Warning: This chapter is where the story begins to earn its "M" rating due to violence with includes horrific injuries such as near vivisection and amputation.
Essie: Thank you for our feedback. I don't necessarily find female characters easier or harder to write than male but I do like to use them to their full potential as so few authors seem to even realize they have it. This isn't Naoise's story after all, his began hundreds of years before, and will continue for thousands of years after. Because another thing I don't care for in paranormal stories is how degraded humanity is, as if there's nothing special or remarkable about it. I think quite differently, and Eddie's humanity is the forefront of this.
Those last two weeks belonged to no one but Eddie and Naoise.
Eddie spent most of her afternoons with him on the shore of the lake. She often sat along a small cliff face of a great granite boulder that had been pushed up out of the earth. It faced the shore and a small nook had been worn into its surface that was just large enough for Eddie to sit back in. Those two weeks were a corridor for rain. It showered on and off through-out those final days.
She would curl in the embrace of the cliff face as comfortably as Naoise would sit on a rock outside letting the rain drum on his body. Sometimes he even smiled at her through his soaked hair that spread across his face like weeds. For him at least the rain was an event to be enjoyed not frowned at like a nuisance as it laid its nourishing touch across the land.
Eddie knew however that gentle tremor was also slowly wearing away the rock over centuries of slow eroding.
Their conversations mostly centered on sabotage. She had also spent her time in the library looking for glimpses of Lorna Seele in the old records. They had been sparse, the disastrous plan to re-route the river and drain the lake had been indefinitely postponed due to a need for "further planning". A few months later and there was the announcement of the marriage of Michael Seele and the only MacGregor daughter.
The fact the couple had been pictured above the shoulders spoke of a polite declination to show a pregnant bride. Eddie could see the beauty in that face she saw in Kelly's and wondered if this was what had drawn Rhona into the net. Yet the woman's smile radiated from no certain origin. It was not vapid, or even faked, but it floated in a void not connected to the man besides her or any residual happiness from the event being celebrated.
There was no mention of the woman who had been left behind in Lorna Seele's wake. Not even her obituary made any mention of Rhona, beyond perhaps she may have been the one to call for emergency help that day. There was no direct mention of who had made that attempt to save Lorna Seele's life however. It was rather fitting her death had apparently been ruled a sudden and massive heart attack.
Had the selkie been nothing but a shadow following after the path of the person she loved?
There were no clues at all where the pelt may be hidden within the records. Naoise suggested the urn the pelt now rested in may be enchanted so that Rhona alone could not see it, so it may be hidden within plain sight to anyone else. How horrible to think what we may wish for, lay in anguish for, may be within our reach but we are unable to see it. Such torture. No wonder Rhona's face was lined with the exhaustion of someone who had spent centuries searching for something.
In time all things were worn away, even hope.
Yet as Eddie watched the rain run down Naoise's face and drip off his hair, she wondered what may be wearing away from him. Even rock was left with impressions of everything that had touched it. What sort of mark may she have left on him? Would he ever think of her when she was gone? Or would their time together been too brief to leave even one crack?
Perhaps her only legacy would be that she had known something immortal, and while eternity may still belong to God alone, not all things were enslaved by time.
They discussed the missing pelt with Yusuf. MacGregor must have been aware there was something afoot given Yusuf's absences, but he made no attempt to question Eddie when he did visit her or they saw one another in town. MacGregor had taken to interviewing the older generation, though they were all surely younger than himself, about the history of Orangeblossom in order to write a book about the subject matter. If this was to update himself about the place he had abandoned, or a way to distract himself from impending disaster, Eddie was uncertain. She was grateful he seemed content, for now, to stay out of her affairs.
Despite Yusuf's care and inability to breach the Seele home even when Regan was gone, they all knew they could not have hidden their operation from the magician. They were only three and Regan had at least a few dozen spirits in his retinue. They were simply outmanned. Even if Naoise could have won by sheer brutal strength, subtlety is what reconnaissance called for and they hadn't the resources for it. Yusuf suggested they perhaps contact his mistress but Eddie protested the plan. She didn't trust the woman to not usurp their intentions in accordance with her own biased world views.
"She treats me like I'm an idiot and I wouldn't put it past her that she would let Naoise be killed in order to 'save' me!" Eddie had snapped. Naoise had even sat back in some mollification, though it didn't show on his face.
Yusuf took some moderate offense to the idea but when he saw Eddie would cut him out of the plan before she let Nejem intercede, he gave in.
"May Allah protect us all in this endeavor." The jinn had sighed.
It could not be escaped; they were coming and Regan knew it. The trap had to be sprung before they could figure out how to jump out of it. The fact he had not even bothered to hide his intentions was not only galling but a gleeful admission of truth. They were playing by his rules because they had no other choice.
When they were alone Eddie and Naoise didn't discuss her legacy. Their wedding date was fast approaching, but neither one of them mentioned it. They only indulged in the time they still had left upon the Earth with silent comfort and conversations about nothing important at all. Time was to be enjoyed, and not wasted by looking ahead into the future.
If only it would never come, but come it must, and they could no more stop it than they could their movements across Regan's game board.
Underwhelmed, Sarah felt certain, was actually a word. While its opposite may be better known, she felt as if the obscure term fitted her current feeling. Though of course it was expected by her mother she should fall to her knees in awe of the grand home, swoon at the doormen in their red jackets, be impressed by the onyx stairs, shiver at the Persian carpets, and weep at the exquisite ice sculpture of a swan.
It was like any other engagement party really, with people not thinking about the bride and groom so much as smirking at one another and seeing how drunk they could get. It was like any party really. It didn't matter who the guests were and who the host was, people behaved the same in all circumstances. This provision kept Sarah from rarely ever being surprised or impressed with anyone or anything.
The only unique thing about this one was the certain clashing of cultures. Next to the delicate pastries and vivacious food of a professional was the rough and taciturn fare of a meddling ranch wife. Both the groom and bride had tried to keep the respective food coordinators away from one another even as each woman eyed from the opposite end of the table which dishes were being the most served.
Sarah couldn't help but to snicker at the passive-aggressive scuffle and the accompanying gossip. It would seem the Moreno-Seele marriage would provide the town with amusement for years to come. It was almost a pity she would have to leave. She looked at where Eddie was sitting on the stairs that lead to the outside garden and were well within view of the lawn where the festivities were centered. How wonderful the rain had ceased for this one night!
Regan Seele's home was, in a word, "overdone". The home was built into the mountainside so that what flat land there was could be bordered by expansive gardens and a small wood on its east side. Of course such wide tracts of land also meant quite a bit of privacy from the neighbors and that had probably been the old Seele's intention. The old man was probably doing backflips in his grave to see the wash of Orangeblossom scattered across his great lawns and winding rose paths.
The few elites who were probably here by Regan's command, for Gwen had confirmed with a sigh Katharine Seele would have none of her hoity-toity friends in attendance, were clustered in the foyer, sipping their wine glasses with anxious glances in case a stranger came up and talked to them. Gwen was sitting at the bottom of those onyx stairs, looking unbearably bored as she fiddled with her phone. Sarah had been warned to not approach her with her mother around, and Sarah could appease that request.
Just so she could later ask a favor of the Almighty Queen of Teen.
These past few weeks she had been cultivating a friendship with the younger woman, sprung from the night of the dance. Sarah had comforted her that night. She had been chagrined to find she had found no pleasure in seeing Gwen's fantasy dissolve. She had seen in the girl what she had once found in herself; a denial of her true self for the approval of her mother. Sarah had become embittered by the age of sixteen and had refused to be anyone but herself ever since. Gwen was a more stubborn sort, but nevertheless, her dream was dying.
The youngest Seele had no one else to turn to if she would open up to a near stranger about her frustrated desires. Sarah knew that loneliness as well. She had not met Eddie until she was eighteen after all. Gwen was prickly, but she was also naïve. Sarah enjoyed that respite from the cynicism that often colored her world. Right now all she wanted to be was a friend to Gwen, but when she came of age in a month or two if she wished to become intimate, that would be fine as well. Sarah was unattached right now, and would be for a while more.
Sarah smirked at her friend and Eddie just rolled her eyes, already aware this is what every Christmas and birthday would be like from now on. Naoise, who was sitting beside her, cautiously put his arm around Eddie's shoulders. She stiffened for a second then relaxed in his hold. Sarah looked away and not wishing to interfere with the always incredibly awkward love birds, and with her mother preoccupied with her newest boyfriend and her younger brother preoccupied with burning rose buds off the bushes outside, she went to find someone she could harass.
That person turned out to be Stan Ngo as he sat in a chair in the foyer with a glass of wine and bemused, hopelessly lost among his uncle's business associates. The merlot stained the tapestry carpet that depicted the Battle of Hastings, implying William the Conqueror's head had been taken off in the fight. Stan cursed and Sarah's hold around his chest only became tighter.
"Let me go you twat!" he yelped as he tried to stand. Sarah just laughed and let him pull her along as he tried to storm away from his former seat.
"Such a hello! Oh Stanny-boy you're makin' me wonder if I should share this bit of weed with you." Sarah breathed into his ear. He paused and looked back at her incredulously. She beamed at him.
"Would you rather pass the evening dying of boredom? I picked it up in North Vale at the train station." She rolled her head towards the outside with a sly grin. "Come on, let's have some real fun. Even the Seeles be hilarious after a good smoke I bet."
"You're not mad at me?" He asked lowly. Oh, the elephant in the room. Sarah rolled her eyes and they fell on Gwen who looked away as soon as they met gazes.
"Stan if I had wanted a romance I would not have fucked you," Sarah told him bluntly. He blushed in humiliation but Sarah didn't believe tact got the point across in these sorts of situations. She smiled to soften the blow. "It was just a roll in the hay and you were good enough then. Let's remain friends though and not be stupid about such things."
She let him go and walked away, if he followed, great, if not, she would find someone else to entertain her. She sent a covert text to Gwen asking if she would not also join them in the woods. It was quickly denied, apparently she did no such things. Sarah spared Gwen the revelation this is why she was so uptight.
Like a good man however Stan quickly followed on her heels. She led him past the offended Katharine the Great, unaware of what even greater insult to her hospitality was about to be committed, past the carousing mothers of the town who laid praise and criticism on the bride's choice of a yellow dress for the party, and past the fathers who offered the groom every sort of advice possible from how to change a diaper to how to dismantle a toilet.
The pair paused before Eddie and her lover who were speaking lowly to each other but not sweet words given the woman's slight frown. Eddie startled when Sarah greeted her. Sarah put her hand on her friend's shoulders and pulled her away from her entrancing suitor to whisper her own sweet words in her ear.
"Hey, got a bit of pot and Stan and I are about to go smoke in the woods back there. You in?"
"Really?" Eddie asked with a small snort that sounded amused.
"Yep." Eddie shook her head at Sarah's confirmation.
"Sorry, I can't, Matt be so hurt if he could smell it on me later." Eddie sighed and glanced at her brother. The man was speaking enthusiastically to an older gentleman with a beaming Kelly on his arm. Sarah decided this was fair enough and released her friend.
The night was relatively cool with no wind. Of course in the embrace of the marijuana neither she nor Stan would feel much cold even if they remained within the shadows of the woods. Away from the light of the home and celebration Sarah looked at the slow drift of stars above the treetops. Stan spied her singular exploration and paused.
"What're you doin'?"
"Thinking of how high we may fly," Sarah said airily as she stretched her arms towards the distant heavenly bodies. How she had longed to fly away from here since she had been small. She had disliked only familiar faces, places, and nothing new to be known she had not already discovered as a girl roaming the fields and washes of the valley. Her existence was stifling and boring, only punctuated from its predictable routine when she took action. Yet it seemed just on the eve of her flight to find more exciting and varied people and places, things had just become so much more interesting in Orangeblossom.
And best of all, by no volition of hers.
"Hey…" Stan interrupted her musing after he had wandered a few paces away. Sarah looked up and found him standing before the mountainside.
"What?" She blinked as she came to stand before what looked like a dilapidated wood door. Stan shook his head and gently leaned against the rotted wood. It fell in, revealing what looked like the entrance of a cave.
"Oh, cool," Sarah sighed. She extinguished the blunt on the ground and stepped inside. Stan hesitated but followed her in after a few steps. She turned back towards him, "I wonder if maybe this leads into the house. Secret tunnel."
"It looks like a natural cave," Stan frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. "It smells like blood in here."
"Oh that's just mineral you smell. Look," Sarah held up her phone and exposed a small stream running down the middle of the cave by the light of its screen. A wind suddenly picked up and ruffled their hair and clothes. Sarah shook her head, "and see? It has another end. That wind didn't come from where we came from."
But they didn't venture further. In the darkness they found a small outcropping of rock that had been worn down by centuries of water running down the walls and joining the stream that eventually vanished deeper in the cave. They sat behind the moist stones and finished their joints. They didn't know why they felt no desire to venture further, it wasn't fear, it was a simple forgetfulness. They became preoccupied instead with watching the glide of sparkling mineral across the walls as the light shifted in the cave. It was a miniature night, for their eyes alone.
Though no light at all should have existed in the great darkness of the cave.
Eddie sighed as she watched Sarah and Stan melt into the woods. Every time her friends walked away from her she wondered if this would be the last time they saw one another. Naoise stood and gently pulled her to her feet. They had decided just before Sarah and Stan had appeared that there was no time like the present.
Yusuf was hidden in a bauble around Eddie's neck. It appeared as a cobalt sphere. The old legends about jinn being trapped within objects was apparently true, though all Eddie had to do was shatter the bauble to release the jinn. In this way he was disguised from Regan's spirits. She held the bauble tightly as they walked into the foyer.
Matthew had looked at her questioningly as he and Kelly spoke to some older couple Eddie did not recognize. Eddie only shook her head at him and tried to smile to assuage any fears he had. This was Matthew's time to shine, to show the community he deserved Kelly and they would form a union of true love. She would not dim that light and would not allow anyone else to eclipse it.
She looked about for the master of the home and found she could not locate him. The last time she had seen Regan was when she had arrived with Mindy about two hours before. He had been as charming and polite as ever. He didn't even react to Naoise's snide remark about opening his home to all creatures. He had opened the door wide and given the kelpie full access to his home.
She had not seen Rhona at all. Was the selkie gone? Hidden? Had Regan taken her away so that even if she retrieved the pelt Eddie would be unable to give her gift? They passed Gwen on the stairs. The girl glanced back at the pair, started to say something, and fell silent. She looked away, not in disgust or regret, but in an apparent fit of forgetfulness.
Near the top of the stairwell Eddie raised a hand to her forehead and hesitated. Naoise stepped next to her and touched her shoulder.
"I…what are we here for again?" she asked with a blink. For the life of her she could not remember.
"We had decided we would try to find the pelt." Naoise explained and Eddie felt like this was the very first time she'd heard of this.
"No, no, no that's not it. We should go somewhere else…" Eddie began to move away and Naoise caught her arm.
"It's a ward and it starts at the top of the stairs." He informed her. Eddie blinked as she tried to grasp the concept.
"Like the seal on your lake?"
"Aye." He nodded and her memories began to segue back to her. Yusuf was in her hand, the promise she had made the selkie, and above all else, what had brought her to stand her at this very moment.
"So Yusuf was right," Eddie mused as Naoise reached for her hand. She gave it to him in understanding he must lead her in. "You can get past it?"
He nodded and narrowed his eyes. "It's not even nearly strong enough to keep myself away, or even really affect the weakest fae."
"Could it be because he still wishes for Rhona and the others to have access to up here?" Eddie suggested, distracting herself as she closed her eyes to walk past the top step. She gasped as that horrid feeling like she was about to see her own death slowly evaporated as she took more and more steps forward.
"It has no effect on me either." Yusuf's voice was small but legible from inside the bauble.
"Perhaps," Naoise said warily as he gently put his hand on Eddie's lower back to push her forward. "Or perhaps he simply wants us up here."
She quickly regained her step but his hand remained. She glanced at Naoise who kept his face turned forward. He was obviously straining to hear something. The sound of a trap snapping shut.
They walked by a mirror and she caught sight of her reflection that was wan and fearful against the red sweater he was wearing. The top always showed just how dark Naoise's eyes could look, especially when he felt threatened by something. She looked away and tried to push the free strands of her hair back behind her ear. The bauble rattled in her hand.
"Which one?" she held Yusuf close to her mouth as she whispered.
"It is unlikely it would be in an obvious place as the master bedroom," Eddie held the bauble to her ear. "Start with the ones who belong to family members."
Eddie sighed as save for the double doors of the master suite, any room was as good as any other given all the doors were closed. "We need to split up. Careful, Yusuf."
She removed the chain from around her neck. With one swing she smashed the bauble against the wall. There was a flash of flame and Yusuf congealed from the smoke to stand before them.
"Start at this end, I will start at the other." The jinn disappeared, leaving Eddie and Naoise to start with the rooms near the master bedroom.
As they turned a corner they were met by the woman they had discussed only minutes before. She suddenly appeared behind them after opening a bedroom door. In her long black dress with a full skirt she almost looked to be in mourning. The ring floated above her breasts in full view; a caveat.
Eddie should have heeded the warning.
She looked up at Eddie when her name was called with a look of regret. Eddie moved to step forward to greet her but Naoise suddenly put his arm up stopping her and pushing her behind him. Before she could even turn her head to cry out at him she saw a flash of light in Rhona's hands. The next second she caught a glimpse of the dagger she had thrown away into the pool suddenly make an upwards arch towards Naoise's neck and face. He pushed her aside and leapt back before Eddie even hit the wall.
"Rhona!" Eddie screamed. The fae woman paused in her attack drawing the dagger towards her breast and facing outwards like a recoiled snake waiting to strike again. Eddie pushed herself off against the wall to raise an arm towards the selkie. "Stop! Why are you-?"
"Get back," Rhona warned and slashed the blade towards the woman. Her vision was suddenly filled with impending death that flew only millimeters away from a killing blow. A few hairs from Eddie's head fluttered in the wake of its vicious slice. She recalled Regan's warning the blade was sharp enough to pierce a kelpie's hide. Eddie reeled back in her attempt to avoid having her throat slashed open and was caught by Naoise. Rhona righted herself from her attack and looked at the pair with slit eyes. "I would not like to spill innocent blood in this, but I have no direct orders to spare her."
Naoise lunged at those words in an obvious attempt to move the battle away from Eddie. He pushed Rhona back at the full brunt of his fury, the fae woman didn't even raise her blade. Instead she moved back, letting Naoise strike at her again and again. They moved only a few feet down the hall before they stood directly in front of the master suite.
Naoise paused as Rhona raised the blade. He glowered at the selkie, daring her to charge him with her weapon. Her other hand rose, but not in surrender. Instead it fell upon the wall behind her. A completely undistinguishable point. When her hand crashed against it however the floor opened up.
"Naoise!" Eddie screamed. For a second they were suspended in the air. Rhona raised her blade, and they disappeared. The floor swallowed them into its chasm.
Eddie ran to the edge of the cavern. She couldn't see entirely to the bottom but the hole tunneled past the lower story. Did it go all the way into the earth below?
"Yusuf! Yusuf!" she screamed for the jinn. She met him in the hall. She described what she had seen and showed him the void.
"It's a mortal tunnel," he told her. "In that it doesn't appear to go anywhere but down. Can you not feel the wind on your face?"
"Yusuf, we have to get down there." Eddie gulped. "She means to kill him! That blade can kill him!"
"She's on orders from Regan, the only way we could stop her is by freeing her from his bondage."
"The pelt! The pelt!" Eddie gasped and threw open the nearest door. She grabbed for the nearest urn she could see. Yusuf pulled her hands back however before she could touch it.
"The urn is likely enchanted! Remember? Touching it will likely erase your memory, maybe even kill you."
Eddie gasped, "Then how will we get it to Rhona?"
"I will touch it," Yusuf frowned. "The magic won't have as much of an effect on me."
"As much?" Eddie groused but before she could stop him, he touched the urn before them. It proved to be nothing more than a fancy vase. Eddie sighed, well after all this appeared to be Gwen's room with the roses and boy band posters. Eddie was struck by a sudden thought.
"Hey, Naoise said it was likely in plain sight. Well, old man Seele died a few months ago. Wouldn't it be just peachy if he was not cremated and in an urn somewhere around here?"
Yusuf looked intrigued. "And where would they keep such an urn?"
Eddie stiffened. "Oh that fucking bastard! This was a red herring all along! The pelt was never here! It was just to get Naoise up here where he has it protected from human eyes! The urn is probably in the family room!"
They rushed back down the stairs. Eddie pushed past startled guests as Yusuf hovered invisibly overhead. They pulled open the heavy wooden doors that had closed the part of the home not open to the public. Down a small hallway Eddie and Yusuf found the family room with an adjacent parlor and porch.
And resting upon the fireplace in the family room was a small urn, engraved with the name "Michael Joseph Seele". As Eddie felt it must have been, since she had first spied it the night she had come here to speak with Regan. She had been unable to see the plaque, but she knew families usually kept their deceased where they could all see. It had been in plain sight all along.
Yusuf appeared before the urn and laid his hands upon it. He gave a great cry and fell to the floor. Eddie fell to her knees beside him and inhaled at his stunned expression. She gently shook his shoulder.
"Yusuf?" she asked worriedly. He blinked at her.
"Eddie, what am I doing here?" he glanced down. "Why am I holding an urn? Where am I?"
Eddie sighed, so that's what the spell had been. It must have made him forget everything to do with the pelt. She helped him sit back up. At least otherwise he seemed unhurt. Eddie gathered up a throw blanket.
"Just rest. I'll explain it all to you in a minute. But right now," she wrapped the urn in the blanket as she took it from him, "Naoise needs me."
Yusuf frowned at this information but Eddie had already left him. She ventured over to the parlor whose north wall was the mountain side. The tunnel must be behind this wall. Did it have another opening? She began to push against it as she held the urn tightly to her. She felt tears forming in her eyes in frustration. She didn't want to run back up the stairs as it take too long, but she may be wrong and the only way into the tunnel was before the master bedroom.
And what if Naoise was already dead?
"Eddie." She turned to see Jai standing behind her, and Yusuf more distantly on the floor of the family room. The prince was dressed as immaculately as ever in a cream suit. He didn't smile however, he only looked at her with a despairing expression.
"Jai! Please! Please help me! Rhona took Naoise down the tunnel and she means to kill him!" Eddie pleaded with him. Jai looked away from her tears and she gave a small hysterical scream. "No! Don't do that! Damn it, I know he's a monster to you! But he-! If he dies I won't be this person I am now! I don't think…I'll ever be happy ever again!"
Jai absorbed her words like the rush of the sea. He raised his head and gritted his teeth. For a second Eddie thought he meant to strike her in his fury. He moved towards her and reached over her head. She flinched as his hand closed around the chain of a lamp suspended overhead. He pulled and opened the wall. Eddie gave a small cry of relief.
"Eddie?" Yusuf was now standing in the doorway of the parlor. She shook her head at him.
"Get Mr. MacGregor," she told him. Better Yusuf be in his company with an impaired memory than alone in Regan's home. She had a feeling the old man was not going to be able to do much however.
Jai slid his arm around Eddie's waist when she turned back towards the tunnel. "You can't jump down it alone. It's a great height, and you at the very least break your legs upon impact."
"Then what do I do?" she asked him.
"Hold onto me." He told her. She held the urn to her breast with one hand, and put her other arm around his neck. He picked up her legs and carried her to the edge of the abyss. He paused, inhaled, and leapt into the darkness.
They fell at a terrifying speed. Eddie couldn't see the ground rushing up at her in the darkness but she could feel the wind rip across her face and hair. She closed her eyes and waited for that crushing landing. Yet those last few seconds in Jai's arms she felt as light as a leaf or billowing cloth. They touched the ground in slow repose.
The cavern was lighted by a series of hanging lamps. They flickered in the wind and Eddie realized they were lit by candle. The ancient cave hosted a small spring in its center, apparently fed by a small stream. The great expanse before her was deserted, filled with only the sounds of echoes. It was the cacophony of rushing bodies, for no scream or cry was legible to her ear. The emotional surfeit of the battle gave the air its oppression and rattled the pebbles on the ground. Blood spilled across the walls and floors from unseen combatants.
Naoise must still be alive.
Yet for brief seconds she thought she could catch glimpses of contorted bodies. She clutched the urn, she must find some way to see! She must approach Rhona with the pelt! Any hope of illusion was broken however when a scream ripped across the air belonging to no human or animal.
By the spring Rhona appeared, her shoulder torn wide open to expose the bone to the soft candlelight above. Before her was a black stallion with a blood covered muzzle. His fangs glistened as his mouth lay open from panting. Eddie was reminded of the first time she had ever seen the kelpie; as a beast of brutal cruelty. Eddie dared not call out his name for the next second Rhona lunged and they were lost again for a few seconds.
Eddie fretted about what she must do, but the battle was drawing to a close. Naoise suddenly rolled across the stones. He crashed as a horse but landed as a man. He curled in agony on his side at a large gash across his chest. Rhona stepped before him with his blood still dripping off her blade. Her mutilated shoulder was painfully ripped open but she seemed to ignore the mess of blood and flesh. Eddie's feet at last began to move.
I'm not going to get there in time! Eddie gasped but dared not falter as she tried to close the distance on her clumsy legs that were tied to the earth and could not leave it to even save one life. She forced herself to run as fast as she could not daring to imagine the agony of arriving a second too late.
"Is that the form you wish to die in?" Rhona asked lowly. Naoise did not answer save raising his head to glower at her. Rhona raised the dagger for a killing drive into his heart. Naoise opened his mouth to suddenly utter his last words.
"Eddie!" The selkie startled at the sudden noise but drew the blade up to finish her task, mistaking the name for a cry of regret. She dropped the blade when the urn suddenly shattered over her head. She staggered back a few steps and looked at the human woman who had suddenly appeared in total shock. Eddie and Rhona both marveled at the fine film of ash that had coated her after exploding from the urn. Then suddenly the fae woman gave a cry of ecstatic delight.
Eddie stumbled back and fell next to Naoise as she kept her eyes on the triumphing fae woman. The ashes suddenly moved across her body to form a vortex centered on the selkie's solar plexus. The woman raised her uninjured hand as the mauled one still lay uselessly at her side. With a gentle smile she seemed to arrange the shape of the ash into a solidified form. As she drew her hand forward what fell into it was a pelt, the pelt of a gray seal, the pelt of a selkie, hidden for thirty-three years from her. Rhona raised it up before tear filled eyes.
"Rhona!" Regan suddenly appeared a few feet away, apparently drawn down a distant flight of stairs in a fury. He reached out towards the selkie but she turned away. In an instant she was at the edge of the spring that was the center of the blood splattered arena.
"Don't go! Please!" Regan pleaded. He even drew up his hands in desperation like a child would. The selkie ignored him and after laying her pelt across her shoulders vanished in a second with no word of good bye. Rhona had exited from the man's life with no curse, no requiem, nothing but a small and cruel smile. Eddie could not even take satisfaction she had managed to save one life when another may be slipping away right before her eyes.
Eddie turned away from Regan's devastated look to Naoise. She tried to close his wound shut with her bare hands. His sweater had become black with blood, and it spilled over her hands as she futilely tried to perform triage. She wished to look away for she could see his split ribs and breast bone that exposed the viscera of his internal organs to the night air. She used the discarded throw blanket to cover the wound and tried to stay the flow by pressing down on it as hard as she could. If he was a man he surely would be dead by now let as a fae he was allowed to suffer on.
"Naoise, Naoise, oh Naoise," Eddie said helplessly. She had absolutely no idea what to do. Should she try to find Kelly? Could they even take him to a hospital?
"I need, to go to my lake, to Faerie," he explained. He grimaced and reached for her wrist. Eddie nodded and looked towards the spring where Rhona had fled. It should be enough to just get him into the water to escape.
Then a shadow fell across Naoise's face and Eddie looked back at Regan looming over them with the dagger. Naoise tried to push her away again but Eddie would not allow it this time. She laid over him, even putting her throat over his.
"If you want to kill him you're going to have to kill me too." She warned the enchanter as the kelpie hissed in her ear in anger.
"Get away Eddie," Regan warned making an agitated motion for her to do so. Eddie only held on tighter to Naoise as he tried to right himself beneath her.
"Regan! Stop!" Jai grasped the wrist with the dagger. Regan pulled his hand away and pointed the weapon at the man's face. Jai stepped back wide eyes as he stared at where Regan's face was half hidden in shadow as the candlelight flickered overhead. It didn't obscure his wild look of rage and hurt however. He was snarling with his teeth bared and his eyes wide with all the look of a desperate beast.
"Don't interfere, damn you. Think of what you owe me!" Regan shrieked. Eddie felt herself cower at that distressed sound. She had known such pain and anger. She knew that Regan was far from rational at this moment. He was a man who had just had his heart torn out.
"You would kill him right in front of her?" Jai protested.
"Regan!" Eddie cried. She saw no forgiveness in those eyes but she would plead for Naoise's life all the same for she could do nothing else.
"Don't do it, please! I know you want to do what is right. I know you want to protect me and everyone else! That is why you started using magic isn't it? To save people? But this would only be murder! Naoise is weak and it wouldn't be fair! Let him go! It would be a crime! He was only defending his own life!" She argued, feeling tears fall as she did. She didn't know why such horror had suddenly erupted across the night beyond it had been by Regan's hand. Let him find mercy however and realize Rhona had left because of his own cruelty!
Whatever reservations that Regan may have had about committing cold blooded murder seemed to evaporate at the speech however. With a snarl he grabbed Eddie's hair to throw her off of the kelpie. She grasped at his wrist to try to twist out of his hold but he only held on tighter at her struggling.
"I have had enough of your idiocy!" he told her as she cried out in pain. Jai started to say something and moved to grasp Eddie to pull her away from Regan. Suddenly a dark and furious shadow erupted across the corner of Eddie's vision and sliced through the cold night air. Eddie was dropped back down onto the cave floor next to the fae whose life she had just pleaded for.
She looked up to see Naoise's mouth had become far too large and ringed with fangs to be that of a man's. His glamour had been ruptured to allow her to see the true jaws of a kelpie as he attacked. She saw his teeth first, then the skin they were embedded in, then the wrist he was slowly tearing apart with the flesh already beginning to rip below his jaw line.
Finally she looked up to see Regan's expression of pure disbelief, the pain of his injury had not yet reached his mind. Even though the kelpie's teeth were clamped into the man's wrist with vicious strength and the blood flowed in torrents down Regan's arm, he only stared at the fae with an incredulous look. The magician's face went white with shock at last however when the kelpie suddenly wrenched his head back and with a distinct crack for every bone that was shattered beneath his fangs. The wrist and hand were torn off with the dagger still clenched in Regan's fist.
Before Eddie could react to the horror of Regan reeling back with a bloody stump clenched to his chest Naoise grabbed her around her waist. She didn't protest and only continued to stare in complete disbelief as the injured kelpie dragged her the short distance to the spring. They left the enchanter to fall to his knees in agony as he was helplessly attended by the prince. Eddie only became cognizant of anything else on earth but Regan's pain as the cold water suddenly enveloped her. She turned and twining her hands into the kelpie's mane she allowed herself to be pulled away from the horrific scene.
Sarah had awoken from a soft and warm dream into a gruesome nightmare. She began to loathe her wish that Orangeblossom would become more interesting. Fate had been tempted and it had responded with a challenge. Sarah had fallen back into Stan and clung to him in a terrified shock for a few minutes as the scene of Regan Seele's hand being ripped off by the jaws of a man who was really a monster played again and again across her eyes.
His screams quickly chased away all memory of the previous ten minutes spent in the embrace of a cloying drug. She had barely begun her journey to the stars. The influence of the marijuana had been too calm and loving to be responsible for the horror that had suddenly lashed out at them.
They had been drawn further in by the sound of a man's voice, and then Eddie's. No one had noticed their arrival. They had quickly ducked down behind a boulder at the violence that had erupted.
Jai Darzi pulled Regan up and began moving him towards the staircase. He had raced down the stairs as opposed to how Eddie had suddenly appeared out of the darkness. Stan had been right, there was more than one entrance to this cavern. Once alone the pair began heading in the opposite direction. They didn't speak about what they had seen, talking about it would make it real.
They were stopped in their escape however by two men blocking the back exit. Sarah recognized them from the café, the Scot and the Arab guy. She stepped back when she saw the amber color of the eyes of the former. She had a disconcerting thought that he wasn't human and she shivered as the sight of those gaping fangs replayed in her mind.
"What did you see?" the Scot demanded.
"None of your business!" Sarah snapped. Stan glanced at her and she shook her head at him. The Scot furrowed his brow and rubbed the back of his neck.
"These two are friends of Eddie Moreno," the other man informed him. Sarah tensed at the mention of Eddie. Had she really seen her disappear into that spring? Why had they even come closer to all that blood and agony?
"Then they can appreciate that we must know what happened to her." The Scot pressed. Sarah crossed her arms.
"Why?" she glowered. "All I can remember is you two weirdoes bugging her!"
"Please," the amber-eyed man's voice was gentle. "If you don't tell us what happened tonight in this cave, we may all never see your friend ever again."
Sarah's shoulders dropped. "Why? Why should I tell you? Why should I trust you?"
"Because your friend may have been spirited away this evening," Amber Eyes explained. "By something like myself."
At those words he transformed. He was suddenly an inferno that licked up the cave walls. His flames didn't burn, they brushed over Sarah and Stan in a consuming warmth. Sarah felt something inside her break and she fell to her knees.
This was all real.
"He took her!" she at last cried out in agony as her world fell around her. "Naoise Burne! I don't know what he is! But he has jaws like a monster. He tore off Regan's hand and took her into the spring!"
"Tore off Regan's hand?" the Scot repeated. His companion reconfigured his flames into the form of a human body. He assumed the outline of a young man dressed in an ankle long robe with boots. The details of clothing, hair, and flesh simmered over the flames leaving only his eyes to continue burning. Sarah shivered at the sight, but Stan was as unperturbed as the Scot by it.
"His woman was trying to kill Naoise." Stan interjected. "She had a big blade that opened up his chest. Eddie poured some ashes on her and she took off through that spring too. After she left Regan tried to finish the job but Naoise tore off his hand instead. That Indian guy took him up the stairs."
Sarah gave a small hysterical laugh. To hear it out loud was ludicrous! Yet it was all true. To her further torment the red head absorbed it all in and nodded. He knew it was all true.
"So that's why you had the urn Yusuf, it was the selkie's pelt." He mused to his companion.
"Selkie?" Sarah asked. The Scot shook his head.
"It's a tale for later, lass." He turned towards the apparent Yusuf. "You go and find Eddie, I'll try to do damage control around here."
Sarah stood up, "you can rescue Eddie?"
"It will be difficult if they have already passed beyond this world," Yusuf told her. "It may take me years if this is so, but nevertheless, I will rescue her."
"I'm coming with you," Sarah narrowed her eyes and raised her chin. She would bear the weight of this crushing world for her friend alone. Yusuf frowned and shook his head.
"It will be very dangerous, and you may never see the Earth again."
"I don't care!" Sarah snapped. "You never answered me before 'why should I trust you?' It's because neither one of you have a reason why, do you?!"
Both of them were stunned into silence. Sarah glared at them both. Stan put his hand on Sarah's shoulder.
"I'll come too. It's fairer this way and besides, I've always wanted to have an adventure." Sarah raised an eyebrow at Stan and wondered if the excitement of the evening was not even more intoxicating than the marijuana.
"This is nothing like you may have seen on the telly or read in books," the red head frowned.
"I know, but, someone told me I have the blood of a dragon. I like to see what it's worth." Stan shrugged and the red head almost rolled his eyes in frustration.
"But either way," Sarah continued, "I'm overseeing this rescue because I know I have Eddie's best interests in mind."
The Scot sighed and turned to Yusuf. "It's probably better if they leave with you because then they won't have their memories altered by Regan. Right now they're the only witnesses of what happened here. Hala may yell at me but this is my decision. Don't let them get hurt but don't let them get in the way either."
Yusuf nodded and walked up to them both. He held out his hands. "Naoise would have gone back to Lake Santos, his home before going on to Faerie. It is our best chance of catching them if we go there first."
"On the way, give us the summary of what in the fuck is going on?" Sarah asked as she laid her hand in Yusuf's and Stan did the same. He nodded at her and in a second they were traveling across the night sky as a trail of flame. They didn't burn, but they shone as brightly as a comet.
She held onto him through the darkness. She held onto him as a creature of the bottom of the lake with gnashing teeth and sharp hooves. She held onto him not knowing if she would ever see the light again.
She pressed her small hands against his large wound. His form shifted and allowed for her to embrace him as a man. He brought her to the shoreline of the mortal world in whose embrace death dwelled. Where by the same gentle touch that was trying to hold his body together he had escaped its yawning arms.
He had devoured the hand of the magician. That weakness would become his strength. The blade had fallen away to the bottom of the lake. Let it remain forever powerless in the lair of the creature it had been meant to slay. As he had deposited the grotesque prize he had considered simply moving on to Faerie as the woman lay inert and helpless upon his back. Only by the force of her hold on his mane did he know she was still conscious.
Was not her act her consent? She had sacrificed herself for him. She must love him if she had not allowed Rhona, nor Regan, to free her. She must desire to be with him.
He was not sure when he had won her love. She had rebuffed him at first with the assurance acts of kindness would not win her heart. He had accepted this. He had not been trying to gain her love, but he had been acting in love. It was only inevitable he would be kind to her and try to protect her. He would act as a husband should, because that was the promise they had made to one another, whether she loved him in return or not.
Yet he knew things were not so simple. Human hearts had many ties upon them when a fae may have one, or none at all. Their few decades heaved with as much affection as thousands of years. They gave it to so many; their family, their friends, and their lovers. Very few humans only loved one at once. Eddie was far more a common example of her kind, perhaps even an extraordinary one in how freely and easily she loved. It flowed from her as endlessly as an eternal spring. It was perhaps why she had come to care about him, someone who had tormented her. Humans could even love their enemies.
If she had been fae she would have simply stayed with him and followed him anywhere. She was human however, and while he may have desired to be her entire world, he never would be. She would remember her brother's face until the day she died, even if it was thousands of years after the last mortal life had been extinguished.
The pact was ended. He had given Regan a grievous wound, and the couple were already engaged to be married. All would go as it should.
He felt it must be time, but he must know for sure. He couldn't make that mistake. If she came to hate him all that had been wonderful within her would die.
He came ashore in the pre-dawn darkness when only the sound of the waves and the occasional scamper of a night animal carried against the mountainside. Eddie's coughing quickly disintegrated the peace of the darkness but she still clung to him, his neck between her elbows and her hands over his gaping gash. She at last raised her head and looked around her and gave a small sputter of surprise.
"The shore?" She looked back at him and he met her gaze by looking over his shoulder. "Huh, why are you still here? I thought you said you had to go to Faerie! Get on with it! Are you nuts!?"
"You humans, you feel pain like this all the time don't you? You must wait for your body to heal before it subsides." He observed quietly. He had never felt anything like it. It was like pleasure almost the way it seared the body and throbbed. It could scarcely be endured with the way it bit into nerves. It was his first experience with true agony. He had been wounded before but the bridle tied him to the Earth instead of Faerie which had not been found by death or age. No previous wounds had felt so scintillating and he had never known the fear of death until Rhona had loomed over him with that blade poised to rupture his heart.
Without the bridle the tear would have closed on its own, filled by the magic of his stronghold. Under its burden however he needed to expose his injury to the eternal magic of the deathless land.
He had never understood the death-scream until now. It was the summoning of death to end life. All that had made Eddie shine was in fear of that final call. Humans loved so ardently because they never knew when they would lose it all. It was perhaps why she could love even him, though it would take her from him in the end as he was a soulless creature.
"Y-yes," she looked away as she begrudgingly admitted this. "But you won't heal will you if you stay here? You'll just continue to have that wound…"
"And death will never come for me even if I may beg for it," he finished and she at last let him go.
"For God's sake then, leave, please! Why are you staying here? " She raised her hands and covered her eyes. "Please! I can hardly stand to even look at it—"
He gently reached to grasp her wrists and pull them down. She let him and looked at him as she softly began to sob. He leaned over and gently kissed where the warm stream of her tears overlaid the cold water of his lake.
"I have never known the fear of death, until tonight." She looked at him and swallowed.
"Naoise…" He reached around her shoulders and drew her close to him as best he could without soaking her in more blood.
"I would not know it again, and I would take you somewhere Eddie where you never need to fear it. Come with me to Faerie, be my bride, the pact is over. You can live forever there with me and never know death's touch ever again." He proposed vehemently. Eddie looked at him with such despair that her entire body trembled. She looked away from him, as if unable to stand the sight of him.
"This is my fault, Regan gave me that dagger, told me to use it on you, but I couldn't! So I threw it away, into that little pool on the range, that's where Rhona got it!" She confessed miserably. "I should have never thrown it away so carelessly!"
Naoise inhaled sharply. All this time, she could have freed herself? Why had she chosen him and not freedom? Why had she protected someone she had feared and hated? Why should life be so sacred? This love, it had worn her down as much as him.
"Regan choose his own actions, and you did yours." Naoise gently turned her chin so she would look at him. Her eyes were wide and her lips trembled with guilt. Her regret was eternal, genuine, and omnipotent. "Will you come with me now? Your brother is engaged to the one he loves and Regan will never be whole ever again."
Eddie swallowed and her eyes moved away from him, even as she continued to grimace at him from some internal pang.
"The pact is not over." Eddie narrowed her eyes. "Not until the day Matthew is married. You may believe Regan is now defeated, but I don't."
Naoise sighed, "in that line of thinking, the pact is never over. Matthew may be married, but so long as Regan lives, he can always separate them. Would you command me to kill Regan to protect your brother's marriage?"
"No," she gave a small groan.
"Then….you will never go to Faerie with me, for you will always have some excuse." Eddie didn't answer beyond hunching her shoulders as the weight of the conundrum settled on her. Naoise raised his lip in a sneer. "I could kill you for this."
"Will you force me?" Eddie asked with her face still tilted towards the dead Earth.
"No." he would not, not any more than she would ever ask him to kill someone. She looked up at him.
"Why do you care about me so much Naoise?" She moaned, the sort so many gave at death when they could not summon a scream.
"Why did I fall in love with you?" he asked and she tensed. He shook his head. "I don't know why. All I know is I want you to be by my side forever. You make me feel…complete. It's a feeling I have not ever felt for someone else. Perhaps it is because, most of all, I believe you could love me in return."
Eddie gave a small and bitter smile. "I could love you, but not like this. Maybe, after all, it would have been better if we had never met."
"Is this….good bye then?" he asked softly.
"It must be." She answered, her voice cracking under the unbearable weight.
"I want you to know though…maybe one day…if things had been different then…" Eddie nearly choked on her words. She closed her eyes and cried out, "maybe we could have watched the sun rise together, every day!"
He knew what she meant, that they could have been together every day, that for a few hours every day they would have only belonged to each other. That she could have loved him in return. It was never to be however, she would not yield, and he could not let her live otherwise. She must be subordinated or be punished, and she had chosen punishment once again.
For he had to believe he was still a guardian, for he could be nothing else. He must never be stopped in his task. Eddie loved endlessly. She could even love him. She could also destroy him and lay waste to all he guarded. He must either temper that flame or see it extinguished.
He leaned down and kissed her again, wishing to imprint the embrace upon his mind and body forever. He would never love anyone ever again, not after this, not after all this pain. She was surely sparing him by rejecting him, for this passion was consuming and dangerous. It had humbled him and made him vulnerable, two things a guardian should never be.
She tightened her hold as if wishing to delay him for a few more minutes. A few more seconds she could spend with him as the man she loved and not the monster. She let him go at last and as he stood to leave he let his hand drop and run down the length of her arm. He raised her hand up as she remained sitting as he rose fully up.
"You truly chose to give me your life over your love?" he asked softly.
"Yes," she said softly, she gently squeezed his hand and smiled at him even as her tears flowed.
"Then your life is the price you pay." He informed her softly. He knew the piercing aches in his chest were not from his gash.
"And I will keep you bridled, until the end of the pact," she told him softly. That was her own exchange; he would not yield to her in love, so he must remain enslaved till the end of her life. This was their mutual cruelty to one another. He let her hand go.
He left her before the sun rose that day, on the shore, alone in the mortal land where death dwelled.
This is ostensibly the end of the second act, and the opening to the third and final act. Please leave me feedback, either in the form of a review or some pennies in my review jar on my patreon page, thank you.