The mouths of memory had bared their fangs tonight, and so Elessir let them sink their teeth into music.
He had no idea where he was, past the fundamentals of small un-Warded town, seedy bar, and somewhere in Mississippi. It didn’t matter much; the bar was practically empty, thanks to the thunderstorm laying waste to the night. Five diehard souls were still scattered around the place, two canted at drunken angles on barstools, two huddled together in a booth against the far wall, and the bartender holding her post behind the bar. There was no stage worthy of the name in the place, just a few square feet of slightly higher floor in the corner, barely big enough for a chair to face the room. There was no mike either.
His guitar, though, was all he needed.
No one challenged him as he strode in with the lightning at his back, and not even the bartender protested when he claimed the chair in the corner for his own. Heads snapped up when he let the first few notes off their leads, like hounds ready to find and rend their prey. Faces blanched when his chords followed, dissonant seconds and thirds and sevenths with no promise of resolution. His mouth curled even as he sang–and when he tapped into the thunder outside with the words he shaped, the two humans at the bar bolted out the door. The two from the booth weren’t far behind, the young girl of the pair bursting into panicked tears while her boyish companion thought for a few fleeting moments to confront him at last.
A backhand of rhythm blasted the idea out of the boy’s head before he could get within twenty feet of the corner. Elessir grinned at the sight of eyes going vacant with fear, and for good measure, he threaded a compulsion through the thrall he was laying down with his song.
Run, little morsels. Don’t look back. You don’t want to see me there.
The bartender was made of sterner stuff. As her last two customers fled out into the storm she didn’t blink, and she approached him with far more caution, as though he were a rabid wolf. She wasn’t unaffected. Tears gleamed unshed in her eyes. Her cheeks, dusky though they were, were ashen. “I can’t pay you!” she shouted.
Her voice was strained, but it didn’t break, and that surprised Elessir enough that he backed off enough to let her breathe. “I don’t need your money,” he drawled. The guitar didn’t like his restraint. Its lowest string hissed as he slid up and down between E and F sharp on the beat, the pulse of a sullen and scowling heart.
“Then why the hell’re you here, boy? You say to yourself, I’ll go drive off all of Maggie Thompson’s customers tonight, that’ll be a hoot?”
It was a fair question, but it vexed him that the mortal woman had the fortitude to ask. He was about to drown her brain in a new blast of dissonance when the name she’d offered him stopped his hands cold upon the strings. Elessir’s ears and the body of the guitar rang in the silence, and he barely noticed. Maggie Thompson. He didn’t know the name, yet it resounded through him. The mouths of memory howled for a long-dead woman with a name like that, and another with her brave and anxious eyes, and another, and another. Wraiths of faces he thought he’d banished floated over the bartender’s own features, wrapping her in smoke, changing her.
When she took on the shape of Melorite, it was too much. He surged up off the chair, kicking it aside as he swung the guitar on its strap around behind his back. “If I’m that unwelcome, darlin’,” he snarled, “you’d best get out of my way.”
Melorite’s lovely, cursed face, carnelian eyes and mahogany hair and all, dissipated with the force of his fury–but one last visage took its place, coalescing and then vanishing again with strength enough to strike Elessir dumb twice in the space of a minute. Not the bartender’s, this face. It was someone very like her, of her blood perhaps. Or who would be.
Then even that face vanished. Crying freely, yet even now not yielding, the bartender gaped. “What are you?” she whispered. “Where do you come from? Hell?”
Not far off, he wanted to tell her. The Wild Hunt had nothing on the Sight screaming in his blood tonight, bouncing from past to future and back again, and all at once he had no heart to unleash it here. Elessir sprang past her and aimed himself at the door. He kept his stride easy and his stance proud. Stars, moon, and frost, he was Unseelie. He wouldn’t do anything so pitiful as flee. Not from a foolish human who could look him in the eye only because she had no notion of what she faced.
“Sorry, honey. You don’t get that story.”
Her granddaughter would. He knew it even as he reached the door, the Sight howling behind his eyes at what he chose tonight. No mind would shatter tonight, no blood spill on the barroom floor, and he’d pay for it in decades to come. For once, though, the trade seemed fair.
He didn’t look back at Maggie Thompson as he escaped into the storm.