[Excerpt from the cover sheet of the M.A.G.I. file on Aelfwyn]
Overview of information on the (presumed) hero called Aelfwyn:
It's unclear what realm she's really from, or even what her name is. [Her 'handle' is from the Anglo-Saxon for "elf-woman".] Apparently, even her cronies in that 'watch-list' organization she belongs to [Paladins of the Night] don't know. [Given the known histories of other members, they presumably have a "don't ask" policy.]
What is clear is that she first appeared in Paragon City in garb that, from a distance, might have "fit in" in Lief Ericsson's Vinland. Her appearance is 'elven', and the dark affinity of her observed powers might suggest some kind of sidhe who's been Underhill for centuries.
Her powers are mostly melee-oriented, and appear to be activated by some sort of runic or other ritual magic. The tattoos that appear on her arms seem to change a bit over time, further supporting the notion of runic magic, but hard data is difficult to obtain. It's generally difficult to get a clear picture of her for comparison purposes, and she has an uncanny ability to tell when she's being watched....
[Excerpts from the official log of Paul Daniels, a (former) M.A.G.I. field observer]
A new (apparent) hero has appeared on the scene. No registration data seems to be available yet, though watching her on the streets shows that she'd be listed as a Scrapper. She sure seemed disoriented when first arriving in Galaxy City, and she seems barely able to speak (or understand) English. She seems happy enough to stop muggings and put the Hellions in their place, at least.
Hmm. Caught sight of her again a few hours later. Her English has improved dramatically, and she's now wreathed in darkness. A lot of security cameras don't even register her. Need to talk to Gregor about this one.
Gregor agrees he wants me to keep a close eye on this one. Problem with that is, even with the tricks and cantrips I know, she keeps ducking away from observation. I don't think she's figured out who's watching her, or how, but she's definitely on to being watched. Also, she seems to have linked up with that "Paladins of the Night" group. Can't say it's a surprising match, but it doesn't help keep the desk-warmers comfortable.
I've been trying to figure out how her powers work, and I think it's related to her tattoos. Her dark aura seems to anchor there, at least, and I could swear the ink (or whatever it really is) shifts about. That darkness, coupled with the difficulties in keeping her under observation, means I haven't been able to get photographic evidence to back up what my eyes are trying to tell me. Maybe it's time to hit up HQ for a better camera for this work.
Great. Not only can she tell when she's being watched, and slip down villain-filled alleyways under her dark glamour, but she's a freaking teleporter. No wonder I keep losing her! Unfortunately, Gregor says the teleport-chasers aren't sneaky enough, so I'm stuck with her. (He actually said "subtle", but I know what he meant.) Most of the time, all I'm following is a hole in the night and in people's perceptions... she's getting pretty good at hiding.
I've managed to overhear some conversations between her and her companions, though. From the things she's confused by, and what she does understand, I'm thinking her early appearance and linguistic oddities are because she's really been Underhill since sometime before the Norman Invasion. Her ability to pick up modern English also makes me wonder what she'll make of the Rikti when she encounters them... maybe we can get her to do some interrogating for us.
That's it! I'm through following her, even if it means my job! She caught me watching her, having turned the tables on me sometime without my figuring it out. Suddenly, there she was, poof! right in front of me. I'm still not sure what kind of Sidhe she is, but she outright growled at me, and I could swear she had fangs as she confronted me.
It's hard to recall that clearly, though, because of what came next. I can't remember what exactly she said to me, either... but she pulled up that eye patch. It's not covering a hole, except maybe one in reality itself. Her once-veiled eye grabbed my attention, and I swear I lost a piece of my soul. In return, I got visions of a kind of hell... one where she could probably send me, and where I suspect she's from. I don't really care whether it was a real threat, either! A mortal life is too short to endure any further such abuse, damn it!
Anyway, I lost consciousness, and woke up with my camera case pillowing my head, lying supine atop the green line station building. Physically, I'm no worse the wear, but psychically... I'm done. She's succeeded in scaring me off.
[Epilogue. A scene at Paul Daniels's condo.]
My doorbell rang. "Who the hell could be here at 11am?" I mumbled to myself as I got off the couch and headed to answer the door. M.A.G.I. had laid me off - well, they called it an indefinite leave, to justify keeping tabs on me, but I knew when I'd been fired. I think my comment about a mortal's lifetime ticked Azuria off. Besides, they'd call, not drop by... or at least not and then ring the bell instead of bursting in.
I got to the door and looked through the peep-hole. Her! I sure wasn't expecting that, especially not in broad daylight. No dark aura on her, either, and she was carrying flowers. Bright ones. Damn, but she was looking as innocent and innocuous as she could manage. "Ah, what the hell," I muttered, and opened the door. I was still in a mood, though, so what I said to her was, "What? Haven't I suffered enough?"
She looked down, and sighed, then looked back up at me. "Aye, lad, you have." She held the flowers out to me, not quite thrusting them at me. "I'm told these are traditional for such situations. I came to tell you I'm sorry. You didn't deserve what I did to you."
I blinked in surprise, let me tell you. I think my jaw actually dropped for a second. I cleared my throat and answered, "Well, that's... not something I expected."
She flashed a quick, wan smile - no fangs this time - and murmured, "No, I suppose you didn't." She sighed again. "I can't even give you any excuse that ... that I would find acceptable." Y'know, I could swear she was fighting to hide tears... and the Sidhe just don't show that.
She took a deep breath. "Please, at least accept the token of my apology. I shan't ask you to forgive me. If that ever happens, I'm sure it won't be any time soon." She shrugged her left shoulder slightly. "Yet if I wait, I'll lose track of time... and part of what makes what I did so wrong is that you are mortal. Being early is not so bad as being too late."
There definitely was a quivering playing about her lip, besides the hint of extra moisture in her eye. Here, in the daylight, with bright flowers that I'm sure didn't come from a cemetary, no hint of darkness or terror... and she's damned pretty, and I'm straight. It was really hard to keep my hard-line mood. Impossible, even, though I still was worried in the back of my mind. Still, I gave her a nod, and a tight-lipped smile... and accepted the flowers from her. What the hell. Anything I had to worry about wasn't likely to be there, but in having her know where I live. "Thanks."
She shook her head softly, with the hint of a sad smile. "It's too little, and I know it. Thank you for accepting it despite that." She heaved a deep sigh, and I could have sworn I saw pain cross her face. "I would take back what I did to you, if it were possible." A quick, dismissive frown tugged at the right corner of her mouth. "But, of course, it is not. And what we would have done in the old days... I know now is but further harm, and not a blessing." She looked down at her toes, and I could barely hear her add, "So we both must live with the consequences of my loss of control." She looked back up, and spoke just a little louder, "I'm so sorry."
She turned and started toward the street, as my mind caught up with what she'd said. "Wait!" I called after her. She froze in place, practically mid-step. She didn't turn around, but I've never been so intently listened to by someone's back before. "Okay, maybe your excuses aren't good enough... but maybe hearing them would help me understand. And maybe you owe me that."
I bit my lip after added that last bit. I really didn't want to get her mad at me again. But, she just nodded, sighed again, and slowly came back up onto the porch. "Perhaps I do owe you some explanation, at that."
"Thanks." I smiled at her, for real this time, and gestured her inside. She nodded, and entered. I closed the door and led her into my study, which I kept as well warded against eavesdropping as I could. I was about to get my curiousity satisfied, but after the way they had treated me, M.A.G.I. could just go to hell.
She followed me up the stairs and down the hall, and I waved her into the room ahead of me. She stood, looking about, her eye darting all over the place. As I closed the door, it occurred to me that she might never have been in a modern private residence before, considering how much of the room was catching her attention. When I murmured the activation for the set-spell on my wards, she looked over at me and nodded, apparently in approval.
She drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. Until she did that to relax herself, I hadn't realized how tense she was... but she seemed to be handling it. "It is difficult," she said softly, almost musing to herself, "to know where to begin." She gave me a wry smile and half-shrugged. "Many things lead up to an event, all interrelated, and many other things led up those things..." she sighed, and made a dismissive wave with hand. "Perhaps it best to start with why I picked today to visit you." She tilted her head, pondering briefly, and nodded to herself. "Yes, that's simple enough, and leads directly to other answers you doubtless want." She flashed me a quick smile, with just a hint of mischief in her eye, but her demeanor quickly became serious again.
She leaned up against my desk, which I took as a sign to sit down in my chair. If she was nervous, maybe I shouldn't be towering over her, I figured. "Today is the full moon." I blinked. Sure, she was right, but what the hell? I guess my confusion showed, because she laughed. It was a musical thing, not mocking me, which I appreciated. "Your daystar, you see, is irrelevant to my connection to the realms of twilight. It has no analogue there, and thus no power. It's the moon that matters. The brighter it is, the less... influences... can cross over with the power I draw from there."
She hopped up onto the desk and folded into a half-lotus, all in one fluid motion. I was jealous; I haven't been even close to that flexible since I was fourteen. "I could have come tonight, wreathed in all the powers of darkness that I can currently draw across, and your safety would have been the same." She smiled at me with a near-wink. "Not that I could have convinced you of that nearly so well as with no auras and in daylight, I'm sure." Another half-shrug. "Still, it is the truth." She sighed, becoming all serious again. "It was the dark of the moon on that... regrettable occasion." She shook her head, maybe to settle her hair. "Not, as I said before, that this makes for any acceptable excuse. I am most vulnerable to the influences of the realm then, and I was feeling the pressure of trying to please my contacts in the investigations I was about, yes. The added irritation of trying to trail some Tsoo while you were trailing me didn't make my mood any better." I winced, but she seemed not to notice. "Also true. Even more true, however, is that my loss of control with you is something I find ... unacceptable." She shook her head quickly, pursing her lips. "It is a failing that I know not how to rectify, but that I know I must."
I was about to try interjecting something. Yeah, I was taking a kind of perverse pleasure in knowing that she was seriously regretting what she'd done, but it was getting old hearing her beat herself up about it. I got distracted, though, by hearing that growl again. I'm pretty sure I flinched outright, even though I knew she was growling at herself this time. Anyway, flinch or no, she started at my reaction. She began to lean toward me, reaching her hand out, then quickly thought better of it. I'm not sure whether I was looking like I was taking it badly, but she put that hand in her lap and briefly covered her mouth with the other. Then, so softly I could barely hear her, "I'm sorry..."
"Yeah, I get it." I cut her off. More verbal self-flagellation from her over pushing my buttons I just didn't need. "Look," I blurted, then sighed while I tried to make my thoughts coherent. "I don't know a nice way to put this, but that growling brings up something I really want to know... what are you?"
It was her turn to blink in surprise, then other reactions flickered across her face. At least one was clearly amusement, but I couldn't really read most of it. It went by too fast.
After a few moments, she nodded, and tilted her head as she started musing in response. "I suppose that 'one of the people' isn't really an answer. In most human languages, as well as in the ones I grew up with, 'people' and 'us' really mean the same, and 'them' or 'others' is something... not-people." She shrugged, and looked more directly at me. "Most of the words I know of your language that could describe me, however, are not accurate. They reflect misunderstandings, or deliberate attempts to hide knowledge, or even the loss of knowledge over time." She sighed. "Even your closest term, 'sidhe'..." She shook her head with a wry grimace. "I am not a mound of earth, which is what it really means. Neither am I in fact one of the áes sídhe, since I was not in Ireland at the time, and never one of the Dagda's people."
Well, that got my attention! I tried to suppress any reaction to it, though, since I was pretty sure that pressing her on history lessons right then wasn't the way to get the information I suddenly wanted. I was busting out with even more curiosity then before, since she'd pretty much just told me she knew how the Tuatha had been banished to the spirit realm. I really wanted to know what that meant she knew, at least indirectly, about what was happening to Salamanca, but I kept my mouth shut.
I think she was lost enough in her own thoughts not to take too much notice of my reaction, since she kept going. "I suppose... it's best to say I am a middling-rank denizen of one of the several realms of twilight. An interloper from a spirit world, though not the one that seems to have occupied most of your race's attention over time." Okay, maybe part of that meant she had noticed my reaction.
She looked over at the stand supporting my crystal ball (which was covered, yes, but that doesn't fool anyone of consequence). She looked back at me, sort of pointing at the crystal with her head. "That object is sensitised... is that something you can use yourself?"
I nodded. "Yeah. I'm not so good as some with it, but it often helps my investigations."
She leaned back a little, thinking. "Perhaps, then," she mused, "we can get some of your question a better answer." She gave a quick, mirthless, chuckle. "So long as you look at the crystal, and not at me, while we undertake this." She fixed me with a stare, clearly expecting a commitment from me on that.
She nodded sharply, and hopped down off the desk, landing almost silently. "I'll have to unhood my eye to evoke the proper images in the crystal."
I gulped, nodded, and busied myself with untying and removing the cover from the crystal ball. I wanted my answer, but I was suddenly quite content to keep my back to her, and just watch the images. I did a quick breathing exercise to calm my nerves some, and get me into a state where I could manage basic divinations... I didn't think she'd need anything more than that from me. She quickly proved me right.
The world she showed me was a kind of ealdwood. It was perpetually night there, as she'd already told me, though the moon was there in its usual phases. The stars seemed brighter there, but then I realized that she'd have to have better night vision than I do. There were a lot of little creatures furtively moving about, though it was more something I sensed than saw. I was left with an impression of lesser beings somehow beneath her notice, really, though I thought I recognized things like the each uisge... which just told me she was even more dangerous. I guess I'd already known that, but it was an extremely odd sensation... how she just knew that they'd get out of her way because she was a worse predator.
Then, I saw something moving in the sky of that primeval forest. It confused me at first, until I realized that its flight was deliberately erratic, as though to make it hard to shoot... or for a bigger predator to catch. As it neared, I saw that it was a darkly camouflaged winged cat... or maybe a winged humaniform cat, an impression which was confirmed as it touched down to a landing. I though I heard the wings flapping then, and felt a faint breeze. Hell, maybe I did... I wasn't about to turn around and check!
The figure looked around, and I finally had my confirmation that this was my visitor when her right eye was... strange. She never looked directly at me in the image, but that eye was swirly, almost made of the night-stuff that was clearly the underlying reality of that realm. So, my earlier. terrorized, impression wasn't so far off. A hole in our reality, perhaps, but one of her reality. Was she related to the grauer Seele? Did I dare to ask her?
The figure finished her observations, and nearly disappeared, leaping into the air with a strong beat of her wings. The scene faded from the crystal, and I could swear I heard, or maybe felt, things shifting behind me as well. I left the cover off the crystal, just in case, but didn't turn around right away.
"It's all right now... the eye is hooded again." I nodded, and turned back to face her. She was leaning against the side of the desk again, maybe a little too casually.
"Thank you." I gave her a smile. "That does answer some things for me... though it raises other questions, as well."
She laughed. "Of course it does. Your kind is always about the questions." She shrugged, and straightened away from the desk. "Anything further, however, will have to wait. I have other commitments to meet."
I blinked at that and drew breath to ask her what, or where, or something like that... but poof! she was gone.
I covered the crystal again, and sat in my chair to think a while. I realized that she'd done me a pretty big service in that show... I could think about what she'd done to me without completely shying away from it now. That's when I made the first appointment for these therapy sessions.
After the last one, Doc, I managed to paint some impressions of what I saw in the crystal ball that afternoon. I'm not really happy with how they turned out, but I'm no Rembrandt, either, and I know it. Still, you seemed curious, so I thought you might want to see them.