Ladies and gentlemen. The last chapter of The HuMan Prince. Announcements at the bottom.

Book VII

Covenants

Chapter 7

You kept your promise in the end…

Barth's mind seemed to be vibrating with exhaustion and pain, his body was luckily nowhere to be found; all there was surrounding was blackish blue sky and burning stars. "I… don't understand."

The princess is dead, her bones can join those of the others at the bottom of my abyss, and I will ward her.

"Your abyss…" the abyss of bones, the crystal monster's purpose, its ward. "What others?"

The others of her kind… it was my place to kill them and ward their bones, that has been my purpose for centuries; until Lord Orion took the child from me. Now she has returned to her rightful place.

Linera is dead. The knowledge hit Barth like a whirlpool sucking him down below water-level. Like a blow to the windpipe. Linera is dead and it's somehow my fault… I never should have led her into the caverns…again. Linera was dead, and he was near death if not already there, but it hardly mattered now. Charles Lioness would lose his precious lab-rat, the Hu would lose their heir, but Barth would have lost nothing he cherished too dearly and had not already lost.

-o-

He woke to the sound of sobbing.

"…Nothing works! I can't… Rai's tried as well the poor darling, though she can hardly stand, but it just won't heal!"

"Calm yourself…" a shudder ran through the still half-conscious Barth as he recognized the voice of Charles Lioness. "The dagger must have been enchanted, I understand Lord Orion was a very accomplished geomage-"

"I don't care!" Queen Gyki Len hissed as Aybra continued to cry in the background, "With all your fancy lights, your smoke and mirrors, there must be something you can do to fix a simple stab wound!"

"Of course there is, but we'd have to take him with us to the mainship, naturally. Perhaps even back to CLP headquarters, the blood transfusions will hold him till then-"

"You're not taking him anywhere!"

"Well then you might as well kill him yourself, Milady."

"How dare you speak that way to the HuMan Queen!" Came Timot's hoarse and ragged voice, breaking as it did at every opportunity. Barth slowly opened one eye, taking in the blurry shapes that stood around his bed. A hush fell over them all at once, and Barth's stepmother stepped forward, looking pale and old. "Barth, my son, can you hear us?"

"…Yes…" speaking was relatively painless, but he felt himself drifting on the razor's edge of consciousness, the images flickering before his eyes like sunshine breaking on the surface of a wave, and the voices were distant and distorted. He looked around him, recognizing all the faces but one.

A thin man sat near the window. He was lean and tan, but his skin seemed to hang off him like old leather. He had sandy blond hair that was matted and dirty, his face was scarred and careworn, his elfin ears were nicked and there was a large chunk missing from one of them. His eyes looked dead. The emperor Mattif had never looked so like a homeless beggar.

He caught Barth's eye, but there was no one there to greet the prince, flat color and misery. The friend he had found in Kook was as gone as the ludicrous donkey ears from the head of the emperor.

"Linera…"

"Is dead." Charles Lioness's voice rang through the quiet room. The others watched him blankly, not moving to stop him or hurt him till he took it back like Barth would have done. "She took her own life."

Barth let out a loud moan as his stomach reacted, trying to push tears up into his throat even though it knew very well that he had none, and that it was hardly up to the task. "Why?" he managed to groan.

"Because it was the only way to defeat them." A hollow voice came from the back of the room, and Barth looked up to see the husk of Mattif speaking limply from his seat near the window. "You see… centuries ago the elves used Rime's help to conquer Cavern Isle from the nymphs and build Cavern Castle, in return… every elfin princess born to an emperor was to be sacrificed in her honor. That crystal beast, after it had built the castle was given the occupation of slaughtering the princesses and guarding their bones… My father refused to follow this 'tradition' when Linera was born, as you can imagine." A few tears rolled down his long nose, and more left white streaks along the dirt on his cheeks. He continued speaking as if in a dream state. "Lord Orion used the wrath of Rime to win the kingdom over from my father… he disfigured me by use of that infernal earring and sent me off into exile… and he took most particular care that Linera should stay alive and safe. For evidently the moment she died Rime's temper was appeased... everything was as it should be." Mattif put his face in his hands and bent forward, his shoulders shaking. In silence Queen Gyki Len strode over to him and wrapped her arms around his thin shoulders.

Barth lay numb, balanced between pain and an empty darkness too tempting to contemplate. After a long while he croaked, "How do you know all this?"

"Lord Orion is in the next room." Aybra said softly, her dark eyes overflowing as she watched him, her fingers were biting into Timot's arm but he hardly noticed. "He is being kept alive until Koo… Mattif can decide what to do with him."

"…what about Rime?"

"She's gone." Timot shook his head and glanced at Mattif, "Apparently she disappeared the moment… Linera…"

"But not until after she'd killed my soldiers." Mattif hissed, sounding a bit more like himself… but at his very worst.

"Ronan is dead?" Barth had no more capacity for grief. The stern hard and friendly face flashed before his eyes once and faded away. He saw Mattif nod slowly out of the corner of his eye. "They all are."

Barth swallowed and stared up at the ceiling, started to feel himself falling backwards into himself and took a deep breath; wincing. "Where's Rai?"

A small figure moved forward. It hurt Barth to see how different she looked from the first time he had seen her in Noa's Park back in Aytemana, reaching for an apple. She was paler, thinner and -it seemed- so much older. Her gray eyes were wide and her mouth tight; and she was so silent…

He made an effort and smiled at her, "You did as I asked…"

Rai nodded once, staring at him intensely, her entire body beginning to shake. "That's what made her kill herself. The… the rubies? They made her know the truth and that she had to kill herself."

Barth closed his eyes and shook his head very slightly, "You saved the day… You should be knighted." He reached out and she grasped his hand tightly, still careful not to crush his bones, so delicate to the strength of her small hands. He smiled at her again and then turned to Dr. Charles Lioness, who was watching it all with an impassive smile. "I never needed your help in the end." Barth said defiantly. The heavy metal weapon Dr. Lioness had given him, the one that shot fire even through stone or ice, was still deep in his brigskin pack. He had never even pulled it out to face Orion.

The smile tapered off to the side. "If you had, your poor little child-empress would still be alive… and you wouldn't be saying your last goodbyes."

Barth heard his mother choke down a sob. Lioness's smile turned into a grin, "And you did in fact need our help, young man. If it weren't for us you'd still be wandering in the bowels of the castle without a clue of where to go."

Barth shut his eyes tight, running his hands over Rai's long golden braid. But Dr. Lioness's next words managed to get through to him all the same. "We made a pact, HuMan Prince, whether you needed my help in the end or not - you belong to me now. If you don't come, you'll be dead anyway."

"Wh-what pact did you make with this monster, Barth? What is he talking about?" Queen Gyki Len's voice had taken on a tone of panic, but Barth managed to meet her eye and smile. Her eyes widened, tears flowing freely.

"It's settled then." Charles Lioness smiled at the room in general, clapping his powdery white hands together, his watery eyes bright. He held his wrist up to his mouth and barked orders in a strange language, still smiling. Then he turned to the prince and said cheerfully. "Don't worry Barth, you'll like it there. …And we will bring you home… one day."

-o-

Hundreds of miles away in a tall fortress, in the center of Rose City, Leonine sat beside his father's sickbed.

The HuMan King had been ill for years now, but the past few months, since Leonine's older brother had run off to play a hero, his condition had worsened beyond reckoning. He lay on his back, his eyes shut and his breathing heavy, every wrinkle in his face outlined by the soft lights above his bed. Leonine had been reading to him before he fell asleep… both of them had fallen asleep. The prince got to his feet, stretching and trying to loosen the muscles in his back that had grown stiff during his vigil.

There was a small gilded sink in the corner of the room and Leonine shuffled towards it, intent on splashing some cold water on his face and trying to wake up. He ran the water over his eyes and cheeks, reaching for one of the soft cloths that sat folded nearby, when his own reflection in the mirror gave him pause.

He reached over and turned up the light near the sink, leaned in closer towards the mirror. Gently he reached up and plucked a hair from his head, holding it up disbelieving to the glow.

It was stark white.

THE END

OoooooooooooooO

I have several announcements to make:

I am at the moment taking part of the Suprino Wrimo, which is exactly the same as the Nano Wrimo only it takes place in July. Same idea – write a novel in 30 days. This means my other stories are being put on hiatus for the moment, and probably won't be updated till August. Blame Tally.

There will be a sequel to The HuMan Prince. I swear to god I didn't think there would be, but I'm already a fourth of the way into it. I must say it is about a billion times more fun to write then THP was! The first chapter will probably go up in September at the latest.