*Spoiler alert for anyone who has not finished the Fable 3 plot line*
"How much longer?"
The spectre ahead didn't answer, the ghostly glow where its eyes should have been seemed to shine brighter.
"Are you prepared?" Theresa spoke simply.
"Yes, my armies have been fortified."
The blind seer's lips folded into a small smirk, "That is not what I asked, are you prepared?"
Adelynn registered her question, she was not in the least prepared mentally for the task ahead. How could she be? Albion faces mass annihilation, all her friends and comrades would charge blindly into the battle of their lifetime, and surely she would come face to face with a monster that terrified her beyond reasonable sanity. No, she was not prepared.
Theresa smiled at Adelynn and it did very little to comfort the Queen, despite being her mother's guardian Adelynn saw no reason to trust the old woman. She had already manipulated her visions to herald Adelynn into action against her brother four years prior, and even now had yet to reveal much about their foe or the impending fight. In fact, it almost appeared at times that she didn't seem the least bothered if Albion was saved or destroyed, it probably would not affect her on a personal level, just that she might have to raise a finger and fight the darkness on her own.
"You doubt me," Theresa eyed her, cocking her head in an inquisitive manner.
"Try not to let it bother you, I doubt a lot of things these days."
"Your loneliness makes you bitter and will bring about a swift downfall, it was your brother's undoing as well. Not many are ever truly prepared to face death by themselves."
Adelynn snorted, "That may be so, but now is a Hell of a time to go husband hunting."
"Perhaps someone who already understands then, someone close by."
The apparition disappeared, leaving the Queen standing before the gates of the Road to Rule alone.
"You have a rather informal audience request, your majesty."
The Queen looked up from the brim of her teacup, she rather enjoyed her afternoon tea, it was the only time she had to reflect these days. Her brow furrowed on impulse, "Who would dare?"
Hobson was always a squirmy little man, but now as he stood before her he seemed a little more squeamish than usual.
"Master Reaver, ma'am."
Adelynn was genuinely surprised, she hadn't expected to hear from him outside of the throne room ever again. It was no secret amongst her comrades, and now even her treasury advisor, that Reaver's donation had come at a price.
"I-I already informed him that it would be a bad time, but he was very...umm...persistent, my Queen."
She was beyond intrigued now, "Alright, send him in."
Adelynn told herself it was a Royal's vanity that was now causing her to adjust her appearance in the reflection of her spoon, nothing more. She quickly resumed the mad stirring of her tea when the door to her study opened softly. The tycoon of Bowerstone waltzed in as haughty and as immaculate as ever, white suit pressed and folded in all the right areas, cane clicking in rhythm against the stone floors. Reaver folded in a graceful bow before helping himself to a seat in front of her.
"Your Majesty, how are you this fine day?"
"Quite reasonable, thank you. Now why are you here Reaver? Disturbing my tea time? Surely you did not come all this way for conversation."
Reaver smirked his famous smirk, and the Queen sensed bad news from a mile off.
"How very smart, my Queen. No I did not, I am a businessman after all. So onward to business then, I'm hear to announce my leave."
Adelynn frowned in her confusion, "Your leave?"
"Yes, I'm afraid my immediate attention is required elsewhere. Therefore, I'm leaving Bowerstone for a "vacation" if you will."
Surprise dawned on her face, her lips forming words that she hadn't thought through.
"Now, now, now, no need to be alarmed, my sweet. It is only temporary after all, and of course, I will be leaving Industrial in the charge of very capable hands."
Fire. She felt fire surge through her veins.
"You would leave on the eve of battle! You! A Hero! When the people need you most!"
Reaver shook a gloved finger at her, "Temper, temper. I believe it is your duty to defend Albion after all. As for Hero, I revoked that title long ago."
Adelynn rose from her seat and stalked nearer to the deviant, "Oh? And where are you going? Sacrifice another hapless soul to the Shadow Court? Its just that time isn't it, judging by the crow's feet under your eyes!"
Heat flashed behind his soulless eyes but the Queen did not yield, "All your power and all your skill, and you would turn tail and run. Coward!"
Reaver rose from his seat, a tower of rage, "I am no coward."
"Then prove it!," She spat, "Stay and fight the Crawler with us!"
"Hmm yes how very tempting however, I fail to see whats in it for me."
Adelynn grabbed hold of his long coat and pulled him closer, removing all space from the two entirely.
"You once spoke of redemption, now is your chance."
He had had a hundred chances to turn off this path in the centuries before, it didn't matter this time nor will it matter the next time. When faced with death by the Shadow Court his path was set, he would always be Reaver, and Reaver was unforgivable.
"I cannot, mon amour. Age really is quite the killer."
She shook him fiercely, he felt her magic searing through the fabric of his collar. "You can wait! The attack is soon, a few days at the most! Then off you go to fill your quarter."
"I do not like to be rude to my guests, the Court does so clamour for my attention when I keep them waiting."
There was a hint of desperation in her stare now, her voice dropped below a whisper. Adelynn hadn't realized how afraid she was of facing this darkness alone until now. She needed every capable fighter on the forefront, perhaps she needed someone at her side as well.
"I can pay you! Not now but after the attack."
He chuckled, "If memory serves me correct, I paid you to pull off this little assault of yours."
"Yes, but what if I pay in other ways?" She whispered seductively.
Her lips were at his throat now, hot and frantic, burning a path up his chin. Dear Avo, was she ever speaking his language now! She could pay him out with her flesh for a lifetime and it wouldn't be enough to sate his want for her. He groaned under her touch, roughly feeling her hips while fighting against the most promising offer of the century.
If he sealed this new bargain, what then? Would she throw him out at the end of every night like some commoner? Keep the entire affair under shadows for the sake of her reputation? Cringe at the thought of being seen with him?
Adelynn was met with a cane, forcibly pushing her off the gunslinger with a quick jab to the chest. She stood affronted, staring him down with tempered anger. He made for the door, Reaver realized that this was probably the best time to leave or risk injury in staying.
He flinched inwardly, stopping in his tracks only for a moment.
"If you won't stay for the right reasons then please, just stay for me."
For once since the beginning of this arrangement, Reaver saw the woman behind the crown. A woman who had given everything to those around her and was now left with nothing for herself. So like her mother, different circumstances but the same wretched end.
He tipped his hat to her before closing the door behind him.
It rained for three days and three nights in the city of Bowerstone, grey clouds of cold moisture darkened out the sun. The Queen ordered the people be moved to the garrisons during this storm, convinced that this was a sign of the impending darkness to come. Aurora reports came in on the second day, a search of the caverns on the outskirts of the city revealed the worst – the shadows were gone.
"They must be on the move!" Walter spoke frantically over the war table.
Several heads bobbed up and down in response.
"They come tonight."
This was Logan's voice over the others, he met Adelynn's eyes from across the room and knew she was aware of it just as well. These three nights her dreams had been haunted by the Crawler himself, screaming their arrival over and over till she thought her ears would bleed.
"Friends, prepare yourselves, for the darkness attacks tonight."
A new determination filled the quaking knees of Adelynn, as she thrust her blade into another hollow shadow. Looking behind her she felt her heart soar at the sight of Ben and Walter fighting beside her as they besieged the darkness together. This wasn't so terrible! Cutting through the children of darkness proved easier than fighting off a pack of hobbes. Best of all she wasn't alone, she had envisioned some terrible battle, where she'd be alone and the corpses of all her friends scattered around her.
"How are you holding up, Walter?" Ben asked.
Walter did look a little more ragged then she had seem him earlier, she chalked it up to his past experience. They had been in that cave together in the dark, they both felt the iciness of death when the Crawler had invaded them. Adelynn believed it would be a feeling she wouldn't forget until the beast lie dead at her feet.
"Come on, we have to make it into the inner city," She urged her companions on.
"You taunt us, you taunt the children!"
The city was soaked in shadows, buildings had been broken in, their doors swung open on their hinges, glass panes shattered open. Adelynn laughed darkly, she could only imagine the Crawler's rage at finding her city already emptied.
"We must be getting closer," Walter gasped, "I can feel it."
"Keep it together, Walter. We're all in this together," Adelynn threw her elder a compassionate glance.
He looked ill, skin pale and clammy, soaked in sweat, dark circles the shade of bruises under his eyes. After this was all over, she was forcing Walter into a well deserved retirement. Together, they dispatched a sentinel guarding over the entrance into the old city. As the creature let out a final death cry they made their way through the gate.
A crack resounded in the air as the heavy iron gates slid down, trapping her and Walter in the courtyard and separating Ben.
"What's going on?" Ben asked, voice quivering.
Adelynn gripped the bars trying with all her might to lift the damned thing up, "I don't know, this must be some sort of trap!"
An agonized moan erupted behind her, Adelynn turned to see Walter lying on his knees, pulling at his face.
"Walter! Walter, whats wrong!"
The man thrashed violently on all fours, bones popping out of place with a sickening crack. Then she saw it, the demon flashed before her eyes.
"The lost sheep returns to the flock!"
It grabbed Walter with one hand and lifted the mighty man up with no effort. Walter screamed as the creature grabbed his tongue and forced a hand, and then an arm into his mouth.
Adelynn realized what it was going to do, but it was too late, as she surged towards the two the Crawler was gone, sliding down into Walter's gaping mouth like an inky poison. The two stood frozen in the stone yard, The Queen of Albion and Crawler-Walter stared each other down.
"Walter, are you there?" She asked him desperately.
The thing blinked at her listlessly, took a staggered step towards her and then howled like a banshee. A ricochet of molten darkness struck her so hard the Queen went flying to the ground on her back.
"Get up! Get up! You have to do something!" She heard Ben yell at her through a haze of disorientation.
What was there to do without hurting the man trapped inside?
The creature barged at her again, slinging its sword at her with deadly precision. She blocked and rolled, Walter swung again, she blocked and roll. This continued relentlessly, until the first signs of morning rolled over the yard, until Adelynn's arms threatened to give way under the force of Walter's blade, until her skinned knees were bleeding through her armour.
Crawler-Walter suddenly struggled, "You must kill me, its the only way to defeat him, Adelynn! You cannot let him win!"
"No I can't kill you, I won't!" She sobbed, the crushing weight of metal against metal weakening her stance, her muscles burning for rest or death.
"It's ok, child. Don't make me suffer with him any longer."
Adelynn eyed the man above her, he had been her mentor, her best friend, practically her father. She saw the pain in his face, the toll of agony, and knew she was the only one who could end it. With the last of the strength she could muster, she pushed her blade forward. The force of the Hero blade split her enemy's sword in half and impaled its very tip deep into the stomach of Sir Walter Beck.
It was over, everything was over.
Walter oozed shadow from his wound, the Crawler was dying and so was he. Adelynn held her old friend, great tears stained her cheeks, "I'm so sorry, Walter."
"Don't be, it was in me all this time. You freed me and you stopped the darkness, Albion is saved. You've done me proud," He beamed.
She didn't let go of his body, not even when he finally passed, not until she felt Ben's hands under her shoulders pulling her away. She had saved everyone except the most important.
xxx Author's Note: Yay! Another update! I'm actually quite proud of myself, it took a bit of digging through the dusty pit of my imagination to pull this chapter off. So, now that the Queen's conflict with the Crawler is over her conflict with Reaver can really take off.