*************************** Here it is at last: THE FINAL CHAPTER OF FORTUNE. (Hold the applause) And it's Hogmanay! It's still a few hours till the ball drops, but, my lovely readers, I shall just say it now – HAPPY NEW YEAR! ********************************
It took Trey all of five minutes to magic up a tunnel that led to the outside of the castle. She didn't see how he did it, because about thirty seconds after he told her to close her eyes, she had to because the glowing of his magic in his hands became so bright it was blinding. The pale blue light pressed against her closed lids, stinging her face, and once it was gone, it left dancing afterimages imprinted on her retinas like lightning had just struck ten feet away from her.
Once the escape tunnel was made, Trey took her hand again and led her through the darkness, the fingers of her free hand glowing just enough for her to see her feet by. They walked in silence for a while through the narrow, twisting tunnel, which closed up behind them as they went. At first, Emily was sure it was going to close in and crush them. She stopped randomly every now and then, watching the tunnel behind her closing, testing. But when she stopped moving, the walls stopped moving. Eventually, Trey noticed her little dance and gave her a look that said he thought she was weird. "Emily, what the hell are you doing?" he finally asked after her fourth random stop.
She took her eyes off the bowing walls, taking a wary step backwards toward him, and said, "It's like the walls want to eat us. But they only move when I'm not watching. You know what else does that? Monsters in horror movies. They always stay still when you're watching, but the second you blink, they're right in front of you, waiting with dripping fangs."
Trey laughed quietly. "The walls are not going to eat you. I couldn't very well leave an open tunnel through the castle leading the wraiths to exactly where we've gone."
Emily frowned. "Yeah, about that. I thought wraiths could go through walls. So why haven't they found us in here yet?"
Trey shrugged. "It's a big castle. They've probably been looking for us in all the normal passageways, but I created this one – it didn't exist before toward. Plus, I've warded it. So anything comes near us, they just see more blank stone."
"Is that what you meant by an Illusion?" she asked. He nodded. She gave him a narrow look. "Is there anything you can't do?"
He looked thoughtful. "I can't cook."
She blinked at him. "Seriously? You're how old, like ninety?" He scowled at her – he was sensitive about his true age, despite looking only about eighteen. "And you've never learned to cook?"
He folded his arms defensively. "Well, I've never had to. The palace chefs cook all the meals."
"So you've never had to feed yourself. What about when you're in the human world?"
"Well, in the human world, there's this amazing invention – you might have heard of it; it's called a microwave."
Emily sighed, resting her forehead against her knuckles. "When we get back to the Court, I'm giving you cooking lessons."
"Does that mean you've made your decision? Because there's no way in hell I'm learning to cook without a very good incentive," he said, raising a brow. She rolled her eyes at him and kept walking. Two seconds later, Trey followed, and there was the soft grinding of the walls shutting behind them. Emily resisted the urge to look over her shoulder.
At last, Emily saw the rectangle of grey light that indicated the end of the tunnel. She stumbled over her feet in sudden relief – she hadn't realised how oppressing the dark, narrow passageway was until she saw daylight again. Then a shadow drifted past the entrance of the tunnel, and Emily gasped, pressing back against Trey. He whispered in her ear, "It's okay – they can't see it, remember?"
She nodded and moved forward again – cautiously. Trey slid ahead of her and stopped right at the end of the tunnel, looking out over the grey expanse of ground between them and the gates. Not to mention the two dozen wraiths patrolling that space. "Right. So. What's this amazing Illusion you're going to create to distract them all?" she asked him.
He smirked, just one side of his mouth tipping up, and said, "Wait and see." Then he closed his eyes and raised his hands, sparks already flying from his fingertips. Emily stepped back, watching as he made some fluid hand gestures. He spoke softly in that strange, ancient faery language that sounded sort of like a more beautiful form of Gaelic – less harsh.
Flicking her gaze to the entrance of the tunnel, she watched the wraiths gliding around like ghosts – really ugly scary ghosts that wanted to kill them. And then she heard it. At first, the sound was so low she didn't notice it, but gradually the noise built and built, getting louder and deeper, until it sounded like a fog horn gone mad. The wraiths outside the tunnel started flying off, some shooting straight up into the sky, some fleeing around the castle, some drawing strange weapons from their misty selves as they went. The noise was loud enough to make the loose gravel on the ground rattle.
She turned to Trey and saw he was glowing like a star, his eyes fixed on her. Then he blinked, and his light began to faded. He smiled. Over the roaring, she yelled at him, "What the hell is that?"
He leaned close and said in her ear, "You ever hear of a Nucklavee?" She frowned and shook her head. "It's like a relative of the kelpie…but much bigger and much uglier."
Emily's eyes widened, an old memory of a story her grandmother had told her once when she was a child popping into her head. "Wait…are you talking about the thing with no skin and the horse legs?"
He nodded. She felt sick. "You mean, you created one of those…out there?" Her voice was thin.
"I created the Illusion of one of those out there."
"But…they do exist?"
He nodded again. She felt sicker. "Lovely. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate this place?"
"Just tell me one thing: does Nessie exist?"
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, Nessie exists," he said in an exasperated tone. Well. At least it wasn't all evil monsters and skin-less beasts. Trey grabbed her hand. "Now, would you like to get out of here alive, or would you like to ask me if Santa's real too?"
She pulled a wide-eyed, innocent face at him and asked in a small, childish voice, "Are you saying Santa isn't real?"
He made a sound of disgust and tugged her forward. "Shut up and come on." He hesitated at the edge of the tunnel, looking out to make sure the way was clear of wraiths, and then nodded. "It's clear. On three, run for it. One…two…three…" He took off, her hand held tightly in his. With her shorter legs, it was hard for her to keep up and she stumbled more than once, but she kept running as fast as she could, terrified that any second the wraiths would notice them and they'd be doomed. She glanced back over her shoulder in the direction the wraiths had gone, and saw the Nucklavee – the Illusion of it, anyway. It was massive, it's head and shoulders towering over the castle. It's one giant eye was like a flaming pit, a circular mouth full of rows and rows of jagged teeth, like an eel. Its broad shoulders sloped into a thick neck corded with exposed muscle, it's skinless body seeping blood and clear fluid. Emily turned away as her stomach flipped over, making her gag. Instead, she focused straight ahead and on running without tripping over her feet.
The big gates loomed ahead, locked shut. Trey stuck out a hand, sending a bolt of lightning toward the lock. It smashed into the gate and split apart in sparks that sizzled. After the sparks drifted down, Emily saw the frames of the gates where they met at the lock were bent away from one another, leaving a melted hole. They were five metres from escaping…four metres…three…two…Emily reached forward, ready to shove the gate open. And then there was a blast of light from behind them, and Trey hit the ground with a cry of pain. Emily whirled and saw the Dark King standing on the steps of the castle, looking furious and menacing, his hand outstretched and spitting red flames. His black hair shone like night waters, his eyes cold as they reflected the flickering flames curling around his fist. Even from a distance of almost thirty feet, Emily got chills down her spine looking at him.
On the ground, Trey gasped, and she looked down. He was hunched on his hands and knees, a hole burned through the back of his shirt and armour. The skin beneath looked awful, red and blistered, with thin black lines spreading out around the wound. He looked up at her, his face crumpled in pain, and hissed, "Run, Emily."
Her lips parted, and she glanced back at Dark King. He was advancing now, a cape billowing out behind him in the fierce wind. Thunder raged overhead, the black clouds roiling like a sea of boiling poison. Terror made her freeze for a moment, unable to think as she stared into those soulless, burning eyes of the Dark King. Then she remembered the Crown in her backpack, and Oscar caught in a whirlwind of power in the hall of the Sylph Court, and Trey kissing her desperately just before she plunged into the Carnivorous Smoke to retrieve the object they'd fought all this way for.
She braced her feet apart, threw back her shoulders, and took a deep breath, focusing herself the way Trey had taught her to. Almost instantly, she felt her magic rush up under her skin, pulsing and pulling. She lifted her hands and saw swirling golden patterns of light shifting over her skin. Then she tilted her chin, pointed her glowing palms toward the Dark King…and let go.
The blast of light was intense she had to close her eyes and turn her face away. For a moment, everything behind her lids was white. There was deafening crackle, like lightning striking very close, and a scream. And then…silence. The roar of the Nucklavee was gone, the hissing of the wraiths muted. There wasn't even thunder from the sky above.
Emily opened her eyes and saw that the towering Illusion of the Nucklavee had vanished, and the Dark King was lying on the ground ten feet away, sprawled unnaturally. His skin was yellow and cracked, like a mummy's, and his eyes stared blankly up at the sky. The sky had gone still, the clouds frozen, as if in shock. As if the entire Dark Court was stunned to silence by their King's death.
Emily didn't stop to think about it. She turned and knelt by Trey, who was gasping in pain. She grabbed his arm and snarled in his ear, "I hate you for making this a cliché. But I'm not leaving you here. So get up and move it before the wraiths come back and realise I killed their King." She hauled him to his feet, and he stumbled, gripping her shoulder.
For a second, he wavered, staring at her with wide eyes. His face was ashen, his eyes too bright. But he darted a glance at the King's corpse and smirked thinly. "Long may the bastard rot in hell," he hissed. Then an unearthly, terrible howl rose from behind the castle. The sound multiplied until it felt like a thousand bean sidhes were screeching in her head, and Emily gritted her teeth, unable to cover her ears with her arm still around Trey, helping him stand.
He cursed through his teeth. "I guess they can sense that their King's dead. We better go. Now."
So they turned and half-ran, half-stumbled out the gates. They made it to the field of deadly crystals, and stopped. There was no way Trey could maneuver through those crystals – Emily reached behind her with her free hand to pull her iron bar from her backpack before remembering she'd taken it out in the tunnel after grabbing the Crown. She didn't have it now. She must have dropped it in the tunnel while she and Trey kissing, and she hadn't realised. She couldn't smash through the crystals without it. They were trapped, and the howling of the wraiths was getting nearer. She chanced a glance back and saw the shadowy figures rising like a wave of mist and claws and twisted faces toward the gates. Somehow, she doubted they would stop there.
Trey panted, "Emily, hold on to me."
"Just do it!" he barked. She wrapped her arms around his waist, careful not to touch the spreading wound on his back. He locked his arms around her in return, and she felt his chest rising and falling against her cheek, his heart pounding frantically in his chest. Then he whispered softly, "This is going to hurt, but don't let go. Whatever you do, Emily, don't let go of me."
And then they were surrounded by light and smoke, just like in the cave the day he took her to Elfhame. And it hurt just as much, too, like someone pouring liquid Nitrogen over her skin and down her throat. She tried to scream, tried to pull away, but Trey kept her locked against him, his voice soft in her ear as he whispered – he could have been chanting in that alien language, or he could have been talking to her, but she couldn't hear his words. All she could focus on was the bright, freezing pain inside her…
Then it was over. She landed with a thump on the grass, gagging and gasping as the razor-sharp ice in her veins melted. On her hands and knees, she trembled, tears falling into the warm grass under her hands, and choked, "I thought…you said…that doing that…could kill me!" Humans – even Fortunes – were not made for that sort of travel. Though this trip had been shorter than the one from the mortal world to Eflfhame, seeing as it wasn't inter-dimensional, it still put incredible strain of her body. She flopped into the grass, breathing hard and hoping she wouldn't have an aneurysm. "Where are we anyway?" she asked, rolling over to stare at the sky.
Trey didn't answer and she looked over at him, scowling. Her scowl faded, though, when she saw him. He was lying on his back, his eyes closed. His face was ghostly pale, with thin black lines like the ones on his back spreading up his neck and over his jaw, smothering the pure light of the blue swirls of his magic. His chest was barely moving, his breath rattling in his throat. A fist clenched around Emily's heart, and an all new terror rose up inside her. "Trey?" she whispered, reaching over to touch him.
His eyes flicked open suddenly, and she jerked back. His every breath hitched in his throat, and he rasped, "Emily?"
She leaned over him, placing a hand lightly on his chest. "I'm here. I'm fine," she murmured. He sighed in relief, and then started coughing, blood staining his lips. She covered her mouth with her hand, whimpering as tears stung her eyes. "Trey, what's wrong? What's happening?" she asked, her voice rising in panic.
His eyes met hers, the blue dim. The black lines were creeping up his cheekbones now, curling into his hair. His voice was thin and harsh as he hissed, "Dark King…blasted me…with a Spell."
She nodded and tried for humour so she wouldn't start crying. "Yeah, I noticed that." He didn't smile, and her heart sank further. "What can I do? Tell me what to do."
He shook his head weakly. "There's nothing…you can–"
"No!" she snapped, slapping his chest. "No, don't say that. It's…it can't be that bad. I saved you before – in the Badlands. I'll do it again. I'll give you my energy."
"It won't…help," he whispered haltingly, breaking into a coughing fit again. More blood coated his lips, running from the corner of his mouth. She swiped it away gently, tears rolling hot down her cheeks. "It was…a Death Spell. Nothing…will help. Nothing…can save me." He said it so simply, so matter-of-fact. As if it hardly bothered him that he was dying.
But Emily's heart was ripping itself apart. She felt like she couldn't breathe, like someone was crushing her chest. "No. No, no, no, that isn't…that can't…you…you're going to be fine, Trey. I'm going to…I'll get help. There must be something…" She started to get up, her legs numb. But he grabbed her wrist – his grip was weak, but she sank back down next to him anyway.
His eyes burned bright for a second before going dull, and he whispered, "No. Stay. Please."
Choking on a sob, she nodded. Her tears dripped onto his shirt, and she gripped his hand tightly, ignoring the spidery black lines covering his skin. "Okay," she breathed. "I won't go anywhere."
He smiled then, a trembling curve of his lips, and for a second she saw a spark in his eyes that gave her hope. "We're back…at the Sylph Court. Have you made…your decision yet?" Startled, she looked up and saw he was right. In the distance, over the rise of a hill, she could see the sparkling tower of the Sylph Court piercing the blue sky. They were back. He'd transported them back.
She looked down at him, mischief glinting in his tired blue eyes despite the pain he was in, and her heart shattered into a thousand razor-sharp pieces. This was the last time she would ever see him smile, see his blue eyes alight. They would never do any of the things he'd promised her, never live a life together like he'd wanted. She'd wasted so much of their time together worrying about Oscar, clinging to him because he was her saviour. But she realised now that her reluctance to marry Oscar wasn't just about being too young, wasn't just about not wanting to be a Queen – that this whole trip to get him the Crown wasn't just about giving him the power he needed so she wouldn't have to become his bride. She had wanted this trip with Trey, part of her hadn't wanted to marry Oscar because, in the months she'd spend in Elfhame, she'd already begun to love Trey. Oscar may have been her saviour, but Trey was her knight.
She swallowed the scream rising in her throat as she realised she'd made her decision. Trey was hardly breathing now, every gasp rougher and slower than the last. She felt his heart beating sluggishly under her hand, like the black poison spreading over his skin and in his veins had eaten into his heart too. He gazed up at her, his mouth half-curled, and breathed, "It's okay, Emily. I never expected you to choose me. But a guy could hope."
She opened her mouth to tell him he was wrong, but he shushed her. "Shh. I think…I'm tired." His eyelids fluttered, and he sighed, "I love you, Emily."
She broke, clutching his shirt in her fists, sobbing against his chest. "No, no, no. You can't die. You can't die because I choose you, Trey. I've made my decision, and I choose you. I want to go back to the human world and live in a nice house in the country and make love under the stars. I want to do all of that with you, Trey, only you. I love you. I love you." Her voice cracked and tears streamed down her cheeks, pooling in the hollow of his collarbones.
"Emily, little Emily…" he rasped, and she pulled back to look at his face. He smiled, fragile and beautiful as the hushed moment before dawn. "Kiss me one last time. Please."
She leaned forward and placed her mouth gently over his, ignoring the taste of his blood on his lips. He returned the pressure of her mouth so lightly, sighing against her lips. Then his eyes slid closed, and his hand went limp in hers, and she thought for a second that she might die too from the agonising pressure in her chest. She felt like she was going to be sick, like everything inside her was falling apart, like someone had jammed their hand into her chest and ripped out her heart.
A blur of orange appeared in her peripheral vision, and she glanced over to see Jeff, the fat caterpillar, crawling from Trey's backpack. It curled around his still wrist, making whimpering sounds, like it was sobbing too. Emily stared at the creature, grief breaking over her in relentless waves, one after another. And all she could do was cry. For a long time – minutes stretched into hours, until the sky darkened from blue to black and the stars came out. Her eyes stung, and her throat was raw, and everything inside her was slowly going numb. Still, the tears leaked down her face, unstoppable but silent now. So she leaned over and swept the black hair back from Trey's face, placed a tender kiss on his cold forehead, her breath hitching as she did. Then she unhitched his sword sheath from his belt, stood up, picked up her backpack, and started walking toward the Sylph Court, where the sun was rising and staining the Palace walls with gold and pink.
It was still early when she made it to the doors of the Sylph Palace, and there were few fey walking around. But the ones that were awake stared at her as she walked by. None of the guards tried to stop her. She barely noticed them. She was numb. Emotionless. Empty. She headed straight for the Hall, knowing that was where Oscar would be, and threw the doors open.
At the opposite end of the hall, there he was, pacing the dais in front of the throne like a caged animal. Even from here, she could see he was a wreck – his pale blonde hair was sticking up, his face drawn and tired, circles under his eyes. He jumped at the bang of the doors opening, and looked up at her entrance. Instantly, his face transformed and he ran towards her. He grabbed her, wrapping her in a bone-crushing hug. "Emily! Oh my God, Emily! You're back! Oh God, I've been out of my mind with worry. I can't believe you're back! I got your note, and I...and I found out Trey was gone, too…and…"
She flinched at his name, and Oscar noticed. Slowly, he let go of her and backed up, his brilliant green eyes darting over her face. She swallowed and slid off her backpack, dropping it carefully to the ground, and pointed at it. "I got the Crown," she said, her voice hoarse and flat. She barely sounded human.
Oscar's expression crumpled, his eyes going dark. He lifted a hand to stroke back her hair from her face, and she turned her face away. He made a soft, hurt sound. "Emily…what happened? Where…"
She knotted her hands into fists by her sides, unable to look at him. Her silence seemed to answer his unspoken question, and Oscar sucked in a sharp, pained breath. "Oh…" he breathed, sounding like he'd just been punched in the gut.
Emily began to shake, and she slid to her knees, gasping as emotion came flooding back in with enough force to shatter her all over again. Instantly, Oscar was on the floor with her, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her against his chest. She sobbed against his shoulder and choked, "He's gone. Trey's gone. And I…I loved him. I really loved him."
Oscar continued to hold her, rocking her gently, and all he said was, "I know. I know you did."
***** Ten years later *****
Wide eyes the vivid colour of new spring leaves stared up at Emily from the face of her newborn son. Cradled in her arms, he was tiny, cocooned in a fluffy white blanket. She looked up at Oscar from the bed, and he smiled, looking as beautiful and young as he had the day she met him ten years ago, still the youngest Sylph King in centuries. As a faery, he aged slower than humans, and ever since embracing her Fortune powers, Emily aged slower too. So although she was almost twenty-seven, she still looked about eighteen. The youngest Sylph Queen ever, and the very first Fortune to claim the title since she married Oscar almost a year ago.
Oscar settled on the edge of the bed and stroked his finger gently over the back of their baby's tiny, pink hand. "So, what do you think we should call him?" he asked, his voice low and soft with awe as he stared at his baby boy.
Emily didn't even hesitate. She'd had a name picked out since the moment she knew she was having a boy – the faery nurse could tell things like that almost from the week of conception. Smiling, she put her hand over Oscar's and said, "I think we should call him Trey."