something that your gods did, to make it more difficult for us to reach Earth. It did not stop us though, and we continued to cross over, though less frequently and in smaller numbers. My sister,” the word came out strained and full of contempt, “asked me to stay on Earth while she sought for a way to somehow merge Earth and Limbo.”
Sister. The word ran through Pan’s mind. Bramwë had a sister. “Who is she?”
“Who?” Bramwë sat up, pulling her hair over her shoulder, and began to brush it with the small comb. She’d spend the next few hours raking that three-pronged comb through her thick mass of hair. It was strange, and something she took great pride in.
“Someone I hope you never have to meet.” Bramwë said coolly, her eyes narrowing, brows knitting together slowly. It seemed to take a lot of effort, but Pan was mesmerized. A hundred years ago, she had just started to change the inflection and tone of voice, instead of the steady stream of monotonous conversations they used to have. “As I am of the Seelie, she is of the Unseelie: she is dangerous, powerful, cunning, and ambitious. And that is all I will speak on the matter. You have asked more questions than you should have, and now our time is almost up.” There was a slight purse of her lips before she continued. “You owe me a question when you are back. After the barrier is replenished, of course.”
“Of course,” Pan promised, a chill running through his body, something tugging at his soul.
He closed his eyes, and let it guide him.