To Betray an Enemy


Please read before starting The Eternal Machine.
This is an adult fantasy fiction novel with mature themes such as sex and violence, which are described in graphic detail. Mature themes include descriptions of physical abuse, loss and intense injury.

Part One – The Eternal Mountain

As decreed by the Four Ancients after the Civil War of Iverbourne in the year 15,095 A.C.

The High Court of Iron will preside over The Eternal Mountain and take charge of the criminals inside. Only the High Lord can recommend inmates to the prison and must delegate all High Fae to work on The Eternal Machine.

The Eternal Machine shall restrict Aether vented to the lands above from the depths of the earth. The Five High Courts are responsible for monitoring the Aether usage of their inhabitants.

Chapter – To Betray an Enemy

The Eternal Mountain, Iron Court

16,095 A.C

Chaos slumbers here, festering in bloodied rust and coals. Wandering cinders threaten to ignite the simmering anger brewing from the work camps. Prowling disorder is sure to follow as I strut into The Trenches.

I walk with my small round chin held high, the coal forges flanking my sides crackle with distaste. Copper shines from almost every available surface, everything is covered in soot, sweat, and blood. Purple smoke billows from the blacksmith’s fires, whirling over my head as I reach the end of the grand cavern. Hundreds of blood thirsty Fae eyes burn on me, and every step is carefully placed.

I halt before The Machine, lifting brass and leather goggles on a burgundy nest. A massive undertaking of ancient technology, with spider-like copper arms weaving into the abyss below. Copper gears tower to the top of the stone chamber, making the labor camps behind me minuscule in comparison.

Metal cranks together, belts purr, and purple smoke fills the air above, never ceasing.

I trace along the cliff’s edge, passing ladders which lead down into the trench reserved for Keepers, the only engineers allowed so close to the beast. While inspecting for malfunctions or leaks, the gauges on my leather and tech-covered wrist spin out of control. The lingering familiar stench changes, sweetness replaces death hanging in the air. Exhaust vents huff speckled night now, instead of the usual purple haze.

My gauges never agree with the ones on the wall, those only tell you what they want you to see. Regardless, ambient Aether is high enough I can tell without tech there is a leak. I shake my head, then pull tangled goggles and knotted hair down. I creep further along.

The darkness is thickest here, in the heart of the Eternal Mountain.

Threatening to swallow me whole if I dare take a step too far.

A low, whistling tune escapes my lips, one the inmates know well. I halt and my dirty fingers flick down the green third lens, revealing the jammed gear in clarity. Bright red, followed by a tendril of smoke. Kindling ready to burst into flames.

“Idiots.” I sing playfully, letting the anticipation build for a moment before facing the crowd. Pressurized magic threatens to combust, and the smoke grows thicker. My melody halts, as do the cautious footsteps behind me. A devious grin escapes and my tall boots spin in place, the leather pouches and straps along my sides swing with me.

Disgust rests with every creature. Most of the crowd consists of males, only a few females watch me approach from the distant edge. Demonic eye contact is made with every Fae as I evaluate the group, my small form wandering through the heated bodies. Only High Fae inmates are reserved for working in the labor camps near the Machine.

In a place far from here, High Fae are Power. High Fae are Magic.

But, we are not in a place far away. We are right here.

We work for The Eternal Machine, the beast conjuring magic and fueling the lands. Crimes of all kinds are welcome in this mountain, but you leave your magic behind. Rather, it’s taken from you. Not that I know what that feels like.

Minutes pass, the only sound is made by leather boots and a whining engine.

I pause, halting before the foreman. A Grasshopper before a Bear. I snatch his dark matted beard and yank him down, tough knees meet rock. Dull emeralds shine for a moment, his jaw tightens. My soft face brushes against his filthy cheek, and my full lips meet a pointed ear.

A lover threatening sweet nothings.

“Darling, what’s this?”

A wicked smile lights my features as I pull back to bask in the crackling smoke reflecting in his eyes. I release his furred face, patting his cheek harshly. I wipe away the ash left by his surly cheek on my own, and the sickly sweet Aether filling the air rushes into my nose.

I have to humiliate him.

He, along with the others, need to hate me even more than they already do.

They need to fight.

“I’m sure this is a misunderstanding.” I taunt, words dripping with poison. I waste no time returning to the front of the group. Unsheathing the dagger strapped to my right thigh, it’s dark obsidian blade shines as I twirl it between my fingers with precision. I caress it with long fingers and bring the black blade to my pale lips, leaving a smiling kiss on the tip.

The Bear narrows his eyes, shifting his gaze to me. If I didn’t have everyone’s attention before, I certainly do now. I’m sure even through the goggles they can all see the darkness in my eyes, lacking pupils and emotion. Nothing can hide that.

“Rumor has it some here are shirking their duties, tampering with our beloved Eternal. Why let all this go to waste,” I gesture behind me to the cloud of smoke, a whining spikes the air as belts threaten to snap. I note which eyes narrow at my statement. “Especially when you can’t use it anyway. So much power, so close.”

I giggle, even though the restraining tattoos on my wrists began painfully simmering minutes ago. I’m sure theirs are burning as well by now. “If a rebellion is what you want, you can have it. However, I’m sure most of you remember how that went last time.”

My first kills, all that time ago.

“This is your last chance. Tell me what you know, and I may put in a good word with our High Lord. Or I can kill you all.” I pace, shrugging at the idea of waiting at all. “I’m sure Commander Knothall will find me replacements quickly enough.”

Silence and consideration. The privilege of the waiting sun above tempts every being, some have never experienced its warmth at all, or the land it gives life to. I raise an open palm and prepare the whistle, assuming no one will believe the lie. We all know better than to make deals with Fae.

Or, so I thought.

“It was I, Keeper.” The once quiet foreman pushes his way to the front of the crowd and glares down at me. Murmurs fall across and are quickly silenced.

“For far too long have we tended to endless fire, for too long have we forged the backbone of this world. For many of us, we do this for crimes we did not commit. You know it well.” His primal voice reaches every Fae. My dark heart thunders, warmth surges through the dead parts of my soul. I admire his courage, his dreams.

Even if it’s my job to shatter them.

He isn’t entirely wrong, most of the criminals here are no more than the wrong race, unable to crawl above with the fortunate. My neck burns and stomach twists, the last act is ready. A group of fifteen is gathered close around The Bear, their boisterous voices joining in agreement. They are tired. They are done.

“Your difficulties are The Eternal Machine’s Blessing. Your crimes, see them as a second chance. As an honor. Be thankful you’re not dead.” The sharp whistle of death strikes out, and the masked army of guards waiting in the shadows make their move.

Screams shatter the cavern. Those who aren’t with the Rebels find themselves on the sidelines of a malicious masterpiece, my exact precision preparing a bloodbath for us all. Sixteen inmates are on their knees before me, the scent of burning flesh is ever present for our last act.

A young Fae female catches my eye. She is on her knees in the back, staring down her pale Fae lover in the crowd on the sidelines. Neither look afraid, they just watch each other with blank faces. Cloaked figures hold a knife to almost every treacherous throat, leather plague masks hiding their faces.

My target, however, beholds no leash.

“Without your toil, who would run the machine? Who would say, keep your family above ground?” My voice is childlike, beaming. “Last I checked, Firthorn, your family committed no crime. Unless you want to change that, I can have it arranged easily enough.”

My dagger is no longer a plaything, already waiting for his pulsating throat by the time he lunges from his knees. A single callused hand wraps around my neck, lifting my boots off the ground.

The Bear can break me in an instant. He doesn’t squeeze, just holds me there. I make a show of pressing hard enough into the hollow of his neck to draw blood, the other hand slipping a treasure into his rumpled shirt pocket.

Blood trickles down the blade, meeting my leathered forearm. I give him my best genuine smile before whistling once more. I try not to think of the implications of what happens the moment the tune escapes. His head attempts to turn back, but is stopped by my small hand.

My demonic eyes shut tight, the sound of fifteen bodies hitting the floor slam into my ears. Firthorn drops me the moment it’s over, his defeated gaze trained downwards.

“What are you all standing around for? Get back to work.” I land on my feet, throwing a shout at the group of survivors, less than half remaining. “As for this one, throw him in the pit.” I jut my chin to the darkness creeping from behind the work camps, unable to look at his once again dull green eyes.

I rush to fix the damn machine, my gauges busted a long time ago from the excess Aether in the air causing them to spin out of control. This is a chaos of a different breed, one I don’t like. One that I am quite good at creating.

I scale down the closest ladder, dropping onto the grates of the keeper’s trench. A groan escapes as I instantly regret the shock my thighs absorb, already sore from being dropped onto the rocky floor above. I flip the master switch, slowing the Machine down before I have any more damage to fix.

Luckily, I’m just as good at fixing things as I am at breaking them.

I retrieve the leather roll from my back, unrolling it to reveal The Tools of the Unusual. The obsidian wrenches, pliers, and chisels shine under the hot machine glowering above me. My fear of what lay below left a long time ago, and luckily I know exactly where the malfunction is. I knew where it was long before my grand performance.

With thick hide gloves protecting my small hands I grab a chisel, then climb into the copper framework of the enormous engine. A carousel of machines work together as one, spinning the mechanical fingers into the core of the earth. Gears turn, belts run and Aether is vented to the world above.

The shining limbs, nearly fifteen feet long each, weave through the magical atmosphere rising from the depths. Some say The Ancient Fae live down there still, hiding away from their creation. Even as I make my way to the jammed gear, the metal continues slowly turning. The Machine can never be truly stopped, just slowed down. So many inmates try to destroy it, but there is nothing that can bring it to a halt. I wouldn’t even know what would happen if it did. I’m sure there is a flicker of power in the lands now with this inconvenience.

The red hot gear threatens to burn my arm as I reach through the framework with my chisel. With a sharp hit to the onyx stone blocking the crank, it breaks free. Anything else would’ve been magma by now. I climb down and pick up the still cool black stone laying on the metal walkway. Standing at the edge, I peer down past the spinning copper fingers. Past their reach, into the deep darkness of the world. I drop the rock and watch it float down.

For several moments I stand there, lost in thought. I shake my head and turn back to finish patching up my mess. By the time I climb out of there and back into the work areas, it’s the end of the night shift. The coal forges are still burning, and a new batch of inmates replaces the ones I had just terrorized. I leave just as proudly as I had walked in, ignoring every stare, and leave small bloody footsteps in my wake.

Screams and the scent of decay drift to me with an unwelcome sense of familiarity. I’ve put many of the Uncontainable down here, which lately number quite a few. Once peaceful Fae turned insane and bloody thirsty, one of the side effects of living in a underground world for too long. I shudder at the thought of what monsters were here before my time, Fae and otherwise.

The rocky steppe leads further down, threatening to scratch deeper under Iverbourne than the last abyss I had just visited. No one dares go farther than The Pit, the farthest prison cell, and I have no intentions of doing so today. Cold dampness tightens around me while leather boots reach their last stop. I unlock the door, spying a rather lashed Firthorn seated cross-legged in the mud. The Pit is no more than a hole in the stone wall, a freezing place to rot in. I step in and we are in dangerous proximity, the stone door behind shutting me in.

“You did well, Firthorn.”

He evaluates me for a moment before rising to tower over me. His jaw is set tight, the dull glare hidden by long knotted hair. I spy where I had cut him earlier, now half covered in filth. Both of his elongated, brown furred ears twitch with his solemn tone. “How many?”

First I cross my leathered arms, then widen my stance and swallow, heat prickling my neck. “Fifteen. It was quick, I assure you.”

He pulls at his beard absently, his faded green eyes narrowing at me. “There will be more.” His friends, the ones he stabbed in the back. Closest thing to friends you can have here, anyway. I understand it for what it is. Truth, not threat.

“I know. You better keep one eye open.” My voice is sharp and he lets out a purr of a chuckle. He evaluates my small stature, eyes pausing on the arsenal of daggers on both thighs. Fury lights my veins as he underestimates me. Just like everyone else.

Firthorn reaches into the pocket of his torn tunic and unfolds the photograph I gave him. “Where did you get this?” The humor left his voice, now shaky and wavering. I have peeked at the picture enough times in the last day to have them memorized.

The two girls with rounded ears and magic swirling in their bright green eyes. His eyes. I couldn’t look at it again, not now. They look too much like him. “Knothall had kept it when you were interned. Favor for a favor.”

He looks up from the photograph and for a moment, there is no anger on his face. For a moment, he is hopeful. I draw in a breath, both dagger sheaths had been unstrapped while he was distracted, my weapons more prepared than my soul is. “Ragnis fulfilled his bargain. You wanted to see your family again, there they are.”

I am ready for him again, his dark throat contrasting against crossed small pale hands, each wielding a dagger, ready to take his head off. The stance I hold is sickeningly familiar. In all reality he holds the upper hand, however he does not lay a hand on me this time. Ragged breathing sweeps over the room, his thundering heart calling to my own pounding chest. The joints in my knee whir as I brace myself. He further presses the thickness of his neck to my blades, raising a charcoal brow.

Daring me. Testing me. He stands over top of me, my daggers are no more than a toothpick in comparison to him. I bite my lip as blood stains my right blade. “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

No smile, no games. I am not the hero in this story. I am the villain. He could kill me right now, and have every right to dance on my grave. My voice softens and my hands drop. Truth, not threat.

“Did you really think they would’ve let you leave?” We are still pressed to the other, blood and mud shared between us. He lifts the brass and leather goggles, my loosened purple hair tangling up in the contraption as he sets it upon my crown. I sometimes wonder what it’s like to stare into my darkness. He doesn’t flinch, strands of greasy walnut hair fall over his relaxed eyes while he takes in every part of my face. The whisper he lets out is more fatal than if he had killed me.

“I hoped. Is that too much?”

He wants me to tell him it gets better. I haven’t gone out of my way to comfort a fellow inmate in years, all feelings and friends bring in this world is hurt. I suppose it’s better never knowing freedom, than to have it taken away. Always this place, this Machine. Insanity lives in the corners of my sharp mind, waiting for the day all this bloodshed finally breaks me. Over two centuries strong, and I haven’t yet.

“Yes, it is.” My purple tufted ears prick at the sound of my knees whining as I pull out of the mud. If he notices, he doesn’t say anything. I yank my goggles back down and turn away, leaving him behind. Anyone else I wouldn’t put my back to them, but he had his chance to kill me more than once already.

“What is your name, Keeper?” His crooning stops my footsteps on the rocky steppe outside the door and I glare over my shoulder at him, throwing off curly strands hanging on my goggles.

I didn’t know he existed before today, my work has kept me away from the labor camps. The Aether Labs and this hellish lower prison has been my life as of late. Knothall personally arranged for the inception, I had only received the photo and instructions late last night. My only mission was to plant the problem and single out the largest male there. It wasn’t hard to figure out who that was.

“I’m not someone you want to know.” I decide, hand tightening on the throwing dagger at my right hip.

“I’ll be the judge of that.” A dark smile taints his hoarse voice, following my pained footsteps to the life waiting for us above. He’s free to work in the chaotic heated camps among the remaining Fae he betrayed, his only reward for becoming enemy number one.

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