Crystal strolled down the hallway, heading in a roundabout way to her personal conference room off of her office. She knew that was where he would be headed as well, since it was the outer sanctum of her office space. She heard gunshots echoing from other parts of the floor and men shouting back and forth in rough tones, but she ignored it all. Her people could take care of themselves or would flee danger. And honestly, these intruders deserved whatever happened to them. She lazily reached out and caressed a wall as she slid past it, admiring the murals she had handpicked. The entire building was her baby, a labyrinth of beautiful artwork and flowing colors, of swirling curtains and airy plants. She felt its pain at this intrusion, and that made her sad. The stonework cried out from the blood and bullets. She hardly paid attention to the sounds of footsteps and doors being slammed open from all around her, and didn't even pause when the sounds suddenly stopped immediately behind her. She did glance back over her shoulder as the squad of gunmen raised their firearms and ordered her to stop. They didn't even notice Amaya Rei glide in behind them, not yet fully transformed. She stood tall and elegant in the middle of the hallway and clicked her six inch long nails together. It was the only warning they got. The ones in front had barely turned around before the ones in back were already dead.
Crystal smiled and watched the baobhan sidhe at work. She always admired the elegant dance-like movements of the death-dealing fey. The last body fell at Amaya Rei's feet, his throat slashed to ribbons, and she stared straight at Crystal, silently asking permission. Crystal beamed back at her, granting it. Amaya Rei's eyes glowed red as she came over completely, her hair rising up in an ethereal mane around her head and her face smoothing to a near porcelain sheen in its flawless beauty. Crystal turned the corner and fluttered down the corridor as the sounds of feeding commenced. Amaya's demeanor had communicated deep remorse warring with hunger to Crystal, and she hoped her loyal assistant did not regret giving in to her bloodlust to defend the defenseless.
"Almost there," she said to herself. She wandered through the maze of corridors, intent on her destination, but not oblivious to the needs of her employees and workers who needed her. She helped when she could and directed the braver and more capable of them to where the intruders were likely coming in. She made sure to try to keep them away from where Amaya Rei was occupied. Grateful, eager to fight, several of her fellows formed hunting parties to track down and defend the hotspots of battle. She was pleased that there were so many willing to fight for their company. She was also very pleased that there was no talk of calling the duine police. Their time would come later...this was our battle now. And he was waiting for her.
She personally didn't see any true opposition until she had reached the double doors to her office suite. Skipping delicately around the body of a mutilated black-clad intruder, she saw the men a bare instant before they spotted her. Slowing, she watched their well-honed training in action as they simultaneously raised riot action shotguns. One trained his on her, the other scanned the room. The one covering her barked, "Halt!". Their faces were serious, hard, lethal, scared. She beamed a flirty smile at them.
"If you handsome gentlemen would let me just get by you, that would be great. This is my office, and I got an appointment," she said. She did raise her hands in front of her in mock surrender, but her pace changed to a measured gait. The sound of one of the shotguns being chambered was her only response. She sighed in mock exasperation, then leveled a stern gaze on the pair. Her eyes glowed a brilliantly mossy green and her hair started to weave and writhing in bundles and curls. Her steps were measured and unhesitant, and there was the barest hint of her facial features narrowing. Then the light faded and she pranced past the stone statues of the two men with raised shotguns. She patted one on the rear as she passed. "I do love a man in uniform," she muttered contentedly.
She entered the outer office and scanned it briefly before passing through it into the conference room. She found it empty, as she expected. He wouldn't come in here until he was completely sure he couldn't find what he was looking for without her. She walked around the richly appointed conference room, looking around approvingly at the results of her own decorative tastes. Floor to ceiling glass shelves lined two walls, filled with ancient looking tomes and stone artifacts of all kinds. A bank of lightly tinted windows comprised the entire fourth wall, filling the room with soft natural light. Deep pile carpet of earthen brown sprouted from the floor, muting all sounds in the room and giving a comforting bounce to each step as she reached her decadently plush office chair and sank into it. Gleefully, she pressed some buttons in the arm and turned on high tech features of the room. Soft violin music filled the room from hidden speakers. A huge LCD screen mounted flush against the wall behind her came to life with the image of a crackling fire in a stone hearth. The windows darkened further, creating a more intimate feel to the light. The stuffed leather seats situated around the large solid glass table all swiveled to face her.
She was still fiddling with the right ambiance she wanted to create when the sound of footsteps and low talking reached her. She pressed another button and the door swung open to admit three men.
The two men trailing behind wore the same black-clad tactical SWAT uniforms the rest of the invading force had, except that one had a red star on his collar and was armed with a pistol that was pointed right at her. The other had the standard issue riot action shotgun and was scanning the room with his gun. The man in the lead, however, didn't look like he belonged with them. He was a tall, imposing figure, filling out a custom-tailored burgundy suit with a black dress shirt and a simple silver tie with a white crest in the center. He was bald, although certainly by choice as he did not look older than middle-aged, and he walked with an unhurried and yet brisk step. His dark brown skin was flushed with frustration as he spoke into a cell phone as he strode in, and she knew she wasn't imagining the sudden pressure that filled the room. His dark eyes glittered at her as he talked, his rich deep timbre voice filling the room.
"What do you mean there's no sign of them, sergeant? I want results, that's why you're here. Get me something soon."
He ended the call and looked around the room, seeing the luxury and seeing through it. "Where are they, Crystal?"
Her eyebrow arched delicately. "Whatever do you mean, tall dark and handsome?"
His gaze rested on hers. "Thieves. Corporate spies. They've stolen critical documents from me, and my sources have informed me they are here."
Crystal gasped audibly and sagged back in her chair. "You mean, you're not here to visit," she raised a hand to her forehead and tilted her head back, "a former scorned lover?"
The man's eyebrow twitched. Though his expression never changed, Crystal knew that amused set of his mouth.
He turned his head slightly, his eyes still on her. "Captain Hobbs, you are excused. Get with the sergeant and secure the rest of the building. Find me those thieves."
The man with the red star sputtered. "Director, we can't leave you here unprotected! This is a Code Red threat! Those statues out there, the things we've been seeing, this is a serious situation! I think she has some sort of secret weapon and she's dangerous. I don't…" He trailed off as the Director slowly swiveled his head to pin the Captain with a hard look.
"You have your orders, Captain," he stressed the word. "She is no threat to me."
Crystal playfully bared her teeth at him, but her eyes were hard. But as the soldiers started to step away, she could not resist a parting jibe.
He glared at her but did not stop.
The Director walked over to the wall of windows overlooking the plaza and seemed to become absorbed in the sight. A small maze of waist-high hedges surrounding the huge stone pyramid fountain led to various small groves artfully filled with fruit trees and ornate stone formations. All her own design, of course.
Crystal narrowed her eyes at his back. "No threat, Xander? You don't feel threatened by me?"
He didn't react. His hands were behind his back, the phone gone. He tracked a bird of prey swooping down at something hidden from view.
"You better not keep your back to me if you know what's good for you," Crystal growled. Her eyes flickered to reptilian slits and back again.
"You don't know what you're getting yourself into this time Crystal," Xander said without turning around. "You are in over your head. This is beyond our little feud. Those two thieves…"
"Cut the drek, Alexander! That may be the story you'll give your board to justify this kind of hostile attack on my company, my building...but it'll take more than buzzwords to pacify me. How dare you?" she rose to her feet. "We've had a treaty for centuries, specifically against this sort of thing, we get along as friendly rivals...and you go and destroy it all in one fell swoop on a Wednesday afternoon? What did you hope to gain with this? If it's war, then you definitely got…"
"OF COURSE NOT!" Xander whirled around and roared. There was a strange crackling undertone as if a wildfire was roaring outside the window and the temperature in the room shot up ten degrees. She sat back, shocked into silence.
Xander visibly composed himself, then slowly placed his hands on the table and leaned toward her.
"I don't want to go to war with you, Crystal. I would love to continue to have business as usual for us, for all of us. But this is more serious than you could possibly imagine. There's so much at stake here, and that is why I dare." He reached up to brush a hand across his brow, and Crystal noticed for the first time the faint sheen of sweat on his face. "The time to build, to amass, to acquire, to lay low, is over. The demons are on the move."
Crystal frowned. "What do you mean, demons? What demons?"
Xander sighed and his shoulders drooped. "The demons are the servants of the Shadow. It is they who seduced and corrupted the Unseelie. They're the reason why we were thrown out of the First World. They were not allowed to cross back into our world. And they have made an appearance here."
Her eyes widened. "Where? What kind of force are we dealing with?"
Xander shook his head and straightened up. "I don't know. It's subtle for now. My sources say it's only a single agency. But where there's one there can be more. "
"What does that have to do with us, and the two you're looking for?"
"If those two are who I think they are, then the demons are looking for them, and have told their underlings the Fomori to find them as well. They'll rip this place, and everyone in it, apart to get to them. But more importantly, this means that the cycle is beginning again."
Crystal sat back in her chair, lips pursed as her fingers drummed a staccato rhythm on the glass desktop. Xander allowed the silence to continue a few minutes before he looked deliberately down at his watch.
Crystal's eyes following this movement. "And this attack? Do you think I'm working for the Lords of the Earth? Are you accusing me of playing both sides?" Her tone was light, inquisitive, but her eyes shone green with outrage. Her hair twisted and intertwined on itself and her features narrowed and sharpened. Xander paused and studiously looked away from her, but he shook his head.
"No, never that, Queen of the Forgotten. It is well known in the right circles that you are sanctuary and security for the displaced, the unwanted, the unloved, whether human or fairy. Your reputation overwrites your history. My own kindred have sought out your help in times past. You are very bad at straddling the fence. I do not hold that against you. No, this is not about your altruism, this is about your visitor policy. And I do apologize for the actions I have taken today, but trust me, this way is better than somebody else coming here for them. I know the two are here. Where are they Crystal?"
"Your two thieves?" Crystal stressed.
"Not thieves, but much more. They are the key to this mess. They must be kept out of unseelie and demon hands. Only I can keep them safe."
Crystal went still, her eyes widening. The smirk faded from her face. "You're talking about the prophecy, aren't you?" She looked up at him, disbelief warring with incredulity. "Are you freaking kidding me? You're talking about the…"
"Don't say their names!" Xander's nostrils flared.
Her teeth clicked shut. "You're telling me you believe in that fairytale? Like it's real?"
Xander stood up straight. His hands reached out to adjust his cuffs. "It is no story, but the truth. I was there for the last cycle. I've seen what they can do, and what the demons can do. It almost ended the world then. What is reality? I only know what I can see, what I can feel. This is a sign of a coming war, a war with the Shadow and its agents. We must mobilize and marshal our forces. Like I said, the time for preparation is over. I was caught unawares once, never again. I intend to strike first this time, to be in a better place to strike fast and strike hard. I need every weapon that can be used, that the situation demands. I would appreciate your help."
Crystal crossed her arms, pondering. She looked up at the face of one of the most powerful creatures on the planet, and felt pity. She looked down at her perfectly manicured toes and wiggled them and sighed.
"You're a fool, Alexander." she said softly, sorrowfully. He frowned and leaned forward.
"What was that?"
Crystal stirred, once, then stood up. She looked him full in the face.
"I said you're a fool. The Light knows we've disagreed on a great many things, but this may be the biggest flop you've ever hatched. You want to hold all the cards and wage this war on your own terms. You want to be the big man on campus and command 'the troops'," she flicked her fingers at the words. "Oh, you talk a big game about 'we' and 'us' and 'our', but you're still a tyrant and a bully, a wannabe general trying to find an army to rule. This has to be a concerted effort, an act of cooperative negotiation with all the various factions. We have to work together and get as many allies on board as possible, be partners in an effort to save the world. You just want to be the hero. No, if the two were or are here, I still wouldn't tell you a single thing. This is obviously something you don't need to be involved in, not if this is how you're going to act. You've lost something today, and it's not those two duine. If you had bothered to come to me civilly, if you had told me any of this, even just now without me prying it out of you, I might've considered helping you. But your actions today tell me you're as much a danger to the Keiltyn, to the peace we've enjoyed with the duine, as the Shadow. You're not sorry. You're sorry you got checked here. Get out, Alexander. You're done here."
He just stared at her through her speech, the growing rage distorting his features. The pressure and temperature in the room escalated, almost to unbearable levels. The leather cushioning in the chairs next to him started to smoke. As she fought to keep her own muscles relaxed and calm, she wondered if, after decades of amiable living, she was going to have to fight him.
Xander reached out with a clawed hand and gripped the table. Crystal watched as the glass on the tabletop flowed and stewed. At last, the man forcefully composed himself and pulled back. He straightened his tie, turned away from her, and adjusted his sleeves. He didn't even glance at Amaya Rei, who had somehow entered the room noiselessly.
"You have made a grave error in judgment, Crystis of the Mercury Knot. If you are not with me, you are an obstacle that will be removed. Watch yourself, for the treaty is over."
Crystal's temper instantly flared up and she retorted, "You watch yourself, Lavawing. I'm not some little pixie you can just push around."
Xander nodded curtly and strode from the room, pulling out his cell phone as he went. Amaya had to step briskly to keep out of his way. As soon as he cleared the doorway the pressure and temperature dropped to more manageable levels. Crystal exhaled loudly and plopped down, exhausted and not a little worried. It might be a good idea to be elsewhere, she thought to herself. She hated to admit it, but the old lizard was right. He was vastly more powerful, personally and economically, and he could destroy her.
She clicked her fingernails on the table, staring at the clawprint melted into the three-inch thick glass top. Yes, it might be time for a vacation.
Her alluring assistant drifted over to stand next to her. Her almond eyes were also on the clawprint but she showed no sign of fear.
Crystal smiled and reached up her hand. Amaya responded by clasping it with both hands and kissing it.
"An old name he told me of a long time ago. In a...happier...time. A powerful name he was once known by. He has been around a long time, Amaya. He may be right about what's coming. He will be gathering his resources, making plans, starting whatever little strategies his lizard brain can concoct. Others must be warned. And," she paused, considering. "And truth be told, he won't stop with what happened here. He'll be after me as well. It might be time to take to the field myself. I'll take them to the Seelie." She stood up and put a finger to Amaya's mouth as she started to protest. "It's the only way. They can't make it on their own. Whatever's after them, the Kuergan and all he has will join in the chase. They can't stand against that kind of firepower."
"But you might die!" Amaya pressed Crystal's hand against her cheek. "Allow me to go with you, mistress. You need protection, someone with a clear head and can help you. That duine, the chubby blonde one, she is not to be trus…"
"Hush, now," Crystal cut in. "I need to go. And you must stay here, Amaya. Precisely because I need protection, a clear head, someone to trust. I need someone to watch my personal affairs and keep the forgotten hidden. Someone to make sure the company is safe." Crystal hugged Amaya, then stepped back. "Inform Malcolm Hammer that he is interim CEO until my return."
Amaya lowered her head in obedience, a tear trailing her face. Crystal looked around. Now that she had a clear path, she felt better. And there was one more thing. She turned back to Amaya, the excited grin back on her face.
"And ready my bow."