It had been a long few millennia, but now, at long last, the Unseelie walked once more in the Iron Lands. They were four, these fey – a pair of hunched red caps led the way, sopping hats leaking blood into their matted hair as they loped forward like apes or goblins, all wary looks and fingers on hidden knives. Behind the thugs walked a baobhan sith, a local who had recognized her betters and offered to guide them through the dark woods. The leader of the expedition could almost be mistaken for an elf, but the bean sidhe minstrel had a deathly air about her, a cold grace that left a kiss of frost wherever she walked, and the soul behind her eyes was far older than any petty mortal could know.

The Iron Lands – the prime material plane, as the mortals knew it – had changed since the Dark Court had last walked here, and the expedition had dutifully recorded all it could find about the stretch of woods that now grew around their gate. Now they were on their way home, but none of the fey were at ease. Each could feel eyes upon them, full of hidden threat and the soft pulse of hatred. But the portal home was only a scarce mile away. If they hurried, they might outrun their watcher.

“Hear the tolling of the bells,” a voice murmured, echoing from every direction. The red caps stopped, standing straight in wary attentiveness. One reached for the axe that hung from his belt – and died, his body crashing down with a sickening series of cracks from his shattered spine and broken ribs.

A giant crackled into being, the spell of invisibility upon her fading away. She loomed above the fey, nearly nine feet in height, and wore armor of iron scales and gauntlets of iron plates. She wrenched her massive warhammer from the corpse of the red cap she had killed as both sides regarded each other in mute shock.

And then she shattered the silence.

“Iron bells!” she screamed in hatred, slamming into the second red cap with a sideways swipe. Its head collapsed in on itself with an almost soft folding sound, spraying blue blood into the night amidst a handful of pointed teeth. “What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!”

The bean sidhe and baobhan sith scattered in opposite directions, the latter ducking a savage hammer swipe that tore the side out from a great oak tree. The giantess roared and chased after her, the iron scales of her armor rattling like a legion of mortals. The bean sidhe wove a song of domination, but it boiled off of the giantess’s mind like water on glowing steel. Even still, the baobhan sith might have escaped – but the giant reared her hammer back and hurled it, end over end. It planted itself between the fey woman’s shoulder blades, shattering her spine and cutting off her final, desperate scream.

The bean sidhe stared in mute horror as her attacker planted a boot in the fresh corpse and wrenched her hammer free.

“In the silence of the night, how we shiver with afright,” the giantess murmured, turning her gray gaze on the surviving fey, “At the melancholy menace of their tone. For every sound that floats from the rust within their throats is a groan.”

“Run, faerie.”

The bean sidhe ran, the giantess’s echoing laughter following behind her.

“Run, and tell your coward’s Court that the Dreigi will have their revenge!”