Author's Note: so we know, it's been forever since our last update. That's because LA's been working on trying to write several books and she's got, like, 8 fanfics she has to keep up with (and she's failing, obviously). So that's why this has taken so long. Consider this to be a Christmas present. LA wrote it for IK as a Christmas gift, and we're posting it for you guys as a gift, too. So yay! Right? So Merry Christmas! Happy... we can't spell Haunahaka. Obviously. But happy that, too.
- LA Knight and IK Scott
In a place beyond the boundaries of space and time, in a darkness primordial and deep, the phantom observed alongside its master as the legendary prince known as Silverlance locked eyes with a pair of human girls from another world. Even as the eldritch beings watched, the mortal warrior maiden took a single step toward the Elf. Revulsion twisted the prince's features. The warrior took another step, this one to the side, placing herself between the Silverlance and the maiden with the broken mind.
*I have doubts,* said the being of living darkness crouched beside the phantom. *The healer is too timid. He will kill her for her weakness and her bloodline.*
The phantom shook what, on another creature, would have been its head. "No. Look at him. Look at them. See how she cannot tear her eyes away from him now that she has seen him. The warrior is suspicious; she must be, to have protected the healer all this time. The bard is a suspicious one, too. But the healer trusts. She sees his heart and knows that he suffers, because she has suffered, too."
*He will kill her,* that sepulchral voice insisted. *See his disgust, his rage, his loathing.*
A slim hand of shadow and void reached out and plucked a string in the silver web that kept the vision anchored. The image of the Elf prince and the mortal girls shifted until all that could be seen was Prince Nuada's face twisted with hate. The phantom caressed the illusion of the prince's face.
"Do you see it now?" It turned to its master, never taking its hand away from the vision. One impossibly long finger brushed above the Silverlance's eye. "Look there."
Eyes of tenebrous darkness studied a feral gaze of hot amber. The living midnight creature cocked its head and stared at the image. *Yesss,* the voice like sere wind through deathly tombs hissed in realization. *Yes, I see it now. I see it. But even if he does not kill her because she is weak and human, he will kill her for destroying the two pieces of the Crown.*
"Perhaps," the phantom replied with a shrug. "But," it added, swirling its hand through the vision like a child swishing through shallow water, dispelling the illusion, "I think he will not have the time. Our great enemy has sent more of its minions to disrupt our plan. They may arrive before he has a chance to kill her. Let us see what Silverlance will do."
*The healer will only be a liability to him.*
The phantom shook its head. "We shall see."
Nuada took a step toward the two human girls that had somehow inexplicably infected him with some twisted form of the kinship bond. The girl with auburn hair - Siobhan, his sickening connection to the mortal reminded him, allowing the name to whisper inside his skull like a brush of silk against bone. Her name is Siobhan. - lifted her chin and gazed back at him, defiance in every line of her body. Her hands drifted to the hilts of a pair of small swords at either hip. Rage pulsed hot as blood at his temples. She dared to imply she would fight him?
"Please," a tremulous voice whimpered. Eyes of dark amber slashed to the other mortal. The tiny one. The girl called Aisling. Glass-green eyes too big for that small, pale face fixed on the Elven prince. "Please."
Conflicting urges tumbled within the prince's belly, coiling and knotting like snakes. On the one hand, the fear and uncertainty in that soft, little-girl voice pulled at his protective instincts. The kinship bond demanded he ease that fear. Yet there was nothing Nuada would have liked more than to plunge his sword into the empty pit in her skinny chest where humans claimed their hearts resided. He tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword and took another step. They had to die. That one, especially.
"Hey!" The red demon lifted his firearm and aimed it at the prince. "Back off, buddy, or I'll blow holes in you."
"No!" Aisling cried, stepping in front of the demon, arms akimbo. "No, Red, don't! It's okay!"
The demon looked down at her as he lifted his gun to aim around her slender body. Nuada didn't take his eyes off his enemies for an instant. The demon, Red - what a remarkably clever nickname the little simpleton had invented for the creature - said to the girl, "Kiddo, it's not okay. That guy's lookin' atcha like he wants to cut your head off. Don't step in front of my gun." The demon looked at Nuada. "Now what d'ya want, Legolas?"
Ignoring the oblique reference, the prince sneered and began, "I am Nu-"
"Nuada," Aisling whispered. She turned to look at the prince with those damnable eyes. "Prince Nuada." The way she said his name - lisping slightly at his title, her tongue caressing the syllables of his given name - tugged at the kinship bond between them. Warm pleasure buzzed beneath the Elf's skin. The bond liked the way she said his name.
Repulsed by the reaction brought on by that bond, he snarled, "Be quiet." The girl's mouth snapped shut with an audible click of teeth. "As for what I want, I want my sister returned to me, as well as the two pieces of the Golden Crown. And you will pay for what happened to my friend."
A snort of derision from the demon sent fresh anger simmering in Nuada's blood.
"Like I said - d'ya take checks?"
With something akin to a snarl, Aisling spun back to the demon and kicked him soundly in the shin.
"Will you cut that out?" Red demanded, too astonished to really be angry - yet. "What is your problem, kid? Jeez." Flicking his gaze to Nuada, the demon added, "And you can't have the Crown pieces. We melted 'em down already. Tough luck, Your Royal Ass- Aisling, don't you dare kick me again!"
Nuada opened his mouth to demand the truth, to demand the return of the pieces - there had been no time for them to destroy the goblin-forged magical Crown - but three things stopped him. From his sister, his beloved twin, he felt a crushing guilt flooding through their link. A wordless flow of apology. The mortal girl, Siobhan, suddenly looked more afraid than ever before. And Aisling, nibbling her bottom lip, wringing her hands, looked at him with such an expression of regret and apology and sympathy that he thought he might be physically ill.
Then he saw the puddle of still-steaming gold on the pavement a few feet away. It took everything he had not to be violently sick at the sight.
After swallowing back bile, he fixed his gaze on the timid mortal girl. Hate smoldered in his belly, ready to feed on the rage and horror threatening to choke him. "You... you destroyed the Crown pieces." It wasn't a question, but the human wench nodded slowly. "You dared. You... you..." Despair welled up like a poisonous fountain in his chest. Gone? The pieces were gone? How was he to raise the Army? How was he to save his people?
Grief and hatred twisted together like vicious thorns and he roared, "Do you have any idea what you have done?"
Fat tears welled up in the girl's eyes and spilled down her cheeks to drip off her chin. Pinching her lips together until they were nearly white, she nodded. "Saved you."
He'd sheathed his sword and drawn his knife in a breath. Shoved Siobhan out of his way before any of his enemies could blink. Tangling one hand in the whisper-thin strands of wet blond hair, he ruthlessly yanked Aisling's head back, exposing the slender paleness of her throat. She yelped. The blade of his twin-dagger pressed against all that smooth paleness. A thin line of crimson welled up against the white of her skin and spilled down her neck. She sucked in a sobbing breath.
Nuada ignored the demon's yelled orders and threats. Ignored Siobhan and the other mortals telling him to let the girl go. Forcibly silenced his sister's psychic protests against what he was about to do to this girl. They could do nothing so long as he held a blade to Aisling's throat. Wink was badly injured, probably dead; his father and sister had betrayed him and his people; and now the last hope of the Fair Folk was destroyed. He would make the demon pay, and he would make the girl pay, but the girl would be first. She had not only betrayed him, which should have been impossible because of their bond, but she'd betrayed the entirety of the fae kingdom.
"You have sentenced countless innocents to death," Nuada hissed. Her fear throbbed through the air like the ache from a rotten tooth. Her tears were warm as they spilled from her eyes, flowing along her skin to find his hand tangled in her hair. "And for that, you will die. You will pay for all the innocent lives you've condemned."
"You would've died," she whispered, and there was something different about her voice now. Something... more. It wasn't a child's voice any longer. The vacant glassiness in those pale jade eyes had filled with... something. "You would've lost everything. I couldn't let that happen."
Now it wasn't fear pulsing between them, but sorrow. A grief as deep as the burden on his own heart. Impossible. He tightened his grip on her hair. Pressed a little harder with the knife. A trickle of red dribbled down her neck. "You're lying."
"I wouldn't lie," she whispered. "Not to you."
He felt the shock of Nuala's realization flash through him like a lightning bolt. His sister cried, "You have kinship with her!"
Golden eyes smoldering with rage slashed to the princess before fixing on the mortal's face again. Kinship or not, she had betrayed him, and she would suffer for it. "My people will die because of you," he snarled. "Do you understand that? You've killed us all."
"No," Aisling said. That strange, intelligent something had slipped away, leaving the simple-minded doll of a woman-child behind. "You won't let that happen," she mumbled. "You won't. You're good. You'll save them."
A little more pressure and the flow of crimson thickened. "I will kill you."
"That's okay," she murmured. He jolted. The blade slipped a little and a few drops of scarlet stained the silk-fine strands of golden hair. "If you need to... that's okay." A shallow, convulsive swallow pressed her flesh against the blade's keen edge. The coppery stench of human blood was nauseating in Nuada's nostrils and on the back of his tongue. "It's okay."
"Ash!" Siobhan cried. Her terror, thick and oppressive, wrenched at the kinship bond between her and the Elven prince. Nuada gritted his teeth. "Please, Nuada or whoever you are, please! Please don't hurt my sister! Please let her go! Take me instead! Please!"
Thunder rumbled overhead. Electricity crackled and static hummed in the air. The stench of decay and death, cloying and sweet as rot, slipped along the air to mingle with the stink of human blood and a strange, subtle perfume clinging to the limp mortal girl Nuada intended to kill. A whisper of warning prickled across the nape of the warrior's neck. Aisling's nose wrinkled. Her vacant eyes widened, darkening from glass-green to jade as fear filled her expression.
"Monsters," the girl whispered. She started to shake. "They're back."
Almost against his will, the white-knuckled grip Nuada had on the girl's hair loosened by an infinitesimal fraction. "What?"
"You have to run," she said. "That smell. Like before. In the house when they came. You have to run. They'll hurt you." Her breathing became rapid and shallow and a sickly green tinge swept across her pale face. "They hurt Wink. They'll hurt you, too. Please, you have to find Wink."
He tightened his grip. "Tell me where Wink is."
Aisling shook her head the tiniest bit. "I don't know. He disappeared after the fight. He's hurt. The monsters hurt him."
"Look, Your Highness," the demon interrupted. Nuada heard the abyssal fire in the red-skinned creature's voice and turned his head just enough to look at the imbecile who dared point a weapon at the Silverlance. One massive red thumb cocked the gun's hammer, priming it to fire. "I'm not telling you again - let her go or I'll blow your head off."
Nuada opened his mouth to say something when Aisling's eyes flew wide and she yelped, "Look out!"
In a blur of ivory, darkness, and shadowed auburn, Siobhan darted around her friend and the Elven warrior even as Nuada turned and registered that several of the chitinous, black-eyed creatures whose brethren lay dead on the concrete were skittering toward the standoff. Fluorescents flashed on silvery metal as Siobhan drew twin short-bladed swords and put herself between the angry eldritch creatures and Aisling.
Terror saturating her voice, Aisling yelled, "Siobhan!"
Siobhan swallowed against the sudden dryness in her throat and tightened her grip on the hilts of her twin tanto. She could barely feel the roughened grips, her fingers were so numb from the cold. Her clothes were still heavy with rainwater. Blood leaked from various cuts and scrapes.
None of that mattered. She had to protect Aisling from these things. The sight of the pasty-faced guy in black holding a knife to her sister's throat had sent ice coiling in the pit of her stomach, but something deep down had told her that while the guy might hurt Ash a little bit, he wouldn't actually do what he'd threatened. He wouldn't kill her. Siobhan wasn't sure how she knew that or why she believed that, but she did. These freaky monsters, on the other hand, would kill Ash. Probably eat her. And then they'd kill this prince guy with the strangely familiar golden eyes. Then they'd kill everyone else. No way was she going to let that happen. No one was getting to Aisling without getting through her first.
She heard Ash scream her name. Ignored her. Had to focus on the bigger threat right now.
Suddenly, she wished fiercely for Geoff. If Aisling was her sister, Geoff was her brother. They'd always taken care of Aisling together, ever since the younger girl had been released from the hospital all those years ago. Siobhan would've felt a lot better about her chances if Geoff had been at her side.
Then the first of this latest wave of monsters launched itself at her with a shrill cry. Bracing herself, she let instinct and muscle-memory take over and fought back.
As if from a long distance away, she heard Red's gun firing. One of the insect-like things exploded in a shower of black slime and midnight goo. Shards of exoskeleton zipped through the air. One sliced Siobhan's cheek; it burned almost to the bone. More gunshots blasted behind her. She vaguely hoped no one shot her, but didn't let herself dwell on the possibility as claws sliced down her arm. Hot blood flowed, chasing away some of the chill from rain and wet clothes. She slashed the thing across the abdomen and watched it topple to the pavement.
They came, and came, and kept coming. This time she had to wonder if they were ever going to stop. How long before the others ran out of bullets? Would Liz try to fry them all with her weird fire powers? She'd melted two pieces of gold; shouldn't she be able to fry some anthropomorphic scorpion-spider hybrid thingies?
Fatigue burned through Siobhan's arms and shoulders. Her blows began to weaken. Distantly she heard Aisling scream her name again. Couldn't stop; had to keep fighting. Had to...
The next blow knocked one of her tanto from her hands. It clattered to the ground with a ringing of steel on stone. A second blow sent Siobhan sprawling across the concrete. Her head cracked against the ground. White fireworks burst across her blurring vision. Her empty hand swept across the pavement, blindly seeking her lost blade. Where... where? Where?
A familiar voice shrieked, "No!" A blur of shadows and gold zipped toward the creature bearing down on the dizzy, concussed girl. Siobhan tried to bring the world into focus. Ice flooded her veins and horror stole her voice and breath when she saw Aisling attempt to tackle the monster. The smaller, younger girl hit the rock-hard exoskeleton, bounced off, and hit the ground with enough force to knock the wind out of her.
"No! Ash!" Siobhan yelled as her sister's face went death-white and the creature and a couple of its fellows leaned toward her. "Aisling!"
Light flashed on true silver as it swept in a deadly arc across the monster's throat. The carnivorous thing halted, fanged mouth working soundlessly for a few seconds, before the head toppled from its shoulders and the body tumbled to the ground. One next to it stumbled back as an inhuman roar raged through the night. A twisted, metallic hand reached out and grabbed the third monster. A second hand, this one of thick sinewy muscle covered in rocky gray hide, joined with the hand of bronze and ripped the insect-like being's head clean from its shoulders with a spurt of dark ooze.
Siobhan stared at the pale, enraged man standing between her sister and the rest of the creatures, notched sword drawn, feet spread, ready to kill anything else that attempted to attack her or Aisling. Beside him stood the thing she still refused to believe was a troll.
"What took you so long?" The pale-skinned warrior demanded of the hulking beast. It rumbled at him for a second, then garuffed what sounded like a question. "I only intervened because you did," the warrior replied sharply.
"Wink!" Aisling scrambled to her feet and ran to the massive thing that had helped save her. She threw her slim arms around the so-called troll's hefty trunk. "Omigawsh, omigawsh, you're okay! You're..." She pulled back and stared at her hands. Gray liquid smeared across her palms. "You're hurt! How bad? You... you should go to the doctor! You're bleeding! And Siobhan's hurt, too!" Aisling turned and came toward Siobhan, staggering a little as if drunk. "Ow. Siobhan! Get up! Are you okay? You gotta get up."
The other human girl didn't bother getting to her feet. She just crouched on the cement, struggling to get her breath back, eyeing the monsters as they began to recede back into the shadows. No way were they giving up. Not after attacking three times in one night. Not after chasing the girls clear across the country. But the things seemed to be intelligent, since they'd realized that, even wounded, Wink was a match for them.
She still wasn't getting up, though. Not yet. Everything hurt too much, and the world was still spinning a little. She'd get up in a second.
"Siobhan?" Aisling whispered tremulously. Tears thickened her voice as she whimpered, "Siobhan?"
The redhead met her sister's teary eyes. "I'm fine, sweetie," she mumbled. "Just tired and a little out of breath."
"You're bleeding, too. Like Wink."
"I'm fine. Except my ribs. Those kinda hurt. But just a little."
"Hey!" Red's irate voice snagged both girls' attention. The demon kept one sulfurously yellow eye on the monsters retreating into the Troll Market and his other eye on the guy who looked an awful lot like Prince Nuada and his pretend-troll. "Someone want to explain what just happened? What the heck were those things?"
"Monsters!" Aisling cried. She hugged herself as if cold. "They attacked us at our house and..." When she didn't finish, Siobhan glanced at her. The younger girl was staring at the pasty guy with furrowed brows. "And..." She took a small step toward him. He leveled a glare at her that was probably meant to kill her on the spot. To Siobhan's utter astonishment, Ash ignored that vicious look and took another step. "You're bleeding."
The guy's amber eyes widened and he raised a hand to his face. His fingertips came away wet with yellow blood. Siobhan fought a wave of rising hysteria. Blood wasn't yellow. Blood wasn't yellow. There were no such things as trolls. Demons weren't real. And nobody could melt gold with mental fire. And yet...
I will not pass out, she told herself. I will not pass out, throw up, or have hysterics. I won't do it.
"Do not come a step nearer," the pale guy snarled. Siobhan realized Ash was only a handful of feet away from the guy now. "Stay away from me."
"But you're hurt!"
His face twisted with loathing and something else, something too complex and conflicted for the older human girl to comprehend. "It is nothing. Do not come near me." He turned away, as if he meant to simply walk off and leave everyone but Wink where they were. Aisling made a strangled sound and took another step. The guy whipped back around. "I will kill you if you come near me. Do you understand?"
Aisling shrank back with a whimper. That weird, complex whatever-it-was flashed across the so-called Elf's face for a split second. Then he turned back around and started walking away. Wink glanced at Aisling and Siobhan, then fell into step behind Nuada. Everyone simply stood there, stunned, watching the two warriors go.
"Shouldn't we stop them?" Siobhan recognized Myers' voice.
She also recognized the dulcet tones of the tall, slender woman named Nuala when she said, "No. Do not follow them. My brother's plans for the Golden Army and waging war on your world have been thwarted, and he has left you with your lives. You have those two girls to thank for that. Let him go and avoid further bloodshed."
"Wait!" Aisling suddenly cried. To Siobhan's surprise, both Wink and Nuada stopped, though they didn't turn to look at her. "What if the monsters come back?"
Now Nuada did turn, disgust etched across his features. "Do you think I care if they strip the flesh from your bones?"
A tear spilled down Ash's cheek.
Pissed off now on top of being in a lot of pain and ready to drop from exhaustion, Siobhan snapped, "Then why did you save us, Prince Jerkface?" In her head, she could hear Geoff saying, Really, Siobhan? Jerkface? Really?
If she'd been smart, she'd have taken one look at the pasty-faced guy's expression and run the other way. But she'd whacked her head less than an hour ago, so her self-preservation instincts had gone on vacation. She blamed it on the potential brain damage.
"Wink risked his life to protect you. That's all."
"Which means our lives are important to him for some reason," Siobhan replied. She struggled to her feet. Swaying, she added, "I know how the best-friend thing works, dude. If it matters to him, it matters to you, or you wouldn't have saved us at all."
Nuala piped up, "They have kinship with you, Brother. Do not deny it - I felt it through you. What will you do with them?"
"Okay, what does that even mean?" Siobhan demanded. "That's the second time you've said that, Princess."
Glacial topaz eyes fixed on the mortal girl's face, then went to Aisling before flicking to Nuala. "I don't care what happens to them, Sister. I do not want them. You can drown them, for all I care. I imagine it would be like culling an ill-bred dog. If those creatures come after these two... humans again, I'll not be the one to save them."
And with that, the Silverlance turned on his heel and strode away. Only when he was out of sight did anyone so much as breathe.
Red did a little more than breathe. "What a dick."
"Red," Abe rebuked quietly. "There are ladies present."
Siobhan ignored the bickering and focused on Ash. She was staring at where the prince had disappeared, yearning so plain on her face it made her sister ache. Fresh tears spilled down the blond girl's cheeks. Her face crumpled. With a soft keening sound, she dropped her face in her hands and sank to her knees on the pavement. Hunching her shoulders, she started to sob. Siobhan went to her and hugged her tightly.
"Well," Red mumbled, watching the kid and rubbing the back of his neck, "crap."
Author's Note: so of course nothing is that easy. Of course it's not. Which is why this chapter is entitled "Too Easy." Is Nuada gonna let go of "let's make war on the humans?" No. Is this the last chapter of this fic? Heck, no. Nuada's not giving up on wiping out humanity, Red's not giving up on stopping him (and getting back at Wink for knocking out his tooth), and you know Krauss is gonna have issues with everything that went down. The only reason Nuada left is because Aisling's right - Wink needs a doctor. Erm... a healer. Whatever. Anyway, so hope you enjoyed this chapter and hopefully we'll have another one soon. LA's goal for IK's Christmas gift is 3 chapters. Since she's writing this on the 12th, that means she's got 13 days to do 2 more chaps. Odds she'll manage it? Who knows? We'll just have to see.
- LA & IK