The fairies moved about the room talking in hushed voices, their gowns trailing behind them in an echoing whisper. In the center of the room stood a knight, clad only in a simple white gown, her hair loose and trailing between and around veined green wings that resembled the forest after a rainstorm. Her feet were bare, her sword was hanging on the wall. There would be no call for it, not today. Not for this.
Outside there was laughter and singing. The bards were already tuning their lutes and considering what songs they would sing and what stories they would tell. This was a grand occasion. They would sing to the honor of their guests – of the knight – and of the human. And to their noble lord who so graciously protected them all. These were the old ways.
In another apartment of the manor was the human, a man, sitting with his hands clasped before him, uncomfortable in his simple white tunic. Fairies moved about him, talking softly, and casting him curious glances. Briefly he wondered what he was doing here, if he had truly agreed to his, if he truly had asked those many months ago, on that moonlit night where time seemed to have frozen. Samhuinn, she had said, when the boundaries were at their weakest. On Samhuinn, she would come and take him by the hand, to her realm, where her kin waited. And then they would be wed.
The fairy and the human. The knight and the marine. He wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all, but here, surrounded by immortals, it was inappropriate. So he sat in silence and marveled at it all.
Her name was Laimamnh and his was William. They had met in the town, while he was stepping outside for a breath of fresh air. He and his buddies from base were enjoying the local scenery at their favorite bar. She was taking her dog for a walk. And he'd introduced himself, tried to put on the usual military man charms, and wondered why she was laughing.
It wasn't until a few days later that he saw her again, this time waking him from his bunk and bidding him to follow, that he learned of what she was. The glamour was dropped. Fairy. Knight. And the dog… fairy-hound, as big as a pony and as fearsome as a pack of wolves, covered in shaggy brown-green fur.
One of the fairies bowed and bid him stand and follow. He took a deep breath. No turning back now. Oh, he'd done some research, heard the stories. Fairy-wives and mortal men. It happened.
She was waiting for him at the great hall, standing apart from her escort of maidens with the sound of the crowd outside as a backdrop. He walked towards her, bowed, and took her hand.
"Do not worry," Laimamnh said softly, "I know you have no regrets."
"None," he replied, "I've just never been married before."
And she laughed. Hand-in-hand, they walked through the double-doors to the pathway before them, strewn with flowers with garlands hung overhead, silver lanterns hiding in the shadows for when the sun set. The grass was a carpet to his bare feet and he felt light-headed. Behind them walked the fairy-hound that followed Laimamnh wherever she went.
They bound his hands to hers with a cloth, blue silk embroidered with stories of young loves. Her lord and lady – and his as well now – spoke their blessings over them. The lady even kissed his brow and smiled. And the bards sang a chant, an ancient song, and William and Laimamnh kissed. Then feasting, where William introduced his wife to an American custom – the feeding of the cake – which quickly disintegrated into the first fight between the couple, with Laimamnh losing only because her fellow knights came and held her down while he rubbed the cake on her nose.
And days later, when William introduced her to his buddies from base, while drinking at the bar, to his new wife, she got her revenge by elbowing his beer off the bar counter and into his lap.
Five years passed. William crouched in a corner, panting, listening to the buzz of dead air on his radio. Communication had ended sharply just seconds ago, in a lasting scream of agony. That was the last of them, then. He was alone. Behind him was a reinforced door, before him another. This was a lock of sorts, to contain whatever it was they had been building in the lab. Whatever it was that was loose inside there. William licked his lips and slicked back the sweat from his brow.
Five years. Laimamnh was the envy of all the men on base and William had kept his promise to her and never spoke a word about what she was and where she came from. Despite all the ribbing, he kept his silence. And they had grown to love each other more each day. She taught him sword. He taught her the gun. Both decided they preferred their own weapon. He held her when the fairy-hound vanished, the one that had been so loyal through the years. It happened, she said. They come and go. But still, she cried. And she championed him when he rose to an insult thrown by another of her kin on the rare occasion he came to her land.
He was glad she wasn't here. With trembling hands he checked the clip on his gun, again, and let out a pent-up breath. Just had to buy some more time. The scientists had radioed out for help and backup would be on its way. He was just the forward guard, part of the on-base unit to protect them in case anything went wrong, like it was right now. He never knew exactly what it was they were doing. Just that three years ago, something had happened, and all these geneticists and biologists and theorists were brought in along with a unit of marines.
Whatever it was, it was big, and bullets would not stop it. They'd tried. Him and Eric, covering the scientist's evacuation, and Jason up ahead watching the hallway. It had burst out of the wall, simply ripping the metal in two and Jason had got off one burst of ammo before it tore him in two. Eric and William had retreated, firing off round after round, and it just kept coming. It went for Eric first, catching up William with its claws and throwing him into the steel wall before rending his friend to pieces. Then it had just kept going, leaving him there with a chest of shattered ribs, and William had retreated alone as there was nothing left of the scientists to protect after that thing was through.
"Evacuation is almost complete," a voice said over his radio. Thank God.
"Good. How far is backup?"
"Twenty minutes. Can you hold?"
"Not a chance in hell. Tell my wife I love her."
A very long pause.
"Will do, sir."
At least the scientists were safe. Hopefully they'd know how big a gun or how much explosives would take this thing down. For now… he gritted his teeth, checked his clip again, and pushed himself further into the corner, letting the steel against his back support him. Hopefully the first door would hold. If not, hopefully the second would. Because he didn't count on himself being able to take the creature down.
Laimamnh knelt in her liege's audience chamber, her sword at her waist and her tunic spilling about her. The lady was standing off to the side, gazing at something far, far away, in a vision that only she had. It was her that had requested her, and it was her husband that would command her.
"We have long kept the humans blinded to what we are," he said and she raised her head a fraction, her thoughts instantly going to her husband, "but this practice can be broken. You have my leave to do so."
"Go to your husband. Protect him. You will understand."
"Hurry," the lady whispered and Laimamnh rose.
She did not need any further direction. Her kind could pass between the two worlds at will and so she stepped over the gap, just one step, and opened her eyes to a nightmare. There was blood, there were torn bodies, and in the middle a shattered cage with broken and bare wires sparking blue flame. She sniffed the air and drew her sword. So much blood, it was impossible to get a feel on what had happened here, other than something horrible. This was the base where William had been stationed, to protect the scientists that worked here. She had been on the interior once or twice – each time under her fairy veil of invisibility – to visit with her husband. Each time the place had thrown off her senses and left her confused. She disliked it and they rarely met in this place.
But where was he now? She knelt by footsteps tracked in blood – great prints the size of a bear's paw. This was a monster. If her husband was in danger than finding the monster and killing it would save him. She stood and started following the tracks.
William knew, without a doubt, that the first door would nto hold. The second probably wouldn't either, once he was dead. Hopefully the backup would be here by the though, and hopefully they would have enough firepower for this. He readied his gun. The door creaked some more as the beast scratched at the corners, and then the creature slammed against it. The entire thing shuddered, bent, and the vibrations lanced through William's back and into his broken ribs. He cried out. More scratching. And then, like a can of tuna, the door peeled back until the beast shouldered its way through. It looked directly through William at the door behind him. He raised his gun and fired.
It just sat there, taking the bullets, and when his clip ran out its lips curled into a growl, the steam from the bullets curling about its head like a halo. It lumbered forwards, its gait uneven from the misshapen shoulders, its eyes mere pinpricks above a deformed canine snout. This time, it was looking at him.
When it lunged, William held his arm up in front of himself in instinct only, his mind numb to the thought of death by that point. But there was no pain, no last sensation – just a sound like a hummingbird's flutter and a shriek of anguish from the beast. William opened his eyes. Wings greeted him – dull green wings like that of a wet forest. And the gleaming silver of armor and that delicate fairy sword of his wife.
She stood between him and the beast.
"Laimamnh," he breathed.
"Dear husband, I would not abandon you," she said simply and took a step forwards, taking the hilt of her sword in both hands. The beast backed away.
She lunged before it could. Laimamnh was a knight of her kind and fairies could move fast. She was beside it, her sword slicing along its belly, and it leapt aside and slammed into the far wall of the airlock. Stood there, whining, and crawled forwards a pace, side pressed to steel and leaving a swatch of red. Fairy steel could harm it. Might be the only thing that could. What had the scientists created in there?
Laimamnh was speaking to it, lowering her sword and holding out one hand. The beast whined again and lowered its body.
"Love, what are you doing?" William hissed.
"Shhhh, I know this one."
He knew it was best to just ask for an explanation later. Much later. Probably days later.
She stepped closer. The monster stepped closer and licked her hand. She curled her fingers around its muzzle, then up to the ear and scratched. It whined, closed its eyes, and grew very still. The fairy raised her sword high and drove it down – straight through the beast's neck. It didn't even convulse, just slid off the blade and to the ground. William could hear his own ragged breathing and little else.
"Do you remember my hound? The one I was with when we met and the one that walked behind us on our wedding night?" Laimamnh said. William didn't reply. "This was he. I recognized him, even in this twisted form."
A hound. A fairy-hound. Three years ago, they found something and constructed this facility. Brought in geneticists and biologists. Oh God.
She walked over to him. Knelt and for a moment they kissed, the last of William's breath draining away.
"Tell them you killed it. I'll find the hospital they take you to this evening – I must speak to our liege first."
Our liege. Our lord in the Otherworld.
"There will be something come out of this," she said softly, "I am sorry, but humans cannot meddle with our kind without violence being repaid."
"This wasn't enough?" He watched her, their eyes met. She shook her head, very slightly, and he dropped his.
"I love you," she said.
"And I you."
When he lifted his head again, she was gone. His fairy-wife. Knight. Immortal. The tears came then, the shock and the adrenaline dwindling to numb cold, and he waited for the backup to show and take him away from this place.