Realm of Giants Special Edition

“Alright, ahuvi. I will tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was heroic prince who met a troublesome bard, and the two fell in love.”

I don’t know how much time is lost after I begin spinning exaggerated tales of our time together. I start with the first day we met, when I knocked him on his ass.

I detail our visit to Farhaven and how we defeated Loyska together, the beginnings of a friendship which quickly turned to more. The prince made new friends and explored unfamiliar lands beyond the prison walls he grew up in, he and his brother were part of a family now.

The prince confessed his love to the bard by a frozen pond, a sacred place illuminated by fireflies that thrived in the cold. That night while making love in the airship, the bard admitted his own growing love, and the two were happy.

I skip over the fact their romantic relationship only lasted a year, skimming over the hurtful parts and onto our adventures with Captain after I had left. I swallow guilt and disappointment thinking about leaving him for Sage, and focus on how we saved hundreds of people together.

It’s always been him and I.

I describe how the bard and prince brought peace to everywhere they visited. How the prince managed to feed entire villages, and how the bard revived the voices of those who were the most broken.

How everyone knew them both by name, both their terrible deeds and the good.

How they wreaked havoc on the corrupt, and saved the unfortunate, together.


The heartbreakingly beautiful special edition cover of Realm of Giants, illustrated by Fantasy Sprite Studios who has outdone herself again.

You can pre-order signed copies of this on my author page, its the second novel in my steampunk series and full of angst, queer love, and exploring new worlds.

Princess of Terra

WW Dark Steampunk Fantasy, Reluctant Hero, Betrayal, Lore

I’ve never stepped out of line.

I’ve never done things I shouldn’t.

Until the day I snapped, executing half my family and reluctantly sentencing my youngest brother to prison. Little did I know a certain Keeper of Death would bring him home, and change everything.

After overthrowing a kingdom that is not mine, side by side with the Shadow of Death, I met Captain, and life changed from the first time we laid eyes on each other.

Now, friends have been lost, my home is torn apart by a monster. War is ravaging Iverbourne and the Realm of Giants, and our family needs help.

All hands on deck are needed when it comes to fighting a new, powerful enemy, who once was our friend. Let’s hope it’ll be enough.

Princess of Terra is a dark fantasy with several content warnings related to fictional violence and trauma, please read the preface before beginning your adventure. 18+ audiences only.

This is intended to be read after The Eternal Machine and Realm of Giants, serious spoilers are involved. Sign up for the newsletter to receive your free copy, or check out Amazon to buy your own.

Join the Crew of Misfits and explore the world of Iverbourne here.

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.

Twenty Days

Dragons, the Undead and Betrayal awaits in the next installment in the Take me to Iverbourne series.

Novak. Zemer. Akar. Tzel. Vagabond Bard.

I’ve had many names throughout my life, and I suppose they’ve all suited me well enough. Who knew Villain would be the name that I wear best?

Months after the events in The Eternal Machine, Novak leads an Expedition into the long separated Realm of Giants, a land filled with dragons and dangerous secret societies who already have their eyes set on Iverbourne.

Novak’s mind is set on one thing, defying the course of Death, but as he meets new foes, finds family and himself, he begins to ask himself a vital question.

Is defying Death worth the cost of humanity?

Realm of Giants is DARK and a MM romance, please read the preface before starting your adventure.

Pins and Prints

Realm of Giants releases in less than a month from now!

Pre-orders are open and I’ve added some new book merchandise and updated the book bundles to include a pre-order option.

Crew of Misfits button pins are available alone or as part of a bundle, with an airship design.

I commissioned a Prince of Sylvan era illustration from a lovely artist, Patrycja Polak, who can be found on IG as @kislurysuje . Professional 5×7 glossy prints are available and are sold separately from the bundles, the artist will be receiving commissions from all sales. I added a watermark over the picture below which will not be on the original prints.

Crew of Misfits Pin
Alvis and Novak from Prince of Sylvan

Thank you.

The Eternal Machine is free as an ebook this weekend on Amazon. Thank you to everyone who has supported me thus far on my journey. I can’t wait to release Realm of Giants next month AND announce the next novella which will be WLW (Hint: A certain pirate queen and warrior princess)

If you’ve already read The Eternal Machine, I would really appreciate it if you took the time to review it. There have been hundreds of copies sold and my review count is honestly very low, so anything helps.

If you haven’t read the prequels, I HIGHLY recommend doing so before Realm of Giants releases.

Children of Iverbourne is Captain, Lyth and Novak’s origins with secret clues hidden about their futures.

Prince of Sylvan is a MM Romance and is Alvis and Orion’s origins. The love story between Alvis and Novak will be VERY relevant in the next book.

Everything will be explained without the prequels, but who would want to miss out on all that angst and spice?

Second Edition

Here you can find all the new scenes from The Eternal Machine. The original story is not changed in any way, some conversations were strengthened so points were not so subtle and I had some editing things to fix. Any NEW scenes or changed conversations can all be found here and are clearly marked in the headings.

Unless specifically stated, these are only excerpts from chapters, not entire chapters.

Also, I added content from the prequels, both Children of Iverbourne and Prince of Sylvan, as excerpts which foreshadow events in this story. Read the prequels for free by signing up for my newsletter, or get your print version on Amazon for more clues.

There is an entirely new spicy scene as well, as always 18+ ONLY.

Table of Contents (Some of the original Chapters were split)

Lyth’s Notes
To Betray an Enemy.
Is that a threat?
Fresh hell.
What are stars?
Would you kill for it?
She’s dead, and that’s all I wish to say.
Fall to Rise.
You crashed the fucking ship.
So, this is normal.
The Wicked Boy.
Better luck next time.
Don’t we all?
You’re lying.
Isn’t that the way it goes?
Did we?
Swamp Thing.
Yes, I’m that old.
You killed the hero.
Keeper of Death.
Someone who gives a damn.
Panrauth’s Plauge.
Be careful what you wish for.
More, I want more.
I’m not supposed to hurt the people I love.
I’m not afraid of you.
You didn’t have to break my heart.
No, and that’s final.
Don’t trust me.
I’m the villain, remember?
It was brilliant.
You’re Good for Business.
Don’t leave me behind.
Quit being selfish.
Find me.

About the Author
Also by Aelina Isaacs

The Eternal Mountain – Part 1

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 – Is that a threat? (Chapter was originally very lore heavy, I am posting the entire second chapter here. Nothing changed story wise, just flows much better.)

The Eternal Mountain is a massive black spot upon the world, at least on the map I have of Iverbourne. Crisping illustrations in the Commander’s library describe the Mountain as a towering volcanic rock, with constant thick black smoke from the Machine pouring from it’s sparking peak in the clouds. According to the legends, the Ancients pulled the Mountain from the sea. Caverns and chasms took root inside to provide a prison for all those who brought harm to the world.
Endless stone and darkness keeps the thousands of us company, the infestations of factories and laboratories throughout the Mountain supply the world above with industrial goods and metalwork. There are many slaves here, not just the blacksmiths who toil closest to the Machine. Keepers like myself work in the Aether labs neighboring the Eternal Machine’s chasm, engineering new technology for the High Courts of the world above.
The armory and blade smiths’ possess their own work camps, caves settled between the Aether labs and upper caverns. Only Goblins and Lesser Fae who are excellent craftsmen work there, and under no circumstances are they to be bothered. Other creatures have earned their place beside High Fae like me, but we are just treated the worst, and number the most. In the outside world of Iverbourne, Fae rule the world with an iron fist, squashing all those they consider lesser. In prison, everyone has a chance to get even.
As Lead Keeper, it’s my duty to tend to The Machine and ensure its safety. Through any and all means necessary. Paperwork and bloodshed are my lifetime companions. Every once in a while, I am able to sneak into the other labs and work on some new airship engines. The hulking beasts are a glorious challenge, but with the latest dramatics and false rebellions, I’ve been too busy. Parchment and oil, metal and leather. That’s my only reprieve from the role of Lead Keeper, most hated inmate in the Mountain.
I am perched high above my personal lab, the oak tables below filled with clutter and random works in progress. The metal loft is close to the granite ceiling, holding my few possessions and a makeshift bed tucked against the wall. Sitting along the open edge of the loft, I caress the top of my feathered companion’s head and rub my residual thigh. Virgil rustles his dark body and tilts his head downwards, spying Knothall entering below. I strap my left prosthesis on first, hurrying through the leather straps and brass buckles.
I repeat the process on my right thigh, wincing as the contracting muscles relentlessly send pain through me. Next I pull the loose linen pant legs back down, snapping the cuff at the bottom tight to the metal ankle joint. All ready to put my knee high, chewed up black boots over top. So many layers, so much time.
Any other day I might’ve dropped onto the Commander and caused a tussle. I am sore enough today and think better of it, taking the spiral stairs with caution instead. I pause and lean on the wooden cane I have waiting at the bottom for a moment, gripping tight as I amble over with sheer annoyance. I find relief at an iron stool at the longest industrial surface. The master table.
The oak and iron table marks the center of the catacomb, stretching long enough to seat twelve. One side holds my loft, study and work tables. On the opposite side is the kitchenette and bathroom. Knothall waits beside me and arches a grey brow, the lines in his face pulling as he evaluates my filthy state.
The Commander is not as tall as Firthorn, but much more frightening than the foreman. When you’ve been the leader of a prison like this for over a thousand years, your heart turns glacial. We must truly look like father and child, though my shomer has always insisted I call him otherwise.
“You look as if there might be a rebellion.” I cross my arms and pout, taking in his usual array of weapons. Maroon eyes narrow, and a tug pulls at the corner of his thin lips. Silver tufted ears twitch and he glances at the closed oak door. Strong voices bellow past, and he pushes out a breath when they quiet.
“Amwren isn’t working today,” I say, grasping the long wooden pipe next to me on the table, herb still in it from earlier. I puff on it, using a match to light, and pass it after a long drag. He takes it and inhales deeply, watching the smoke blow out for a moment.
“We have visitors coming tomorrow. Ragnis will be looking forward to creating fresh hell for entertainment,” he warns. I groan and run a hand through my hair. The thought of the High Lord of Iron visiting is not a pleasant one, our grand dictator always loves to cause trouble. I tap the table with a finger, wondering if he’ll fetch me for some personal torturous entertainment. Ragnis hates me just as much as the inmates do, he blames it on me being Knothall’s ‘pet’. The clock on the wall draws my attention, the traders will be arriving soon.
“Visitors? What are they selling?” I smirk, but his expression doesn’t change. Visitors have been an uncommon occurrence. Ragnis himself only visits on the monthly payday, which is chaotic enough. Sometimes his Queen visits, and she is even more bloodthirsty and bored than the bastard lord. If they both come and bring visitors, Slate will be hell. Even more so, anyway.
“You should stay here tonight, Lyth. I’m sure the remnants of the rebels will be looking for you.” He rubs his temples, exhaling with his entire chest. Long dark grey hair is tied back, pulling at skin that hasn’t seen sunlight in over 1200 years.
“I can handle myself,” I bite out. Another underestimation of me. He glances at my boots, then back up to my face. I shift my gaze to Virgil resting on his perch, hiding my disgust at Knothall’s pity. The Commander leaves me and pauses at the door, resting his hand on the iron knob.
“I know. At least take that thing with you, he could do with stretching his wings.” He nods in the direction of my now sleeping crow, who ruffles his feathers at the thought of having to move. Virgil isn’t stuck here like me, but he’s never tried to leave. He’s grown a bit now though, since I first found him. I can still remember Knothall firmly saying no, but somehow the crow never left.
“If you insist.” I throw a wicked smile at him, my face faltering after he leaves. I retie my long purple hair into a side knot and slip the brass goggles down. I look around for a moment at the simple lab, the warmth of the lanterns beckoning me to stay.
Perhaps Knothall is right. I indeed have training and experience, but it’s all trapped in a small body. Easy pickings for anyone who tries hard enough. It’s not like I haven’t been attacked before, and survived. I won’t start hiding. Not now, not after everything.
Before rising from the table I unlock a rolling drawer, retrieving the Tools of the Unusual. I lay it out and remove the wrench, then slide it into my side pouch, pushing out a breath after I lock the rest back up. With a quick whistle, Virgil reluctantly hops onto my shoulder, pressing against my neck. “Good boy.”
Dirty fingers stroke beautiful feathers of darkness. I take in the moment with him before leaving the wooden cane, and safety of the lab behind.

The path from the cavernous under workings behind me leads into a magnificent chasm, the small tunnel expanding into a world of stone. Sickening red faelights hover above the trail, leading the way to the heart of the Eternal. It’s not a particularly long walk to Slatepoint, however the shards of rock have already begun to chew at my boots. I just traded for these boots a few months ago, and I already need new ones. One problem at a time, I suppose.
Diverging paths lead to cave holes dotting distant rock, the Darkedge villages. Menacing spiked towers overlook the catacombs, and the sight still sends terror through a small part of me. The Keepers living there take out their frustrations on inmates for fun, and because they can. Despite my authority over them, they don’t waste an opportunity to jump me, and it’s taken more and more Fae each time. Virgil takes off from my shuddering shoulder, catching the air in his wings.
The faelights brighten as I approach the rocky village of Slatepoint. I click the green lens on my goggles up and out of the way. Another benefit of black eyes, I can’t see in the darkness of the maze I just left behind. The end of my trail is dotted with small tents, left behind by the various traders who are allowed to visit once a day. They usually begin to tease us with their wares at the night shift change, which happened hours ago.
Hopefully, Umber will still be here to join me for a much-needed drink. The blue Fae is one of the few things that makes life here tolerable, tinkering in my precious spare time is the only other hope I hold onto. Slatepoint can be considered a town, it beholds dark pleasures and an opportunity for trouble, anyway. Gravel crosses under a menacing archway which gives way to smooth granite. Sheer borders of jagged, towering black rocks wrap around the miserable place.
Scuffed footsteps pause at the last tent before the archway, and I roll bored eyes at the strong, curved High Fae stretched out in a hammock. Umber’s canopy is small compared to the rest, a tent holding one table and simple goods. I browse different loaves of bread and scraps of junk, deciding on a simple loaf.
“You are disgusting.” A lulling voice taunts from the hammock, followed by grey eyes narrowing at my figure. Ocean skin erupts from the hammock, and the rough and tough Fae crosses the distance between us in an instant. A long moment of tension and hard stares crawls before we both break, laughter shaking from tightened chests. Umber’s strong hand claps my tired shoulder, almost taking me off my unsteady feet. Umber steadies me while I curse her out, grey Aether shining bright in her round eyes.
“Hard day?” She reaches into her pocket, then drops a satchel into my hand and closes my fingers around it. I scan the area, taking the wrench out of my pocket and slipping it into her own. “Lyth,” She protests. I pocket the herbs and shake my head.
“It will never fail you.” I say. She nods and tucks away a loaf of bread into my pack.
“Drinks?” She asks with a grin, stretching her arms overhead, and shaking out her blue curls. Gazing at Umber is like looking at illustrations of the sea in the books from Knothall I’ve come to treasure. Playful eyes are usually bright grey, clouds lining what I imagine the ocean to be like.
“I thought you would never ask.” I muse. We cross under the arch together, staying close to each other’s side. Dark red flags with the Mountain insignia wave along sharp border walls, and masked guards pace along the jutting spears of stone, observing everyone inside. Training rings for letting out frustrations and duels are interspersed around the outer edge of Slate, shouts emerging from them as we pass by. Knothall and I train here several times a week, in front of everyone to see.
He never lets me win, I just happen to be much quicker than the old Fae. Centuries of training can’t hurt either, after being hurt the first time he vowed to never leave me defenseless again.
In the center of Slatepoint is an auditorium of sorts, a black circular stone that spans nearly one hundred feet in diameter. A raised walkway with crumbling pillars of rock encircle the empty foundation, and I keep my focus away from the waiting throne there. Outside of the inner circle, cobbled structures hold our few pleasures, the foundations almost passing for buildings. We head straight for the most crowded one, and usually the most troublesome.
There is no roof on Steammire, our lovely treasure of a dive bar. The flagpole above is thrust into crumbling rocks, and black gears are burned against the red fabric, waving for all to see. The chaotic conversation pauses as I enter the place, full of Lesser and High Fae. The stool at the center of the bar looks most promising, and I waste no time claiming it. I order mead from the disgruntled fire imp and scan around, boredom masking my face.
Quite a few burned wrists in here, along with simmering tempers. Soot is still fresh on most of them, recovering after the day shift in their camps. “Don’t stop on my account.” I break from their silent stares, resting a hand on my dagger and throwing back the supposed mead. Brain buzzing before I even slam the mug down, I call for another.
Umber raises her dark brows at me, shaking out her frizzed sapphire hair as she sits. “Seems like you pissed off a few folks.” She lets out a whisper and drinks, glancing around at the room and straightening in her seat. Murmurs of curses filled with my name thicken the air, and my skin crawls with the hatred poking at me.
A stare from the darkest corner burns into my back, and after several minutes I can’t take it anymore and have to glance over. Pale eyes pierce me at once, filled with blood lust and anger. A lean High Fae male with a bloody hand print dried on his bare chest. The lover who left his partner to die alone. I found it odd that one Fae chose to be honest, and the other chose to be a coward. Seated with him are three other males from today’s shift. After several moments of neither of us looking away, I accept defeat and stare down at the stone bar instead.
“It doesn’t take much.” I remember to answer Umber after a moment, swirling my drink and finding it doesn’t taste good anymore.
“Let’s go for a walk.” Umber glances at the corner still watching us, her voice a whisper. Tired hips protest leaving so soon, but I don’t want to be here anymore.
We both keep a hand on our weapons, my engraved dark dagger and her elegant sapphire encrusted sword, leaving without a second glance.

Back in Umber’s quiet tent, the Fae rests on a stool and I lay stretched out with my eyes closed upon the hammock, both of us silent for some time.
“Tell me what happened.” Umber pleads, voice trembling.
“I had to take care of something today.” I reply after a moment, opening my black eyes whilst turning my small face to glare at her.
“You’re going to get yourself killed.” Umber takes my hand, squeezing it tight as she leans closer.
“What choice do I have?” The Keep’s lights flicker in the distance, teasing us with the closeness of freedom. The stone barracks is the only way in or out of the Mountain, the last checkpoint before a miles long tunnel. “I wouldn’t even know how to live out there, even if I could leave.”
Umber turns my face to hers with a gentle finger and thumb, her usual roughness gone, gentle fingers from her other hand caressing my cheek. Silver eyes flash, filling with Aether as her dark cloud of mists surround us. “Lyth, I could-”
A rough voice reaches us, shattering my already fried nerves.
“If you’re trying to stay hidden, I think this may just bring attention.” Sarcasm cuts through the fog and I roll my eyes at Umber, recognizing Firthorn’s voice. After a moment of pause, she reels in the clouds and sweet smell of Aether around us, the dizziness clouding my mind disappearing with it. The only magic I’ve encountered besides Ragnis’ tortuous fire Aether is Umber’s air magic. it’s even more beautiful than fire, and I bet it’s just as deadly.
“If you’re not here to buy something, then leave.” Umber hisses, scowling at Firthorn on the other side of her tent. Firthorn puts his hands up and shrugs, watching me leave the hammock and approach him. The only thing between us now is the table of wares.
“May I help you?” I cross my arms and widen my stance, looking up at him with a raised chin. The filth and blood is washed away, leaving a sly smile hiding under the madness of his beard and hair.
“I came to thank you.” Firthorn straightens and crosses his arms, glowering at Umber watching behind me. “And to return the favor, I’m warning you.”
The words send my blood running, his voice full of anger. I push the goggles up into a tangle, revealing the abyss swirling in my eyes. “Is that a threat, inmate?”
Firthorn’s brows narrow, his jaw clenching tight. “Go home.”
The Keep’s horns let out a bellow, rumbling the chasm and shaking loose pebbles from the ceiling. I exchange looks with Umber, her last call if she wants to leave. When I turn back to Firthorn, he is already gone.
Sleep doesn’t find me easily, and when I do drift into my shapeless dreams, I am met with the same terrifying blank nightmare I have every night.
For two decades now I’ve been haunted by a terrified voice, hiding in the darkest recesses of my mind and always just out of reach. The whisper begins with desperation, whining becomes a whimpering. Darkness swallows my soul, hiding the voice calling out to me.
“Findmefindmefindme.” The begging whisper turns uproarious, the edges of my now lightening vision curl into tendrils of smoke, the breaking light threatening to reveal who is tortured beneath the curtain of darkness.
But, it never does.

Chapter – She’s dead, and that’s all I wish to say about it. (I added to Knothall and Lythienne’s last conversation.)

I tap my spoon against the metal bowl, watching between the clock and the door. Pan is stroking Virgil perched on the master table and I rest on a stool at the kitchenette island.
“He’s coming.” Pan muses.
“Well, he can’t come fast enough.” I bite out, shoveling cold porridge down my gullet. Pan strides over and leans on the island with an amused look on his face.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” I ask over a mouthful.
“Oh no, I raided the cupboards about the time your snoring was unbearable.” Pan grins with deep sarcasm.
I bite my lip and cheeks warm. “I do not.” He arches a knowing brow, a smile tugging his lips. I fling a spoonful of porridge at him as the door opens, causing me to barely miss.
I jerk my head up to Knothall, flushed and red faced at the doorway. Pan casually walks to the opposite side of the island, crossing his arms. Knothall walks over to us and lets out a breath upon taking me in, a large leather duffel bag slung across his back. “You look well.”
I laugh wholeheartedly, not caring if my face protests. “I look like shit, shomer. I appreciate the sentiment.” I straighten in my seat and Knothall rolls his eyes, relief washing over his wrinkled features. He regards Pan for a moment under a hard gaze.
“Firthorn, you are needed in the armory and blade smith’s. Now.” Pan dips his chin and glances at me sideways before leaving. I bite my cheek, I’ve never called him shomer in front of anyone but Amwren.
Knothall sets the bag on the island beside me, unbuttoning my care. “I’m sorry it took me so long,” He pushes out a hurried breath, “I thought you would want these.” He gestures to the bag and I reach in, pulling out the left prosthesis first. I pause, looking up to him and then back down at the magnificent prosthesis in my hands.
I caress the calf, a lightweight metal finished with a pale cream that matches my skin. I manipulate the knee and ankle joints, marveling at how easily the leg flexes easily. I press my ear against the smooth surface on the upper calf, listening as tiny gears click together. I look back up to my mentor with tears in my eyes. “These aren’t my old ones.”
He sniffs and removes a simple socket composed of an unyielding dark material I’m not familiar with out of the bag, along with a sock and liner. “You do not attach these with a strap.” I tilt my head at him, brows pulling together as I silently watch him. “They work by vacuum seal. The sockets are modeled after your old ones, but if they don’t fit we will have to hurry with a new set.”
“Will you help me?” I ask quietly, pulling up the fabric of my linen shorts. He kneels, first sliding on the thick socks over my thighs. The ends are bruised still but healing, I assume they were injured when my other pair were ripped off. A shudder rolls through me as he situates the liner over top next, a soft cushioning material that caresses my entire thigh. Another long sock rests over the liner, and I pull the hem up to hug my upper thigh.
I remember the first time we did this, a year after my attack. I couldn’t walk on my own and the first pair was so heavy, but for a painful moment I was able to stand on the stone floor, not crawl. With Knothall holding my hand, of course.
“Are you ready?” The Commander asks. I nod and he slides the socket around my residual limb, the pressure builds and sends a moment of pain through me. Luckily it’s a comfortably snug fit, with a whoosh of air the socket seals around the liner and sock. He repeats the process on my other leg.
“That’s it?” I ask, it doesn’t seem very practical, no straps or anything to hold it in place.
“Are you doubting me? I had my best engineers on this.” He scoffs, rising to stand.
“No, I apologize. Thank you.” My cheeks warm and I place a hand on either side of the upper leg, then pull it onto the socket. A near silent click purrs under my fingers as the prosthesis seals around it, but with less discomfort. I release my hands and let the beautiful weight hang. I swing my leg back and forth, the knee joint purring with movement. “It’s so easy. There is no resistance.”
I pull on the other prosthesis and swing it, a little too hard. I smash it into the counter and curse at the shock wave, slamming a fist into the table. I glare at a smirking Knothall and let out a small smile when I find his own. “Thank you.”
“I want you to have everything that you need.” He states, laughter fading into seriousness once more. My hip muscles are already awake with a passion to move, and then sleep.
“For what?” I ask, head tilted. He nods to the bag and puts a finger to his lips. I reach in and find a note, then unfold it.

Change of plans, your assignment is tonight.
Take Firthorn with you and only what you need. My last assignment to you is to deliver this package to the High Lady of Hallowed Court.
Tell no one of your mission, come to Slate and be ready at shift change.
I don’t know if I ever told you, but I love you, Lythienne.
You made life here worth living.

Tears splash onto the parchment and I jerk my attention up to him, or where he once was. I read it again, caressing the last passage. The lab closes in on me, thick air squeezing out of my chest. I close my eyelids and inhale deeply through my nose, then exhale from my mouth. I shake off my feelings and attempt to stand on my own.
I shift out of the seat and lean heavily on the table while my hips and thighs remember how to be knees and legs as well. With slow movements I transfer more of my weight to my legs instead of my muscled arms. My sore thighs welcome the fresh cushioning in the sockets that envelope my entire upper legs. I push out a breath and straighten, releasing the table from my grip.
I waver and my heart sputters, these prostheses are lighter and more agile than my old ones. The ankle and knee joints vibrate wonderfully with each movement, providing much more range of motion than I’m used to. I step forward and put too much weight into it.
I fall flat on my face, my now scraped arms barely break my head’s contact with the stone. “Fuck!” I growl in frustration, rolling onto my back. I won’t be able to use these on my own yet, not without a cane. How in the hell am I supposed to enact an escape plan?
I sit up with a groan, the elbows of my tunic chewed up from the stone floor. I spy my old cane hanging by the stairs and grin, an invention coming to mind. I pull myself up using the nearest stool with a string of curses and use the counter to limp along. I make my way to the old thing, a stump of wood with a tip on the bottom. I slam it down on the table and get to work.

Chapter – Fall to Rise (I fluffed up the escape scene.)

“We can’t waste anymore time, let’s go.” Panrauth orders. He and I break from the wall, Umber is already sprinting towards the ship.
A wooden ramp is down and I climb onto the mediocre deck, shouldering off my gear into a corner. I quickly find the rigging keeping the sail secure and let it loose. Umber scurries on the ground outside the ship, releasing ropes holding us to the world of the Eternal. Panrauth finds a control panel behind the steering wheel and cranks the engine up. A bright orange fabric draped over the circular framework above Umber’s wooden basket of a ship stretches taut with Aether gas now billowing against it.
Umber jumps on as the ship lifts, and I pull the ramp up and bolt it into place when she immediately marches for Panrauth at her steering wheel. “Know how to drive one of these?” She asks him gruffly, her silver eyes flashing bright. Airship engines are powered by their Captain’s Aether, despite her ship’s small size these engines are quite powerful. Umber doesn’t flinch though under their increasing draw on her magic, and I stare at her in awe for a lost moment.
“I may.” Pan says, crossing his arms.
“Then get your own.” She growls, then turns up the gas more and takes the wheel. The ship darts into the gaping tunnel that leads out of the Mountain, the lights of the Keep fading behind us as sudden inertia presses me into to place against a railing. Within a terrifying moment I regain senses of my body and slump onto the floor, for fear of falling over the edge as Umber speeds through thick darkness. My book about the Mountain says the tunnel is over twenty miles long, but at this speed it won’t take long to reach the exit, and the shield covering it.
“You know how to pick them.” Pan groans to me. Lanterns tucked into the four corners of the airship alight with a soft glow, just enough so I can dimly make out my surroundings. I ignore Pan and retrieve the silken bag tucked into my hip pouch. I dump it’s contents into my hand and when my fingers brush Pan’s key, a shock jolts my arm and I drop it onto the deck at my feet. How Knothall obtained these from Ragnis is beyond my comprehension. Only the High Lord of Iron possesses the keys to every inmate in the Eternal, and I don’t see Ragnis letting me leave. Unless Knothall made a deal, which I don’t put past him.
Panrauth squats beside me and picks his key up, studying it with furrowed brows. Short obsidian daggers, my handle is encrusted with diamonds, his is composed of vines and branches. A leather tag is strung around each, mine is unreadable, and his has P.F burned into it. The blades that mark our enslavement, the key to break the bond. Bonds made in blood can only be undone by spilling more blood.
“We’re almost there, if you’re gonna do it, do it now.” Umber warns. The shield is the last precaution, an invisible force of magic spreading across the epic archway carved into the mountainside. Anyone with a tattoo can’t get past the field, cast long ago by The Ancients themselves. I whimper, my own bracelets of tattoos burning red hot as we near it. Pan’s marks are as well, but his face doesn’t change.
“Now?” I shout, raising my hand as the shield presses on the airship, jarring us to a stop.
“No, wait.” Pan orders fiercely. The glittering field wraps around the ship, groaning and splintering wood threatens to implode in the abyss of the tunnel. The desert beyond is just barely visible through the veil, the stone bridge below us into the Mountain is visible.
“Now!” He yells as the shield envelopes the ship completely.
I slice through my shirt into my shoulder,and the dripping blood releases me from the pact made the day I entered. When I was only an infant, the first time my blood spilled. A rush of burning air enters my lungs, crawling into every crevice inside me. Freedom burns with a passion. A blinding green light erupts, which shakes the ship and throws me backwards. The force field disintegrates around us, feathered cloaks of glittering darkness wafting through the air. From the corner of my eye I spy a black speck of wings escaping from the Eternal. Good boy, fly away.
The explosion of green dims, emerald flames lick Pan’s manically laughing body and spread to the fabric above. The Bear is unable to contain his excitement, or his Aether.
“What the fuck!” Umber shouts, rushing to put out the flames. I take the wheel and attempt to steer us away from the red cliffs cutting through the desert. Panrauth’s joy ends but it’s too late. We make it only a few miles away from the mountain before scraping the sheer rocks and smashing into the red ground below.

Echo Valley – Part 2

As decreed by The Four Ancients after the Civil War of Iverbourne.
The remaining land of Iverbourne will be divided by the Four Elements, and the remaining Human Territories will remain untouched.
Each High Court will preside over their own assigned territory and be responsible for contributing to the greater good, dependent on their region and Aether capabilities.
High Lords or Ladies will furthermore be chosen by the Aether flow in the original royal lineages of each territory, only the strongest shall rule.

Chapter – The Wicked Boy (I fluffed up Lythienne’s conversation with Amwren’s lover and Novak.)

Streaks of gold paint lay across the bartender’s body, and the amber beads covering her chest and pelvis match the shimmering of her thin wings. My heart flutters, her wings are so beautiful and remind me of Amwren, which splits my heart. She looks me up and down with a raised bald brow and bare elbow leaned on the bar in front of me, her soft voice cuts through endless chatter as she leans closer. “What’s your poison?”
I shrug and fiddle with the tech on my wrist. “Surprise me.” She chuckles, then leaves me as she prepares my concoction. I watch her flutter behind the bar, in awe of how fast she works. Really though, glimpses of her eyes bring me comfort. Most Lesser Fae have no eyelids, their large almond grey eyes unnerving most people, however I find it comforting. The eyes of my childhood. I scan the area while she shakes a metal tumbler, the noise laying my ears down.
I find Pan’s behemoth presence situated in the farthest corner, huddled around a table with a leather winged Fae and a dark skinned female High Fae. My eyes and breath pause at their hands, entwined together. They are laughing uproariously, the winged Fae elbowing Pan closer to the female. Pan’s giant body leans against the thin High Fae, and her green eyes bat up at him. It’s like watching a group of friends get together, no time passing at all. Fire burns in my stomach and I narrow my brows, breaking my gaze when he wraps an arm around her. What a fucking bastard. I have no one to blame for myself for letting my guard down, I know better.
The bartender sets down a glass filled to the top with a red liquid. “Thank you.” I say, then pick the glass up and inspect the bizarre drink. I wonder if she’s ever been thanked, and the smile escaping from her tells me just as much. The world is about as kind to Lesser Fae as it is to me. She smiles and perches on the island beside me, reminding me of Amwren once more.
“You’ll forget your troubles rather quickly. I advise you to take your time, Keeper of Death.” She whispers, and my eyes lock onto hers.
“And how is it you know who I am?” I spit out sarcasm and sip on the drink, sighing as the sweet elixir runs down my throat.
“Most of us lesser Fae have heard of you.” She muses, fingers fiddling with the beads on her thin fabric of a skirt.
“And which team are you on? If you don’t mind, I’d like for someone to not try and kill me right now. Try again later.” I snap and don’t let her finish, liquid courage burning my throat and soul. The music, bastard male and boisterous creatures are too much, turning my voice into a snarl.
Her elongated fingers grasp my own, her cool touch surprising me. “You are safe here.” Giant grey eyes glaze over and her words extinguish the flame building inside me. “I was once in love with a Fae from The Mists, perhaps you knew her.”
My breathing stops and I shakily set the drink down, then take her scrawny hand into both of mine. The paleness of my sunburned skin is heightened when compared to all those who dwell under the sun. “How?” I ask, my eyes warming. The Fae smiles and flutters her wings with a small rustle, looking around us before speaking.
“I met her many, many years ago. Well before your time. She was a traveling spinster, selling her goods throughout Iverbourne. So elegant,” she sighs with longing, “the moment I set eyes on her, our bond fell into place. I knew she was mine, and I was hers.”
I want to ask what that means, but wait. Knothall called Rohana his mate, but I don’t know much about it. Books about love are not in high demand in the Mountain. Obviously, my luck with romance isn’t great either as I spy Panrauth nuzzle into the female’s neck out of the corner of my eye.
“Wren stayed here with me after that, it was the happiest time of my life. We ran this place together, she sold tapestries and I kept the town drunk.” She chuckles softly, the brightness in her distant eyes dimming. The weavings, they’re all Amwren’s.
I wonder when she learned how to engineer, she taught me everything I know about mechanics. I assumed that her life before the Mountain was full of gears, and shame fills me. I should’ve asked about her life, pressed her a little harder. Knothall probably passed on his knowledge to her, to keep her out of the smiths or other labor camps.
The colorful fabric around the place pulls me into a trance, until the Fae speaks with such solemnity my blood runs cold. “Until The Others came.” Amwren didn’t tell me she saw them outside of Hallowed. The Fae grips my hand tight and I ground her, swallowing the building lump in my throat.
“They were recruiting, looking for Lesser and High Fae alike to join their cause. They came here, and Amwren,” she breathes her name. I wonder how long it’s been since she’s said it fully. “Wren was terrified. She told me something wasn’t right. She saw them taking children off the streets here …”
The Fae gently pulls away from my hand, shaking her head as her wings tuck into her shoulders. “She went feral. It was horrific, I didn’t know she was capable of that much bloodshed.”
I can’t imagine delicate, beautiful Amwren hurting a fly. I shake my head. “That doesn’t sound right.”
“It wasn’t right. They took her alive, and I wished at the time I killed her myself. Until I received my first letter.”
I have a sneaking suspicion which trader would’ve snuck letters in, or out. I look around the bar, noticing Pan and the female gone. Umber is dancing outside with a handsome dark male, their bodies melded under firelight from the ravaging bonfire. She’s only been trading in the Mountain for fifteen years though, I wonder who smuggled in letters before that.
I turn my attention back to the bartender, unable to comprehend Pan’s whereabouts right now. “So, what did she say?”
She smiles, opening and closing her wings. “At first, they were just love letters between us. However, after a few centuries, all she seemed to talk about was a pesky girl, always getting into trouble.” The Fae lifts her hairless brows and my cheeks warm. “She told me how you treated her. You made her feel alive in there. I’m sure even you know what that means to us.”
“Amwren means the world to me, she was one of the few who treated me like a living being.” She was like a mother, I want to say. Tears threaten to come out with that statement, though. “How did you do it? Being so close to the mountain? I would have gone insane.”
She ponders, ignoring the impatient patrons hollering behind her for a moment. “What makes you think I haven’t?” She throws me a weak, knowing smile and flutters off the bar. I catch her wrist, a little too hard.
“You know, right?” My drunken heavy tears can’t wait any longer. She wordlessly leaves me and tends to her customers, not looking back at my puddle of sadness. I look down at the bar with shame and wipe away tears, then drink the rest of my half empty glass in one go. Alcohol swims in my mind and I regret the bold move, the now pulsating noise and lights inside the place rattle my drowning brain, too much to bear.
The room tilts and the floor sways under my brave legs, the intense spinning of my world threatening to take me down. Umber’s frizzed sapphire catches my periphery, and I stumble to a stop when I realize she’s up against a wall. Half naked with the muscular brown fae thrusting into her, glowing white vines snaking around his bare arms and neck. They can’t actually be fucking. Can they?
I shake my head and leave the bar, the street now fully crowded with bonfires and half naked bodies. Umber isn’t the only one ‘frolicking’ in public. I swim across the path in the direction of floating airships, the only landmark keeping me above water. Pan is there, waiting for me, I know he is. What I saw before, it has to be nothing. He asked me to wait for him, and I promised him I would. That means something, right?

“Well, you certainly don’t look so frightening now.”
I startle and swing the blade out of my cane, swiftly locating the creature in a human body standing over me. My blade touches his throat and his light blue eyes darken for a moment. Shadows surrounding his still plainly dressed figure dim as well, though the swirling darkness has specks of shimmering white hidden throughout, brilliantly contrasting against the abyss of an empty sky beyond his figure.
Obviously he possesses magic far beyond my knowledge, I have a feeling he could kill me very easily. We stare at each other in silence, sharing unreadable expressions. I’m curious why he’s still following me. After a moment, I sheath the blade and lay the cane down in red sand beside me, not taking my eyes off him. Aether rolls around his body, leaking down to the ground now in a river of star filled night, pooling around his feet. “What are you?” I muse, not expecting a real answer.
“You’re no fun, you’re not even going to try and puzzle it out?” He whines, bouncing on the balls of his feet with freckled hands shoving into his pockets.
“I’m out of wits today unfortunately, I have a long journey tomorrow, and I would appreciate it if you took your games elsewhere.” I muse, tucking my knees into my chest.
“Yes, so I’ve heard. Captain says we’re taking some classified cargo to Cervalis first thing, isn’t that grand?” The male is too enthusiastic, waving his arms up at the ships and grinning, his face full of mischief.
“I should’ve guessed the crew would include a trickster or two. You know Umber then?” I say, watching his shadows creep across the few sandy feet between us. They almost seem curious, tendrils of night which are much more timid than their master.
“Ai, trickster I may be, but we all need to have a little fun.” He laughs, raking a hand through his hair. The movement draws shadows back inside his body, leaving behind a thin armor of shadows flowing over his skin.
A half smile escapes me and I shrug. “Sounds like something a trickster would say. You still didn’t answer my question though.”
“Oh right, Umber, that stick in the mud? She used to be part of the Crew, back a few decades ago. Gave it all up for her own ship, though I heard that didn’t end well.” He raises a light brow, his bare feet stepping closer. I roll my eyes and grin, hiding my surprise at the fact Umber gave up a stable crew for a life of trading in the Mountain.
“I had nothing to do with that, just along for the ride.” I muse. He chuckles and gestures to sit beside me. I keep my eyes on the empty port ahead of us. “Free country, or so I heard.” He sits cross legged to my left with a half smile revealing his dimples, though my dark humor leaves silence between us.
Umber said the crew liked to party, I didn’t see him at the cantina though. Or the mysterious Captain. I wonder why she’s never mentioned them over the years we’ve known each other.
“That High Lord of yours though, not so much.”
“What did you say?” I say, attention snapping to his distant blue eyes.
“Oh, I assumed you knew. Want to hear a story then?” He asks in a giggle, twirling a finger in the air. Tendrils of black shadows form before my eyes, emitting from his long freckled fingers. I look around, finding we’re still alone, though I’m not sure why as either no one can see his magic, or they don’t care.
“Once upon a time, there was a land of trees and snobs.” He begins. I open my lips and he glares at me, silencing my protest. Smoke elegantly forms a scene in the air over our feet, and I focus on the forest coming into focus. Muscles relax while I watch the pictures move, revealing a tragedy. A magnificent tree looms with a castle built into it, meadows and small trees surrounding the great tree.
“There once lived a boy who did not want to be King. He was rather spoiled, doing what he wished, whomever he wished.” Green auras joining, bodies writhing together in the street. Moans echoing through my brain boil my blood. I watch the picture change in silence, face masked from the pain of my stupid heartache.
A young male climbs down from the castle, running away to the woods. The smoke rearranges to show a cottage. A garden forms beside the quaint place, a woman standing in the plants. She opens her arms to the male, they embrace and he sweeps her off her feet, carrying her inside. “One day, the King grew ill, and the lands turned barren. It was time for the heir to rise, the Aether of the land choosing the most careless of his offspring. The wicked boy did not care if the crops died while he snubbed his duty, he chose his human bride over his people.”
The garden wilts, trees die, leaves are shed and branches snap. Animal carcasses litter the once beautiful forest, and the stench of death tickles my nose. I tear away from the picture to glance sideways at the blonde male, his sapphire eyes glistening as he watches the next scene unfold. Three armored Fae arrived at the cottage, astride great furred beasts with curling horns. The smoke flashes red, bringing me back to my nightmare of Eros and Knothall watching me drown.
“The wicked boy fought his kin, refusing to go home and forsake his simple life.” The couple flee from behind the cottage, the woman holding two small children against her as they run. The male attempts to slow down the onslaught but it’s no use, the lovers are caught. A brother falls at the hands of Pan, and the other beheads the woman while she holds her children. Three bodies fall to the ground, the small children hold their mother’s head and wail.
“The boy killed his own brother, the choice of human blood over his own kin permanently seeping into the ground of Terra and angering the Ancients. The wickedness killed the king’s heart, sending him into a fit of crazed rage. The Queen could not survive his wrath, and since then the lands have been plagued by famine and sickness. The wicked boy’s children were sent to live in the grand castle, and he was thrown into the Eternal, at the behest of his sister.”
Pan falls to his knees, his children wordlessly screaming as his brother takes them away atop a snarling goat beast, the other one holding a sword to Pan’s throat. I look away, eyes brimming with burning tears and heat spreading over my next.
“I think that’s enough.” I whisper. The smoke falls at once, settling on the sand. I rub away the burning on my face and evaluate the once devilish male, now a soft face overlooking the unending horizon. “Why are you telling me this?”
I don’t bother to ask if he’s lying, it makes sense. Umber’s pleading words, the rounded ears of his daughters. The reason Pan was in The Eternal at all. I’m going to fix it. That’s what he told Umber, and he used me to do it. I’ve tortured and murdered countless innocent Fae, for the sake of following orders, can I really blame him for doing whatever it takes to get back home?
There is one thing that doesn’t sit right with me. Why would they send away the rightful High Lord, knowing it would destroy the land and forsake their people? Are humans that hated in Iverbourne?
“I suppose I would want to know who I’m traveling with. I can’t put my finger on it, but I feel like I should help you.” A sly grin fills his voice and I look sideways at him to find his sun spotted cheeks full of color.
“You just met me.” I narrow my brows in disbelief, rolling my shoulders back as I will ice into my tone. Iron soldiers would be here already if we were sold out. The gears in my mind turn as I attempt to gauge his motive.
“Do you believe in fate?” His voice is kind, no humor tainting his question.
I never thought about it before. Everything that happened to me was determined the moment I opened my eyes. I always thought of myself as a mistake of The Ancients. Is that my fate, to live as a series of mistakes?
“I don’t know. Honestly.” I rub my neck and push out a breath. “I know I never thought I would make it out of there, and I have to believe I did that for myself.”
The tight darkness around him softens further, the soft grey when I first met him playing the multitude of strings upon his simple lute. “I think you’ll find life is full of happy surprises.” The dark sky is changing to pink on the horizon before us, orange and yellow warming the great distance. We sit there for several moments in silence, watching the sun come up.
“Why did you let yourself be glamoured?” The male’s voice is curious and gentle. His right scarred ear twitches as he tilts his head, watching every part of my exhausted face.
“Are you going to tell me why you cut your ears down?”
He scoffs, pressing a dramatic hand to his chest. “What makes you think I did it?” I stammer in attempts to recover, but he saves me from my self. “A band of Purist bastards found it fitting, I suppose.” He chuckles, smile fading as I keep him in my unyielding stare.
“It was this, or watch them kill my best friends in front of me. Unlike your friend, I have far more respect for humans.” He mutters, shaking his hair so wild blonde locks cover his ears once more. My heart thunders, guilt coursing through my veins.
I think about it, the smoke images replaying in my head. He is right. If Pan truly loved his wife, he would’ve let her go. Humans and faeries can never be together in this world. She would still be alive, if he let her go. At the very least, he would’ve never been separated from his children.
“Can you remove it, the glamour?” I ask, curious how powerful he is.
“Of course, what do you take me for?” He cracks his fingers and makes a big show of stretching, only to touch a careful warm finger to my brow.
The headache of sweet Aether fades, replaced by warmth and a sudden scent of salt rushing my nostrils. I sigh in relief and rise with slow and stiff muscle. “I suppose if we’re going to be stuck together, I should know your name.”
The beautiful male grins, standing only when I’m fully straightened. He bows deeply, eyes flashing to an intense deep blue, then back to bright sapphires so fast I hardly comprehend the change. “Novak, at your service.”
I roll my eyes at the mop of hair covering his face, readjusting my pack on my back. “Well, Novak, make yourself useful and show me where I can pass out.”

Chapter – Better luck next time. (Fluffed up scenes.)

Whatever is powering the behemoth must be below the ship.
The massive sails overhead catch and the gold fabric stretches taut, a charcoal faerie skull and crossbones are splashed onto every sail. Captain barks orders at the crew, her eyes ablaze and flames licking at her shoulders. Novak is perched in the crows nest above with his eyes closed, hair catching the wind and a peaceful smile resting on his face. No one else’s eyes are alight with Aether to power the engines that I can see, and I suddenly have a newfound healthy dose of fear for this Captain.
She shouldn’t have access to this much magic, no Fae does.

Hallowed Ground – Part 3

As decreed by The Four Ancients after the Civil War of Iverbourne.
The mainland of Iverbourne will be severed from the Southern Continent which includes the Iron Court and lands of the Fraithall. The Northern Continent which includes the Wildlands and homeland to all creatures, the Realm of Giants, shall be severed as well.
No creature is allowed through the borders or permitted through either side of the Meggido without explicit permission.

Chapter – Isn’t that the way it goes? (Fluffing)

Orion pushes the door open, revealing boisterous laughter and music at once. How we didn’t hear it before I’m not sure, then the Aether rolling heavy from the room slams into my senses, must be a sound shield. The magic of this land still intoxicates my senses every time I smell it, making me feel almost as stupid as alcohol does.
Umber and Alvis are clearly way ahead of us, both us them hollering for us to hurry up and get our drinks before the ice melts. I’m not sure I heard them right, but when I approach the bar, there are indeed globes of ice. I hold the glass up and inspect it with a raised eyebrow. Umber catches me looking at the ice suspiciously, then laughs heartily at my disbelief. She is so beautiful, especially when she laughs. That is the Umber I know. Carefree, rough and loud. Alvis is admiring her as well, my cheeks warm at the sight and I focus back on my glass.
“I just don’t understand the concept.” I say, swirling the drink.
“Well you see, alcohol seems to go down better when it’s cold. Over on this side of the pond we get ice, from Borealis.” Alvis teases me, raising his drink. Umber hangs off his shoulder and we all clink glasses, downing what I discover to be faerie wine. I have to agree, ice definitely helps things go down.
The spacious bar decorated similar to the rustic downstairs holds a corner I long to visit, musicians bringing forth melodies from their instruments. My three companions chat away and I watch the lute, vocalist and drums sing together. The simple lute reminds me of Novak, he plays so beautifully. Time is a cruel trick, the lifetime I spent in the Mountain is a blip in my immortal life compared to the past week, which seems like a blessed eternity.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so much of my time in numbness, separating myself from who I was. I was surviving. Not thriving.
I watch couples dance before the musicians and listen to Fae laugh among themselves, and wonder what I’m doing now. More than surviving, but not exactly thriving. I’m certainly more alive than I have been in a long time. Panrauth sparked the feelings of being alive inside of me and alive brings heartbreak, but it also brings this. Happiness.
Orion and Alvis are laughing at a wild story Umber tells and I grin watching them, happy to be on the outside looking in. A hand claps onto my shoulder and I freeze, breath hitching at the unexpected touch. I whip my head around, fists ready to strike.
“Sheesh, you guys could have waited for me.” Novak is is absolutely filthy, covered in mud, sticks and leaves stick out of his hair. A wide, dimple pulling grin spreads across his cheeks. The sight warms my heart at once. Alvis roars with laughter and I can’t help but feel relieved he’s here.
“What in the Eternal happened to you?” I ask, wiping mud filled hair from his eyes, neck warming as I drop my hand.
“Well, I thought you would’ve at least waited for me.” Novak throws a speck of mud at Alvis who fails to dodge it.
Orion rubs his forehead. “Do you two ever stop bickering?”
“I could say the same for you two, always have to one up the other.” I tease, bringing a grin to both the twin’s sharp faces.
Umber rolls her eyes and takes my hand. “Let’s dance, Lyth.” I grin and down my drink then follow after her, my curiosity in Novak’s visit fading. Once Novak joins the other musicians and the twins start a rowdy swing dance, the rest is history. Our dancing and his music evoke the raucous crowd to whoop and holler, demanding Novak to keep playing.
The last thing I remember are sapphire eyes staring into mine, and soft lips pulling into a goofy grin. Music pulls me to sleep, lingering in my gentle dreams.

Chapter – Did we? (This Chapter has a new conversation between Alvis and Lyth, and was fluffed up quite a bit so this is the entire chapter.)

I groan heavily, my head still swimming with faerie wine and hips flat refusing to work when I attempt to roll over. I danced way too much last night, but at least the aches and pains are from simple living, not torment and torture. Stiffness resides in all of my joints and I smile thinking about dancing with Orion, he really let loose last night. Novak’s music is permanently burned into my ears, though I’m not complaining.
A celebration follows Novak’s arrival, every person in the bar recognizing my companions. After dancing for far too long with Orion and Umber, Alvis keeps me company at the bar as the party continues around us. “How is it everyone knows who you four are?” I ask Alvis, giggling as I rest on a stool and watch the others dance. He swivels in his seat beside me and his wide grin fades slightly, white vines along his thick muscled arms glowing a soft white.
“You’ve never heard the tales of Captain, have you, Keeper?” He says, reaching forward to move hair from my eyes. I smile and shake my head when his fingers brush my cheek and his face flushes, we both take a drink and he focuses on Novak with contemplation and a soft smile.
“We don’t have much time for stories in the Eternal, I’m afraid.” I say. He leans with his back against the bar, long arms outstretched along the light wooden slab, his left hand dangerously close to my right resting on the wood.
“Captain and Novak have spent their entire lives saving humans and lesser Fae from the likes of Fae like me, and Orion, with that ship of theirs.” Alvis says darkly, pulling my attention from the party to his darkened eyes sharpened onto me.
“Fae like you?” I ask, brows furrowed.
“Bigots, murderers, kidnappers. Water Fae usually fit the bill for all things nasty in Iverbourne.” I wait for sarcasm or a joke to follow Alvis’ serious word
s, but nothing does.
“You’re not like that.” I say, my fingers touch his and send a spark of warmth through me.
“That’s kind of you Keeper, but it’s true. Before we met Nova,” he stumbles on the nickname and I tilt my head, but he recovers before I can ask, “when we met Novak and Cap, my brother and I were exactly that. They came to save people from us, and ended up saving us too, gave us a chance to do some good.”
I glance between him and the others, eyes catching on Novak taking a request from a petite Air Fae female. Orion looks to us with a smile and I wave to him subtly, my hand leaving Alvis’. “Well, it would seem everyone knows you for who you’ve become since then, not for who you were.” I say, eyes connecting with Alvis’ once more. The brooding has left his face and is replaced by a soft smile.
“They may have forgotten, but I haven’t.”
Silence follows Alvis’ statement and I contemplate the idea of being forgiven for what I’ve done. I wonder what life Alvis lived and how awful he truly was, I can’t see him that way though. If these people can celebrate a visit from Novak and his friends, forgive the twins for whatever they’ve done, can I ever be forgiven?
Can I forgive myself? As I stare into Alvis’ wet eyes, I already know my answer.
I stand and swallow, then ask a very stupid question. “Can I, hug you?”
Alvis blinks rapidly, dazed for a few seconds. He stands, staggering slightly as he throws his arms around my small shoulders. He’s so much taller than me, my arms wrap around his waist. I relish his warmth and sigh. “What’s this for, Keeper? Not feeling sorry for me, are you?”
“We don’t have much time for hugs in the Eternal either, so shut up and hug me.”

The sun burns my eyes as they squint open momentarily, then I decide better of starting my day. I moan and finally throw myself over in bed, rough sheets caressing my naked thighs, bare of prosthesis and clothes. I pull the blankets up over my head and let out a sigh of content, my back and hips quite thankful for a real bed. Only a few hours rest I think, but more than enough when it’s in a place as comfortable as this. Warmth rolls beside me and I smile, the skin on skin touch comforting my soul.
My eyes flash open and I narrow my brows in confusion at the lump of blankets next to me. Scarred and muscled skin presses against me under them, but no face is revealed under the mess. Goosebumps spread across my skin as I try to remember what the hell happened last night, and who lies in bed next to me. The sheets are a different color, and the blankets thinner than I remembered. I am utterly naked, now biting my lip with desperation. I rub my face and curse myself as memories seep in.
Novak plays the lute for me, just me. Alvis lifts Umber off the bar, his hands firmly gripping under her thighs as they disappear into a hallway leading to the bedrooms. Orion is sprawled out on the bar, his soft snores filling the otherwise empty room. We are the last ones up, and after a long moment of us being lost in each other’s eyes, Novak speaks softly. “Looks like we’re all alone.”
He continues playing the soft melody, the one I love and first heard in Echo, giving me a nervous smile. We are seated together in a corner, a small table separating us. I rise, taking the first unsteady steps between us. I bite my lip and search his blue eyes, waiting. Novak sets his lute down, then rises and takes my hands in his. His heart is thrumming so loud my own pulse races to keep up with his.
“You’re quite handsome, you know.” I murmur and smile wide, staring up at the galaxy of freckles across his nose and cheeks. I brush a honeyed curl from his eyes, drawing color to his soft cheekbones. His bright sapphires confuse me, he looks like a Water Fae, and yet he has this powerful Aether fueled by darkness ruminating inside him.

“Well thank you, my lady. We should get you to bed, though. You can tell me all about how good looking I am tomorrow, when we’re not so tipsy.” Novak rubs a delicate thumb over my cheek, looking me over with admiration. He’s so beautiful, his soul filled with nothing but kindness and strength.
I think about what Alvis said, that Novak’s always been the hero. I’ve admired his ability to conquer whatever darkness resides inside him with a smile, and tonight the alcohol has me feeling bold. I take his hand and press his thumb to my lips, kissing it ever so softly. A gasp escapes him when I look up through my long lashes, a wicked smile spreading across my face as I decide what I want.

I sit up with intense stealth and peek over. A curled mop of blonde pokes out from under the blankets, the rest of the musician hidden. I peer at the floor, his shirt in one corner, and my pants in another. The walls aren’t familiar, this is indeed not the bed I fell asleep in. I rub my face and groan inwardly, did we really sleep together? I don’t remember his body against mine at all, shreds of how I got here flow back to me in patches.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay?” I whine pathetically. Novak tucks the heavy blanket around me, then brushes knotted hair from my face. He sighs, giving me a pained smile before leaving my small quarters.
“Ask me again tomorrow, and I will stay.”
Novak is stirring, drawing my attention to him. He rolls in bed towards me, his bare slender torso illuminated in the sunlight as he pushes the blankets off. A gentle smile rests on his sun kissed face buried in the pillows beside my hip, and a cradle of charcoal shadows is revealed from under the covers, kissing his skin. Not an aura, but actual, visible shadows. Even in his sleep. I find the warm tendrils of night comforting, and reach out with a cautious hand. Darkness wraps around my fingers, caressing my skin and eliciting a sigh. Did he know I had come to his room?
The shadows creep closer, dancing along my arms and hugging my body. I smile, finding comfort in his warm darkness. I bite my cheek and gently reach out, my hand hovering over his freckled chest. The lean muscles usually hidden by his loose clothing catch my eye first, but I’m soon distracted by the raised scars covering every inch of him. Precise, raised skin covers nearly every inch of his chest, ribs and back. The sight strikes my heart and warmth burns my eyes. Whoever did this to him, they better not still be alive.
Novak opens his eyes drowsily, finding me still thoughtfully playing with his shadows. The restful smile widens and his half open eyes alight with a bright blue. He reaches a freckled hand to mine and my heart flutters as my fingers twitch. The Fae stops midway, eyes wide and grogginess wiped from his face. He throws himself wildly away from me with a loud yelp, thudding onto the floor as his shadows skid through the room.

Chapter – Swamp Thing (Conversation between Umber and Lyth)

“You know, Pan is right about one thing.” Umber whispers. I tilt my head, unsure I heard her right. She shrugs, rubbing her neck. “He said it’s your turn to live. Maybe, when all this is over, you can.”
When all this is over. You can live.
“I remember. I was pissed at you for being an ignorant ass, so I pretended to be asleep.” I chuckle, grinning at her.
“Figures, you don’t miss much.” She gives me a half smile, but we continue on in silence. The twins bicker in front of us, and music drifts from behind. I turn to watch Novak picking at his lute, the reins loose on his horse’s neck. A deep breath escapes my heavy chest, the music washes over my spirit and peace spreads through me. The song I love the most, just slower and drawn out, each note caressed on the multitude of old strings. I’m sure he can afford a new instrument working with Captain, but that seems to be part of his charm.
“Careful there.” Umber teases, raising a brow.
I have so many questions for her, but I can’t ask them right now. I settle for teasing back instead. “And you? Seems like you are having fun of your own.”
“No doubt about that.” She lets out a deep laugh. After a few settling moments, she adds the last words in a whisper. “Anything more than fun, can be dangerous, though.”
I ponder her words and regret my shenanigans from earlier. At least it’s pain from living. “You’ve known them for a long time then?” I ask.
“What is a long time to Fae, anyway?” Umber snorts and I glare at her. “If you consider two decades long, then sure.”
“I’m surprised you’ve never told me about them, the Crew of Misfits make for good stories.” I say light heartedly, testing the waters. She laughs offhandedly and sighs, then stares into my eyes with an unexpected intensity.
“I thought it would be cruel, to tell you about the world you were missing.”
I stare into her unwavering gaze, contemplating her statement. That was a possibility I considered, why she’s never told me anything about herself. Perhaps that’s part of it, but my gut tells me there’s another reason she’s kept her life secret.
I spend the rest of the ride wondering about what pirates do exactly, other than flying ships and being terrifying.

Chapter – Yes, I’m that old. (Fluff.)

Despite Novak working as first mate, he mentioned on the way here he no longer handles the negotiations. Novak and the twins had gone very quiet after that statement, so I didn’t pry. “High Lady Trihewyn, it is an honor to be in your presence again. Captain sends her regards and appreciates your business.”
Composure fills his voice, none of the nervous Fae present from yesterday. Do I terrify him more than she does? Captain’s hat weighs heavily upon my head, the court of females surrounding the dais simultaneously turn their stone faces to me at the mention of the Fire Fae. “You haven’t heard the legends of Captain?” Alvis’ surprised words from last night ring in my ears and I swallow anxiety, resolving to learn more about her heroics.

Chapter – Keeper of Death (I split this from You killed the hero, I strengthened the conversation between Orion and Lyth to make it more obvious that Alvis and Novak were in a previous relationship.)

Time and space are forgotten as we traverse through my earliest memories of the terrifying commander who had a soft spot for a purple haired troublemaker. How I grew up in a stone room for the first six years of my life, and how the only other life I encountered in that time was Knothall and occasionally Amwren. Then, the first tragic point of my childhood being crushed with my legs. The true origin of the fierce youngling, training for the day she rose to be the Keeper of Death.
“I was tired of being alone, so I left the labs to find Knothall. The inmates stationed in the Machine found me first, it was the first time I actually encountered any of them, believe it or not. The lesser Fae in the labs were always kind to me, but those High Fae hated me for what I was to Knothall, and I lack.” The story is easier to tell, and I silently thank and curse Panrauth. Orion sits beside me on the ottoman and slides an awkward arm around my shoulder.
“You don’t have to tell us the rest.” Orion says, long dark lashes wet.
“Well, there’s not much to tell. They jumped an eight year old girl and destroyed her legs. I will never know for sure, but the healers told me even if they were allowed Aether, it wouldn’t have been enough.”
The words are so nonchalant I forget how horrifying the image may be for some. Novak shoves off the desk and paces the library with a flurry of shadows following him. He rakes both hands through tousled hair, and I notice his lips are subtly moving. Alvis silently leaves us and takes Novak’s hand, then leads him out to talk on the balcony. Orion’s hand moves from my shoulders to squeeze my hand as I stare at him in confusion.
“It’s hard sometimes, for him. What he hides inside is more than I could bear, for that I am certain.” Orion’s words are barely audible and I stare at the two silhouettes standing close to the other on the balcony. I bite my lip, ears folding down.
“Do they love each other?” I ask in a whisper. Orion squeezes my hand tight, looking past me as he watches his brother hug Novak.
“Al is the rock which Novak is tethered to, though it used to be the other way around, before …” Orion confirms, soft voice trailing off as his violet eyes softly flash. A flash of violet outside catches my periphery, but I keep my main focus on Orion.
“Ancient history …” He says, voice and eyes far off, as if it’s not really him speaking.
By the Eternal, what mess did I get myself into. I bury my face in my hands and sigh. Orion slides an arm around me and chuckles deeply, the sudden distance in his eyes gone. A knowing dark brow arches at my plight and I roll my eyes at him, a soft smile filling my face.

Chapter – Someone who gives a damn. (Lyth’s spicy fantasy is more detailed.)

“Once Lyth collects the essence, what happens after? How do you make this Harbinger?” Alvis is standing now as he gestures to me, and then to the map. He said my name, not Keeper. It is soft rolling off his tongue, the white vines across his rippled body glowing subtly when he said it. I cannot help the next vision that comes to mind, and I become lost in the fantasy for a moment.
To be between the warrior and musician, our bodies and the pleasure never ending. Novak behind me, hands on my hips with Alvis on his knees before me. A vined hair pushing the wild hair from my face, then with a thrust from Novak I would be able to taste Alvis. A throbbing warmth spreads between my legs as I imagine them together, such strong males giving in to whatever feeling is between them. I bite my cheek and shift, burying the fantasy as I focus on the silent High Lady.

“If I hadn’t become a devilishly handsome vagabond, I think I would’ve been a bard instead. Singing to the world of your stories, of course.” He grins and continues playing the beaten up lute, toying with his trademark melody. By now I’ve heard several different tunes from him along our journey, he seems to have one for almost every occasion. Bringing joy to a crowd, or lovers together on the dance floor. Inspiring joy into those who felt lost.
The tune he plays now though, especially drawn out and caressed, is my favorite. He looks up from the strings, giving me a quick wink half hidden by hair as he catches me staring at him. My cheeks warm and I scan the barren field we are riding through.
If I hadn’t been nearly killed, I would’ve traveled the world with my music. That’s what his humorous words really mean. Whatever power, and thing the Ancients put back, it terrifies everyone he meets.
I have to bet that was the ‘before’ Orion was talking about, Alvis and him were together before he nearly died and came back to life as a tortured soul. The danger I encountered in Echo hadn’t reappeared, save for the fraction I saw last night when he saved me from myself. For some reason, he used it to try and scare me off in the Oasis. After spending so much time with him and his crew of misfits, it’s quite apparent he isn’t the villain. Not really.
So, that can’t be the reason him and Alvis aren’t together. Novak’s horse catches up to Alvis’ and I watch the two laugh and talk together like they always do, never a fight between them. I suppose it’s not my business, and Novak doesn’t seem to care if Alvis sees us together.

Chapter – Panrauth’s Plauge (Split this from the previous chapter, fluffed conversations with lore from prequels.)

Orion drops from the distant front to ride with us, leaving Umber and Alvis alone in the lead. He chuckles at Novak’s antics, pushing up dirty glasses before speaking. The summer air clamps the collar of his fine navy tunic to his neck. “Beakglen is a favorite of mine. Think Cervalis, but smaller. And more like home.” I shift in the saddle, turning the word over in my mind. Home.
Novak notes my glazed silence. “Captain’s secret hideout is there, lots of fun. Doesn’t hurt that you have a lover waiting for you.” Novak sends a tendril of shadow to tickle behind Orion’s ear and he giggles, swatting away Novak’s magic.
“Secret hideout, eh?” I glance sideways at Orion and raise a brow playfully. “I thought you said males are just as bad as females.”
“To be fair, I said almost.” Orion chuckles, rubbing his neck and waiting for my interrogation.
“What’s his name?” I ask curiously. I’ve never met anyone partnered with a Fae of the same sex. With high value placed on fertility and breeding, I can’t imagine it’s a welcome notion in the lands. The fact Orion had mentioned anything to me at all about Novak and Alvis, and his own lover, the sudden realization burns the gears in my mind. He trusts me. Truly, trusts me.
“Emeric,” Orion breathes his name. “He’s originally from Echo, but Beakglen is quiet, safe.”
Novak is even silent now, cradling his lute with subtle relief. The question lingers on my tongue for a moment. “Do you love each other?”
“Yes, we do. Alas, life is not kind to Fae like us.” Orion’s response is instant, the last words trail off though. I know what he means, what I guessed at.
“You mean Fae that love each other? Quite a dreadful thing, Orion.” I tease and he chuckles half heartedly. Novak plays, smiling gently at me when I look over my shoulder.
“Yes, love can be quite a dreadful thing, to some.” Orion quips. Our group crests a final hill of grain. The worn road tunnels through a field of corn ahead, leading to a decent sized village. Orion’s eyes light up and Alvis looks back at his brother with a mischievous smile. Fine town homes and brick buildings come into view, and I’m reminded of the story about Novak standing up for the humans here.
“Can I ask you a question?” I ask Orion. Novak is plucking at his lute, rounded ears twitching.
“You usually just ask them, so I suppose so.” Orion teases nervously.
“What is it like, being a twin? I’ve heard the bond is quite strong.”
“To be bonded to someone, it’s to feel everything they feel. For some, they share more than feelings. That is the way with twins, we share everything.” Orion shakes the inky hair out of his face, glancing at Novak. “You’re born with part of your soul resting with someone else, instead of having to find them.”
“And is that what mates are, bonded souls?” I inquire, tilting my head.
Orion rubs his neck, the strumming pausing from the musician behind us. “Yes, mates are two souls who hail from the same star. Or, so the old legends tell.”
“It has nothing to do with love then.” I wonder out loud, thinking about Knothall and Rohana. They obviously loved each other, but not as much as their duty. “And there is more than one kind of bond.”
“Sometimes, Fae have different ideas than the universe, they don’t fit as well as the Ancients would like.” Novak’s aura darkens visibly and I bite my cheek, wondering if I’ve struck a nerve. “Most times though, it’s inevitable for mates to be in love. And other times, a bond is nothing more than two souls connected.”
“So you and Al, you really know everything the other thinks?” I ask, cheeks warming.
“We try to keep things private, if possible.” Orion arches a knowing brow at me. I tie my hair off to the side and put Captain’s hat back on.
“And Aether?” I ask after a moment, pondering what else can be shared over these bonds.
“Only twins.” Alvis’ voice trembles. I open my lips but he canters ahead at once. I shift in the saddle and turn to Novak now at my side, his smokey aura thickening further while he focuses on slinging the lute over his shoulder.
“I didn’t mean to upset him.” I say in a hushed tone, fiddling with the reins.
“What have they told you?” Novak’s rounded ears twitch, his tone is so low that even my own ears have to lift up. Which part does he mean?
“They were the lead spymaster and engineer, but they couldn’t work for Sylvan anymore. That’s all.” I glance at Novak, he is silent for a moment, face emotionless.
“It’s not my story to tell.” His words are flat, forced.
“You said I should know who I’m traveling with. And you always tell me the truth.” My last statement is near pleading, begging him not to start withholding things from me now. He glares at me with subtle anger, no playfulness to be seen. After several minutes, just as I accept he won’t tell me, he halts and I gently pull Fiddler to a halt beside him.
“They are Typhan’s sons.” He speaks with such graveness, the world stops turning. Novak buries his face into his hands, spilling truth into them. “From what I understand, they must sever the bond. The Aether can’t choose the next heir properly, with ‘split souls.’ So, their father ordered them to kill the other, that’s why they left. Though really, he wanted Alvis to win, but Al couldn’t do that. Could you imagine him hurting O? Captain and I, we got them out, and-”
“What?” I snap, my slicing whisper interrupting Novak’s hurried words, lifting his face away from his hands.
“Please let them tell you.” He pleads, waiting for me to give him a small nod.
“And who is their mother? The Queen?” I ask, the words crumple Novak’s face further.
“For years, she was the only way for any creature, Fae or human, to escape the walls. If it wasn’t for her, those two wouldn’t have escaped, but Typhan caught her.” He shakes his head, eyes glistening and red. “I never met her, but she is the bravest Fae I’ve heard of, she’s the one who got us in.”
We press the horses into a lazy walk, and the swirling thoughts in my head take over.
Brave indeed, betraying the High Lord of Sylvan right under his nose. Goodness trickled down the twins lineage at the very least, and for the first time I wonder if my parents are both the monsters I imagine them to be. They have to be, to put an infant in the mountain for the sake of lacking magic. Was it my fathers idea, or my mothers?
Did they agree, or did someone try to spare me? Anyone at all?
Are they still alive?
The realization they very well could be, and I could come across them haphazardly, sends momentary panic through me, startling my heart. No, I don’t want to know who they are. I may very well put them in the dirt, for putting me far underneath it.
We catch up to the group after quite some time. Alvis and Orion are bickering, threatening to throw the other off their horse. Umber is laughing ahead of me at their shenanigans, her carefree laugh one that brings a moment of joy, then sadness.
The princes of Sylvan, choosing their brotherly love for each other, instead of power. A shudder shakes down my body with another realization. They agreed to go there with me, knowing full well the repercussions of disobeying their father, and what they will be made to do. “If there is any way for us to help Iverbourne, we want to do it.” Alvis had said.
No, I’ll find another way. They can’t. I won’t let them. Ragnis murdered his father and most of his family in cold blood just to attain complete power, yet these two ran as far away as possible to save each other. From the terrors of their father, and the hateful prejudices of their people. They even became pirates, and yet they still agreed to walk right back into hell for me.
For Iverbourne. They should be ruling, both of them. Either of them can change the story of their malicious people into something better, but to kill their other half for it? That’s a sacrifice far greater than anyone should be forced to make.
When we enter the village and dismount at the crowded stables, Fae and humans alike are pointing at my friends, whooping and hollering. “It’s the Zemer, and the Te’omin!”
The repeated words of excitement are foreign to me, but Novak’s cheeks flush with the warm welcome and the twins find me simultaneously, each grinning wide like wild boys. I can’t blame them one bit for not wanting to rule.
Power corrupts even the best things, no matter how hard you try.

Earth – Part 4

Alvis; circa 16,074 A.C
“No matter what I do, someone dies. I don’t want to hurt people anymore.”
“People die every day, child. Leave at once, and return only when you have the weapon you can not wield. Your dear Mother is tired of being his leverage.” The Ancient merfae taunts.
“How do you know what my mother wants!” I shout at the bubble of air separating us.
“Find the weapon you can not wield, he shall reign, and you shall walk with the poet who becomes a king. Brace for the fall.”

Chapter – Be careful what you wish for. (SPICY scene, new scene with Lex during the tattoo session, clarifying Ancient Fae scene)

Alvis asks Umber to dance and she agrees with haste. He catches my eye, happiness is spread across his handsome face and he throws me a wink. Waves of Fae and humans join the fun, some kind of dance everyone seems to know commences without a word. Males join arms with females, swinging and twirling each other around. Orion and the Fae I assume to be Emeric stand on the sidelines, quiet joy beaming from the two.
Yes, I can imagine this place feeling like home.
“So, how do you know them?” I ask, interest shifting to the details of gears slowly coming to life on my forearm. Lex smiles and pauses his work, grinning up to me.
“Practically raised that brat, and good ol’ Captain. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen either of them, though.” Lex swallows, eyes turning downwards to my arm once more as his voice lowers. “Can’t blame him for not visiting the old man yet, crowds follow him wherever he goes, for better or worse.”
“You’re kidding! I couldn’t imagine wrangling either of them as kids.” I chuckle as he refreshes his ink and needle, then wince as he begins poking rapidly with a soft orange Aether glow surrounding the needle tip.
“I seem to have a knack for adopting problem children.”
Novak’s music fades and within moments the entire group overwhelms Lex’s small space, Alvis has an arm slung around a timid Novak’s shoulders. Orion, Umber and Emeric give Lexeran their hellos, then Alvis. When it’s Novak’s turn, Lexeran beats him to it. “Took you long enough, akar.” He says to Novak without looking up.
Novak shoves his hands into his pockets, smiling nervously as he focuses on Lex. I bite my cheek, the palpable tension between the two on either side of me a living thing.“Long time no see, old man.”
“Ai, what’s a decade between family?” Lex teases, though the words turn Novak’s smile down. Alvis saves the day, slapping me on the shoulder after Lex’s needle leaves my skin to refresh the ink.
“See you’ve met our lovely Keeper, isn’t she deadly?” Alvis squeezes my full cheek and I swat him away, a light laugh leaving my chest. Laughter swells through the group and the tension softens, though Novak won’t look me in the eyes.
“Quite.” Lexeran agrees.

Umber grumbles about her appetite, my own stomach is throwing a fit, but this moment is one I want to experience with my friends. Who knows where we may be, and now that I’m in this world, I’d like to celebrate it with those I care about. Which is turning out to be quite a few, and this is important to them. Besides, it doesn’t sound like it should take long.
Novak offers his hand, keeping me close to his side while the others file out the back door. “I know how hungry you are, perhaps we can fix that later. If you’d like.” A devilish grin splays across his sharp face and I roll my eyes at him, unable to contain my smile. My fingers leave his hand and rest on his chest, sighing as the warmth from his bare chest meets my skin. He’s dressed in the usual way, casually showing off his scars to the world.
“You know, I can’t help but wonder something, when I watch you play.” I murmur as I press my full chest against his skipping heart. His fingers meet my cheek, brushing hair from my eyes, sapphires darkening as my lips part.
“Hm?” Novak breathes, his excitement pulsating against my stomach. Do I really make him feel this way with only a few words? I slide my hand up his neck, then down his arm until my fingers find his still paused on my face. I kiss his fingertips, then look up through my lashes.
“Do these fingers play other things, just as well as they play the lute?”
Control is no longer a tangible aspect. Novak’s gentle hands firmly take my face and his lips are suddenly a breaths width away from mine, his body slams both of ours against the wall. I moan, the sweet sound vibrating off Novak’s lips. Shadows find us and darken the hallway, a wicked smile present on Novak’s freckled face.
“You have no idea what your words do to me, my lady.” He moans, his desperation vibrating my lips. I stare at his lips for a moment, and then back up to his flaring blue eyes cutting through the darkness.
“You have no idea what you do to me.” I whisper, slowly taking his hand. I slide it down my breasts, quivering stomach, and when it reaches the hem of my pants, a hollering Orion breaks us from our heated indiscretion. Novak groans and leans over me to hit his head on the wall over my shoulder, I chuckle and throw my arms around him.
“Lythienne, I cannot understate how much we need to revisit this discussion on my musical skills.” He whispers into my ear and goosebumps spread. I kiss his cheek and escape his embrace before we distract ourselves any longer.
“What was that word, again, akar, right? Alvis says it means troublemaker, and I have to say, it fits you well.” I tease and Novak smiles, taking my hand to lead me outside.

An oil slick of flames erupts from the pit, towering above and arranging into the form of an elegant Fae. Rainbow fire composes her hair, a detailed thick cloud of smoke brings to life a feminine body. My hips go weak and a gasp escapes my chest, Novak’s arms steady me and his darkness recoils from the fire and shadows before us.
Umber jumps to her feet, mouth quirking upwards into a malicious grin. Alvis narrows his brows, staring at his brother who is fixated on the Ancient with pure shock lighting his face. Emeric trembles, clinging tight to Orion as he half hides behind him. Umber takes Alvis’ hand, then nods to the rest of us. Why is she taking the lead, why now? No one else questions her, at least not out loud.
Our hands connect around the stone circle, heat licks our faces and threatens to burn us alive. The Ancient Fae smiles with an abyss for a mouth and the flaming figure faces me. Claws of black fire tap upon a fiery pointed chin and it’s disembodied voice floats across us all, directed to me. “Lady, what a surprise.” The Ancient drawls, it’s thunderous voice shaking the ground beneath us.
My lungs stop working. Novak’s tight arms ground me but I still can’t breathe, the hidden part of my soul constantly screaming to be found is now deathly quiet, and for the first time in decades, I feel empty and alone.
“How unfortunate it is you returned to that infernal Mountain, oh wait, wasn’t that the point?” The fire creature snickers, sending sparks straight up into the sky. “Very, interesting, we found you, Lythienne, we thought it would be enough. But, did we choose correctly? Or does it matter at all? Your choice is most, complicating.” The Ancient muses, words twisting into a riddle as it’s echoing laugh cuts through thick sparking air.
The fire regards Novak after it regains sanity, then another round of barbarous heart stopping laughter rolls. A sparking elongated claw reaches past my cheek to caress Novak’s frozen face. “Is it you? Of course it can’t be, but what if it is?” Devilish giggles continue and sparks fly from the pit, a cinder lands on my face but I feel nothing. “I’m surprised the two of you haven’t scrambled the entirety of Iverbourne by now, isn’t that what you do? WHY WE PUNISHED YOU?!”
Screaming flames projectile from it’s mouth and erase all other sound as fire barrels towards us. A weak shield of shadows wraps around us, but it’s no use against the Ancient’s magic. A cry emits from Novak and I struggle to hold him up, the musician dropping to a knee as his thinning shield is pummeled by ancient power. A muffled shout from Alvis across the fire seems to calm the Ancient as it’s onslaught retreats.
“No matter, we all know how this ends. An Empty, hopeless Fae in this life. What shall you pick next, Lady?” Fire spits once more, flaming embers biting my leather boots.
“Why do you visit us, Ancient? What ends do you speak of?” I find my words, voice loud and steady, unlike my quivering heart.
“As a sign of our good will for your journey,” The voice sinks under my skin, the Ancient ignoring my question. “You will each, have one small request fulfilled. Ask now, and it shall be done. If we deem it worthy.” The voice is a beautiful song now, no longer possessed by wickedness.
Novak trembles, his hand cold in mine. The rainbow of oily flames reflect in his eyes, which are no longer blue. They are pitch black, and his skin is transforming into ethereal night against mine. My eyes shoot to the aghast twins and trembling Emeric, then to Umber. She is the only one who appears pleased. She can’t seriously expect a favor.
I don’t know what to ask for. I can ask for almost anything and it could be mine. I stare down at my boots, then back up to the terrifying Ancient. “Nothing is given for free.”
Thunderous laughter rumbles across us once more, the Ancient focusing on Umber when it speaks. “Indeed, it is not. Choose wisely, or you shall be very much in debt.” The next words twist into a death song. “Or into the tower you will go.”
My soul crawls with the warning. I decide it’s worth it and raise my chin, staring the Ancient right in it’s snickering face when I strike my bargain.
The fire snuffs and rolling smoke shoots across the yard. A shock wave of Aether explodes from the fire pit, sending us all flying backwards. A scream tears my lungs apart when cold darkness squeezes the life out of me, leaving me with a vision of flashing pale eyes. The delicate, ever haunting whisper caresses my mind.
“It’s wrong, he hasn’t found me yet. Find me, love. Find me.”

Chapter – More, I want more. (Split from the previous chapter and added a conversation between Lyth and Novak.)

“It’s ok. Tell me when you’re ready.” I rest on his chest once more and close my eyes, replaying every moment we’ve had together, and everything settles differently. That’s why Alvis backed off, I bet Orion told him after that night. “I do have to ask one thing.” I say before I lose my nerve.
“Hm?” He murmurs, light fingers traveling my spine.
“You and Alvis, am I stepping in between something?”
Silence fills the room and his body freezes. I will my body to remain relaxed and I hug him tight. “What do you mean?” He asks and I sigh.
“Novak, it’s obvious how much he loves you, and you him. You don’t have to tell me what happened, but I don’t want to hurt Alvis, if there’s still something there …” A gentle finger lifts my chin, my eyes meeting his gaze.
“I told myself, told him, a long time ago that I would never love again. I’ve spent two decades alone, in that sense, then you came and wrecked my plans.” Novak chuckles nervously and I scoot up, then quietly press my forehead to his. “It’s ancient history, I promise. He understands.”
I nod and kiss him gently, though I don’t feel very comforted. If I’ve learned anything about Alvis thus far, is the fact he seems to put everyone else’s feelings first. I nestle into his neck and sigh, allowing myself to not worry any longer tonight about the situation.
I want to ask Novak about the wings but I don’t think he knows, and he’s already so afraid of himself. I can’t tell where one scar ends and another begins on his back, though I’m quite sure they weren’t real wings I saw. I want to believe it’s just his shadows playing tricks on me, but deep down I have a feeling there is a lot more hidden beneath the skin.
Alvis might know, or Captain. Orion’s words from the library come back to me.
What he hides inside is more than I could bear, for that I am certain.”

Chapter – I’m not supposed to hurt the people I love. (Split from previous, added conversation after seeing Pan’s old home.)

Charcoaled skeletal remains of a cottage is the only structure left standing. In the surrounding clearing, foundations of once proud cobbled buildings are crushed into dust and pebbles. I shudder as we ride by, sure I can hear Weylin’s screaming and the thud of her head rolling onto the ground under Fiddler’s hooves. Even with dusk fast approaching, we wordlessly continue for another twenty minutes. About the time I shed the feeling of ghosts watching us, Fiddler’s ears relax and he is more than happy to stop.
We make a small camp and decide to stay the night here, and before too long, Alvis has a rabbit crisping over the fire Novak starts. We situate around the flames and conversation finally begins, Orion’s quiet voice breaking the ice. “That place felt like pure evil.”
“Before the Princess’ reign began, her father ordered the entire human town to be punished for Weylin’s actions.” Alvis remarks as he takes the rabbit off the fire, scarred face set into stone.
“That’s horrible.” I say, tucking my knees to my chest. Novak is cross legged beside me, eyes fixated on the fire instead of the twins across from us. “Why does no one talk about it? I’ve only heard about …”
“About Water Fae.” Novak finishes my sentence and my fingers creep across the grass between us, meeting his. He doesn’t look at me but he holds my hand, the firelight reflected in his black eyes.
“Do you think over time, their ghosts will become like the Noxious?” I ask Alvis when he stands over us with two plates.
“Unfortunately, I do. Despite the grandness of Aether, it cannot help the dead, or reverse the course of death.” I nod and take both plates from him, Novak still stuck in a trance. I glance back up to Alvis whose violet eyes flash in the twilight as they catch mine. Alvis ruffles Novak’s hair before he turns to leave, lightly pulling Novak from his stupor.
“Ai, it’s messed up enough as it is.” He swats Alvis away with a half smile and takes his plate from me, only to set it on the ground beside him. I bite my cheek and listen in silence as they discuss the route from the Grand Tree to Silverbury and how to avoid the main villages in Sylvan. Orion matches my silence and doesn’t even try to pretend to eat like I am.
Warmth pricks my neck and my heart flutters before I speak with false confidence. “I appreciate everything you two have done for me, but you’re not going to Sylvan with us.”
Orion and Alvis face me at the same time, identical hurt displayed across their sharp features. “And why not?” Orion snaps. Alvis straightens and I focus on my hands, afraid I will break under his resolve. Fucking bastard still gets under my skin. This business of feelings is too complicated.
“I’ve never had true friends before, but I know I wouldn’t be one to you, if you came.” The thought of them not coming hurts just as much as the thought of them being torn apart. Novak’s visible warm shadows slip behind my back, a comforting touch. He’s the one who needs comforting right now, not me.
“And we wouldn’t be true friends if we didn’t.” Alvis spits, still furious at the mere suggestion, and rises to stalk off through the woods.
“We’re coming, end of discussion.” Orion’s blunt and final words fold my ears down. He snatches up his bedroll and Alvis’, then leaves us to find his brother who disappeared into the dusky woods. I scowl at the fire, Novak pokes at it every now and then in uncharacteristic silence. After a while, he lays out both our bedrolls and slips off his shirt, then beckons me over to lay beside him. I oblige, nestling into his bare chest with a huff.
“You won’t get rid of them so easily, you know.” Novak teases in a whisper, pulling a fur over our heads. I sigh in relief and close my eyes, breathing in sea salt. Always sea salt. Delicate fingers brush purple from my cheeks, then he twirls a lock around his finger, a tendril of darkness intertwining with it. The vial on my neck pulls me from my comfort, and the worries of Sylvan still flood me.
“I can’t fathom it. I try to imagine Typhan worse than anything I’ve heard so far, and they’re still going back.”

Chapter – I’m not afraid of you. (Split from previous, fluffed conversations and scenes.)

“I just assumed spending the morning and night fucking made you hungrier than usual.” Alvis teases me, then elbows Novak beside him. I wonder how much he heard, or saw. The musician’s cheeks fill with color and I roll my eyes at Alvis, a half smile leaving me.
“It’s your fault, you can take just about anything and make it taste brilliant.” I say, drawing a satisfied smile from him. Chatter continues between the three, but I become lost in thought. I initially thought I was no more than a pretty thing to Alvis and he only has true eyes for Novak, but I can still feel the subtle tug we have on each other. His heart is calling to be loved, and mine aches in response. He deserves to be loved.
Orion elbows me gently and I withdraw my stare from my untouched food, looking up to find Novak and Alvis wrestling on the opposite side of us in the dead leaves. “Alright there?” Orion asks, an arching dark brow raised.
“Yeah, fine.” I say, giving him a half smile before I leave the camp to find Fiddler. His quiet company is comforting and I sigh, pressing my forehead to his muscled shoulder. “I bet life is much easier as a horse, eh?”

Terra earned this privilege of wealth and peace by letting thousands upon thousands die. Failing their allies, their Ancients, and almost an entire species. “Doing nothing can be worse, sometimes.” The feminine voice inside that has been mostly quiet company in the past few days surprises me, echoing Trihewyn’s sentiment suddenly.
“Who are you?” I wonder in my mind, but find no response. My thoughts drift to what Novak told me about his demon, and what the Ancient said to us. I haven’t given thought to the idea what is stuck inside me may be related to what’s stuck inside him. Although, to my credit, I didn’t realize his Shadow Aether was from an actual demon, at first. Is that what’s inside me, a demon? Demons are corrupt Ancients, cursed by their kin to live in a torturous place and suffer for all eternity. That doesn’t sound like what either of us have, not really.

Chapter – You didn’t have to break my heart. (Split from previous, added to Viv and Lyth’s conversation.)

Vivvus presses close to me and brings her beckoning lips to my ear, her threat is no more than a whisper. “You’re not afraid? Or of those Te’omin?” Disappointment drips with her last word. Why she hates the twins I’m not sure, but I don’t care. Alvis has already tried to warn me. I. Don’t. Care.
“No, I’m not.” I retort fiercely and shrug her off. I lower my disgusted tone, raising my chin to her smirking face. “I had questions for you, I can see they will have to wait.”
What I need her to do, I’m not entirely sure I trust her. Respect yes, but never trust.
I don’t have much of a choice.
Vivvus shakes her kinky hair out, hips swaying as she wordlessly struts to the private area behind us. I raise a brow at her once we are alone on the empty mushroom balcony, and glance at the party behind us. A sound shield goes up, muffling my ears. We stand feet from each other, she knits her fingers together and I cross my inked arms. I wonder how they work, if someone powerful enough can infiltrate one, or if the shields are unrelenting.
I don’t have a choice.
“You strike me as the real power in command here.” I admit, wasting no time.
She chuckles, pride and vanity filling her eyes and voice. “Pan doesn’t want anything to do with politics. The only thing that’s changed is his ass is on the throne. He’s perfectly happy toiling in the fields and working with his hands, if it means the land is restored to its former abundance. Unlike him, I care about our people.”
Now that he has nothing left to fight for, he’s perfectly happy to play puppet.
“And you’re still pulling the strings.”
“I’m rather good at it. Kept this place together through a decades long famine, and fended off Sylvan’s snatchers.” Vivvus pauses, bright flashing eyes studying the meadows below us. “Pan didn’t give me much of a choice, when he came back.” Vivvus pushes out a breath, holding her elbows and looking uncomfortable. She is just as trapped as he is. Bound by the Aether of the land and duty to their people.
“I have a favor.”
She steps closer and her short pointed ears flick, I notice the brunette fluff is coiled, just like her hair. “I’m listening.”

Chapter – No, and that’s final. (Fluffed the meeting scene and in the woods.)

Novak whistles low from his place at the table, then steps away for a moment. The russet female Satyr finds Novak’s company and the two talk off to the side. I wonder how many Satyr he grew up with in the North, if they perhaps know each other. Satyr aren’t immune to aging as Fae are, but they can live be to hundreds of years old.
Orion and Alvis straighten simultaneously, towering dark sentries on either side of me. I attempt to pull on my best Keeper of Death mask, but I’m tired. I rub my face before speaking pointedly to Leah. “I take this quite seriously. The true High Lord of Iron fought for what was right, forsaking his entire country, to save your kind.”
Leah and her companion’s gaze lower, the people of Borealis know full well what was sacrificed for their freedom. I strengthen my stance and voice, filling it with confidence.
“I will not let his brat of a daughter destroy everything Knothall and Rohana fought for. I will not allow that to be their legacy. We need every bit of help we can get, I’ve seen her power firsthand. We have no allies, you’ve said so yourself, Thornton, that your mother cannot risk her people. I cannot say that I blame her. Haven’t you lost enough, haven’t we all lost enough?”
The young Prince with Leah stares me down with fury, but doesn’t argue. Queen Agaleth is his mother, and I would be afraid to face down Eros too, especially with no Aether. The tribal white markings of his people are painted down both his sharp tawny cheeks, smooth hazel hair is tucked behind rounded ears. He raises his chin, then subtly nods.
Every face is watching me, Novak stands beside Vivvus again with a proud smile.
“I have a plan to get the essence of Iron, and Sylvan. None of that matters though, not if we don’t trust each other a little and have a little hope.” I lock eyes with everyone in the room for a moment before continuing in a worried whisper. “If we don’t do that, what is the point of saving everyone? If we’re just going to keep killing and hurting for the sake of power and magic, we should be wiped off the map. Why bother to live in a world where you can’t love freely? Not only that, but to live in a world where most don’t even know the true history of their people.”
Everyone nods or voices agreement quite boisterously, and even Aiden’s broad face is upturned into a small devilish grin. The tedious meeting has been brought to a clear moment of truth. We have all loved and lost. It’s time for the bloodshed to be over, to love each other and put away petty things. Vivvus locks eyes with me and I nod to her. The next step. The second in command holds up her hand and passionate conversations are silenced.
“I believe you, Keeper of Death. We still need to be prepared if all else fails. One moon cycle for you to complete your mission, and for us to prepare for a possible third war, that’s all we can spare. If Eros continues to take power on your journey, there will be nothing left for you to save.”
“Agreed.” I nod, Orion and Alvis are still vigilant at my side. Novak watches the twins and something like pure love fills his being, his charcoal aura so light I can hardly see it.

The air rushing through my hair as I stand on the helm with Captain beside me, the twins bickering on the deck below as Novak plays his lute in the crows nest above. Dinners filled with laughter and wild tales are waiting, and I can go on heroic adventures and redeem myself like the twins have. I’m going to get all of us there again, somehow. My hopeful thoughts are interrupted after a moment, doubt crawling in.
I have no idea if the ancient vents in these lands will give me the essence I need. Trihewyn said I had to ask the Ancients of the land, do I really need the royalty of courts to accompany me when I do that?
I don’t know if my plan will work at all, loopholes in faerie deals are tricky things, and I’m risking so much.
Maybe they’re right, and I’m wrong. Even so, the alternative is too sickening, even for my tastes. The vial strung on my neck has grown heavier these past few days and suffocates me at times, reminding me of a collar more than a necklace. I can’t imagine what it will feel like full, and the thought terrifies me. That is, if I even get that far.
Perhaps the Ancients didn’t choose right, I’m not who they think I am. After all this time, I will prove to be nothing. The female in my head has been quiet since I reached out and I never got a chance to look at the illustration with Novak. The Ancients spoke of a ‘Lady’, perhaps that’s a start. My eyes are still closed when leaves crunch, twigs snapping under too much weight to be my companions. I inhale deep, forcing my racing heart to calm.
“Not changing my mind, so kindly fuck off.” I grumble, keeping my eyes closed.

“I ask you, High Lord of the Terra Court, and spirits of Earth, to bestow me with a part of the essence gifted to these lands. I do so in gratitude, and great need.” Pan’s pale green aura explodes into an emerald storm at once, swirling around us with instantaneous ferocity. I inhale sharply at the sight of the micro burst. The terror in Panrauth’s wild eyes matches my own, but the realization strikes much too late.
It’s too much, I can’t handle it.
The hurricane of Earth magic lifts rocks, dirt and small plants from the ground with ease, a foreboding pause has everything hovering in the air around us for torturous seconds. A thunderous crack rips through the sky above as all airborne objects slam to the ground. The force is simultaneous with the crackling cloud of green that thrusts into my ears, eyes, nose and mouth with such a force my body is torn apart from inside out by the manic Aether ricocheting inside. A scream escapes me, then is cut abruptly cut off.
Sense of the world fades away and I tumble down, Panrauth’s eyes filled with panic is the last clear scene I have. Rough hands attempt to extract me from the thick glacial underwater world I find myself in, though the substance is viscous like oil. Muffled, angry voices are above the surface, it sounds so terrible there. The weight on my neck is stronger and firmly tugs me out of the grip from now multiple sets of hands gripping to me for dear life, offering to drown me and take me away.
I will miss them all so much, Novak especially. I can’t deny that I’m thankful the fighting has ended so I can feel what true peace is like. I don’t have to hurt anyone now, no betrayals need to be committed.
“It’s not your time yet. I need you.” The Lady’s familiar voice floats around me in the slippery cold dark, an ice cold grip gently takes my wrist and lifts me from the soft and warm silt bottom.
“I’m tired, do I have to?” I protest, having just settled down into the most comfortable bed down there.
“I’m afraid so. All will be explained in good time, little one. You will be able to rest soon, your journey is almost finished, then I shall ensure you will find a peaceful life.”
“Will you tell me who you are?”
“You will find out soon enough, my dear.”
A new type of darkness sweeps through the sea, immediately lifting me out of the cold place, bringing warmth and dangerous love with it.

Chapter – Don’t trust me. (Lyth tells Novak about the plan.)

Novak obeys, crossing to the ancient tree, perhaps the oldest in the clearing. With a twitch of his fingers a tendril of shadow extends. The letters L and N silently burn into the bark, surrounded by a heart. “How’s that, my lady?” He asks and gives me a dramatic bow, throwing hair from his eyes after he rises.
“You are much more powerful than you let on.” I state matter of factually, drawing surprise from him. I need his help, whether I like it or not, which I absolutely don’t. “I need to tell you something.”
He sits cross legged in front of me and takes my hands, his bright eyes reflecting the double moons leaking through the canopy above. “What is it?”
“Do you trust me?” I ask, guilt lumping in my throat.
“You know that I do.” Novak squeezes my hands tight, and his thick fluffed ears perk as he tilts his head. I tell him everything I’ve been planning thus far, and his once soft face tightens as secrets release into the suddenly thick atmosphere between us.
Well, nearly everything. Unfortunately, I will have him to hurt him by the end of this, too. Silence lingers in the air for minutes after I’m done speaking, but his eyes do not leave mine once during this conversation, nor do they darkened even a shade. His hands did retreat from mine after I revealed the height of my manipulation, as I expected them to.
“You cannot tell the others Novak, do you understand this?” I ask in a fatal tone I’ve never used with him before, and he still doesn’t say anything. His eyes desperately search mine for the person he’s come to know on this journey, but instead he only finds the Keeper of Death. “I cannot think of any other way to get the essence, I have to betray them.”
“He will never forgive you for this.” Novak warns in defeat as his hands clench into fists. I am the one to break our long held stare and he draws his knees up to his chest, fingers desperately gripping his shins. Hot tears escape my eyes and I bury my face in my hands, grieving the friendship I’ve come to treasure. Sadness splashes onto the cherry blossoms under my hunched over figure and even though I don’t deserve it, I wish Novak would hug me.
“I don’t expect him to.”

“When we turned of age, Alvis and I were forced into a blood bond with our father. The first time he caught our mother conspiring against him.”
Oh no. I step out of his embrace, blood frozen. Rain pours all around us, closing in on where we stand. “Neither of us can so much as harm him, or conspire to. The only two Fae who might be able to, and we can’t. We weren’t able to leave without consequences, and by doing, so we killed our Mother.” Shame fills his voice and he focuses on the muddied ground, both of us drenched now in the downpour.“Do you love Alvis?”
My heart stops and I cross my arms, my loose hair pressed to my body. “You know how I feel about Novak. You were the first to know, everyone knew before I did. Why would you even ask that, Alvis loves Novak.”
Orion steps closer to me, then rests a hand on my shoulder. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“Does it matter?”
“You know just as well as I do my brother will be whatever you want him to be, and do whatever you ask him to do. He loves both of you.”
Tears stream down my face, mixing with pelting raindrops. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I’m right, and I know there is a part of you that loves him. He tries to hide it from me but it’s so hard not hear every single thought he practically shouts in his head about you, and he can’t contain his thoughts about Novak like he used to either. You’re going to need him.”
His words break me and I collapse into Orion, sobbing into his chest as I clutch handfuls of his cloak. I know what he’s doing. I can use my own feelings, and his, to my advantage.
He’s planning on taking the fall.

Water and Fire – Part 5

Captain; circa 15,870 A.C
“I’ve seen a future, dear Brier. The day you were born your potential legend was burned into my memory, and I’ve waited a long time to see if it would come true.” The quaking aspen of a Wild Fae warns, and I shudder.
“Potential legend? You just said you saw my future.”
“I saw one of them. Destiny is not some woven thread we cannot unravel or change. Our fate is a pliable connection with thousands of other souls and decisions, each person we meet and choice we make determines where we will land in the stars. In the end, it depends on you.”
“You share a prophecy with a few chosen Fae, and you will be the first to hear it. Find the weapon you can not wield, he shall reign, and you shall walk with the poet who becomes a king. Brace for the fall,”
The Wild Fae inhales deeply, the air in my own lungs is caught by gusts of thick wind filled with forest debris. “I should not tell you this, but you shall have to betray the one you love most, for this future to unfold.”

Chapter – It was brilliant. (Detailing the Nafshyi)

I have now learned of the atrocities my friends have seen, and committed. Years before they escaped, Alvis tracked down Water and Air Fae who possessed any mind bending abilities, and Orion experimented on them. Dissected them, stole their Aether and meshed magic in ways that brought about new abilities, in those that survived, that is. The mad scientist and his lackey, dutifully creating brainwashed psychic soldiers for their father, their work spanning a decade before Novak and Captain arrived.
The Nafshyi soldiers are now my responsibility, a new breed created after the twins escaped. Although I have insisted on not making any decisions for the High Lord, I did make it my business to have the lab and it’s warehouse of preservation chambers to be entirely destroyed. The abused and traumatized soldiers withdrawing from the mind altering drugs from Typhan are not so easily fixed, but at least Orion will never have to set foot in there again.
The only thing that kept them here and enacting such horrors was the promise Typhan made to keep their mother alive. In the end though, they couldn’t do it anymore.
I push away thoughts of Alvis and straighten the fabric clinging to me. The Court has requested I adopt their formal dress code, making my stay here the longest I have consecutively worn dresses. Something about being less threatening. I’m itching to wear my tunic and breeches again, the familiar belt of leather pouches saddling my wide hips. After the destruction I unleashed though, I can’t disagree very much.
“I cannot say that I blame her, but she didn’t even take you up on your offer to live in Terra?”
“Charis is a hero to the lesser population here. Two nights before you came, she was caught sneaking human children through a hole in the wall.” Vivvus explains. A Queen betraying her King, like Alvis’ mother did. The image of a red headed boy with blood pouring from his broken head flashes in my mind, immediately sending my heart racing as shame warms my body.
I shake my head and enter the grand study. Bookshelves stretch from floor to ceiling around the room’s edge, and the glass tables scattered around behold the books we’ve been pursuing through most of the morning. So much history, hidden away from the public in this forbidden library since the second war. I caress the open book I have been studying, my fingers resting on Knothall’s name. Definitely no Book of Teachings, but vital information is waiting to be shared. I make no mention of my own studies to anyone, not even Novak, adding scraps about the Fallen to the page from Trihewyn.
“How are the history lessons going?” I ask Vivvus who rolls her eyes, elegance gone as she huffs into a turquoise upholstered lounge chair.
“Sylvan Court is quite opinionated, they are working with us though, whether they like it or not. Purist stragglers keep making appearances, but they will be taken care of.” She pauses, tapping the arm of her chair. “We’ll find the remaining Nafshyi, Lyth.”
I nod, the thought of brainwashed and abused mind soldiers loose upon Iverbourne is a chilling one. About a dozen fled last night, ones I couldn’t reach, too far gone to hear reason, too hurt to realize who the real enemy is. The remaining Fae will take time to heal, but they aren’t feral.
Every fiber in my being is exhausted, the shadows that once hardly escaped now threaten to leave all the time, offering to cradle me into an unending sleep. I have no idea how Novak does it, battling what’s trapped inside him every day.
“You know, when you asked me for a favor, I had no idea it would come to this.” Viv’s musing words draw me closer and I settle in the chair opposite her.
“Why did you listen then?” I snort. Viv shrugs, checking her nails.
“You were right, about everything.” She chuckles after a moment, eyes locking with mine. “Besides, any reason to leave beats being Pan’s keeper any longer.”

Chapter – You’re good for business. (Alvis and Lyth’s conversation, Emeric is invited this time, fluffed up the party scenes.)

“I have never wanted this power, it’s done nothing but bring me pain, and…” Alvis’ brows narrow as his eyes lower to our hands joined on the mattress between us. “I know it’s selfish, but, I don’t want to be High Lord. I don’t want to be anywhere near this place. I know Orion doesn’t either, but at least he’s suited to this life, he was made for this.”
One of my hands leaves his and I gently pet his clean, albeit untrimmed and wild hair. “I have always admired you, even when you tried to scare me away in the tavern that night, all I could think is I wanted to be like you. I thought if you could leave the life of villain behind, perhaps I could too.”
Alvis’ eyes lift and connect with mine, a soft smile pulling up one side of his scarred face. “You have terrible taste in role models.”
We both laugh, and after our happiness fades, I squeeze his hand tight. “Did you really not know?”
Alvis releases my hand and brushes hair away from my face. “I didn’t know what to think, but when you kissed that mazzikin, I knew you were up to something. At the very least, I knew you were trying to piss the Tzel off, and that had to be for only one reason. I didn’t even want to think of it, for chance of messing it all up, for Orion hearing it.”
“I didn’t know what else to do. Am I a monster, Alvis? For letting that out, for doing that to Novak? Even if it got rid of another monster?”
Alvis ponders, his faint heartbeat skipping in my ears. “To some perhaps, but I know better, if that counts for anything.”
“Of course it counts.” I say, heat rushing my cheeks as a glimmer of light flickers in his eyes keen on my lips. I’m almost brave enough to ask what Orion saw between Novak, Alvis and I, but it doesn’t matter now. There’s not enough time left, I don’t need to break any more hearts than I have to. I steer the conversation in a different direction, surprising him.
“Did you love Umber?”
Alvis sighs, running a hand over the long part of his frizzed coils. “Umber was a good friend to me, after Novak left. We saw each other through the years, but then we were apart for a long time. Meeting you in Echo, that was the first I had seen her in awhile. She was so, different.” Alvis’ voice trails off, eyes glazing. “But no, she’s not the Fae I love.”
I ponder his words, speaking with softness. “In the Mountain, she was my best friend, always knew what to do. After we left though, she wasn’t the same Fae I thought she was.”
Alvis’ dark purple eyes stare into my own, his lips trembling for a moment before asking the question I have been asking myself. “Do you think she did it on purpose?”
“I don’t know, but it’s been on my mind. She was too smart to act the way she did, to make whatever grand demand that pissed the Ancients off.”
“It doesn’t matter now anyway, she’s gone.” Alvis sighs, then smiles sadly. “She would be proud of you.” I smile, thinking of the last time I saw my true friend, dancing in that tavern to Novak’s music. All of us together, we were really happy.
Alvis and I lie together for a while in silence, foreheads pressed and bodies kept a small distance apart. My eyes rest, one of my hands is tangled with his while he pets my hair. A recurring thought bubbles to the surface. “You deserve to be happy, Alvis, both of you do. Help Orion do good, you don’t have to be in power to do that. Just be there for him.”
“You do too, you know, deserve to be happy.” He retorts quietly. When I don’t answer, his dark hand gently cups my cheek, lifting my glistening eyes to his. His arching dark brow is lifted, and he gives me a knowing stare.
“I am happy, when I’m with Novak. He has a tendency to be so damn cheerful when the world is going to shit.” I chuckle, thinking of Novak playing his lute, and Alvis agrees. My face falters as I remember the nightmare I released, and the fact I haven’t heard him play in so long. “I’m just tired, I’m not sure how much more I can take, Al.” I clutch the vial in my hand, my voice fading. “It gets heavier every time.”
Alvis takes the necklace from me carefully like he did in the throne room and I breathe in fresh air for the first time in ages. Alvis remains silent, listening with patient intent. “What if when it’s full,” my chest heaves with the truth I’ve hid from Novak, from myself, “What if I don’t make it?”
Alvis fingers tighten around the vial and his knuckles blanch, then he gently releases the necklace as he inhales. “I assume since you’re still going, you haven’t told Novak. Do you plan on going alone?” He asks, voice thick with a rumbling, primal tone.
“You have to be there for him, Al, if I fail.” I beg, and my broken voice pulls his scars with worry.
“Lyth,” Alvis protests quietly, “you cannot expect me to keep this from him, he loves you-”
“You tell him, and I tell Orion what you did.” I catch my tears and turn serious, interrupting him. My words cut through him, his once worried face now laced with hot anger. “You heard Orion, neither of them will let me go on, you know it’s our only chance for anyone to live. Even with the lands united, I don’t think it’ll be enough to fight Eros. I need you to help me, and Novak. I can’t,” I shudder, hiding my face into his chest as I clutch his plain tunic, “I can’t do this alone. Promise you’ll love him for me, please.”
The last word hangs in the stuffy air under the blankets. Alvis nods after a moment, and folds my entire body tight to his while I break. Tears of relief roll down my cheeks, I can accept my possible fate, say it out loud. Alvis doesn’t argue, he knows I’m right.
I don’t have another choice. Lesser Fae are disappearing by the hundreds and humans in Terra and Sylvan have fully evacuated to Borealis. Armies are staging in the allied north, ready to take on the combined territories of Iron, Hallowed and The Others. Iverbourne’s earth has shriveled, burning in the relentless drought that began when Pan and I escaped.
Not to mention if Eros gets hold of the loose Nafshyi, she will have another advantage. The more I learn about the Nafshyi, the more I think Eros is the same type of Fae. A mix of two different types of Aether, forming a dangerous, mutant power. At the very least I hope they don’t come back here, to exact their revenge.
“I promise, Lyth.” Alvis’ quiet words meet me after all of my sadness is released. “I’m right here, no matter what, I’ll be right here.”

“There are lots of colors out there, you should be proud.” Novak kisses my forehead. I give him a half smile and scan the bustling crowd further. “I think I even saw a certain Fire Fae.”
“Really?” I grasp his sun spotted arm tight, then glance at Orion who is beaming at my excitement. Vivvus just looks confused, pouting at her ignorance.
“Really.” The melodic voice of Captain rings from behind me. My heart flutters when I face her and Emeric standing together, the tall Fire Fae waiting in her leather and lace pirate regalia. Her porcelain face holds the usual sly grin and I throw my arms around her, she returns the embrace tightly. A sigh of relief escapes, my chest falling unsteadily. We are all back together again.
“You’re good for business kid, can’t deny that I missed you, though.” Captain pats my back, then takes her feathered hat back with a wink. Orion and Emeric are entangled in a passionate embrace, as High Lord he must not be concerned with who sees their love here.
Novak hugs Captain tight when I leave her side, his knuckles blanching from clutching her leathered shoulders so tight. I stand beside Vivvus and provide privacy to the tear filled reunions, glistening joy filling my own eyes. Exactly how I hoped it would be, and for a moment, everything is worth it. Time pauses though when Captain pulls back from Novak and spies Vivvus.
The air is charged with hot electricity as she drinks in her beautiful figure like the first glass of water after a long day in the deserts of Echo. Captain floats towards us and takes Viv’s delicate green hand gently, only to yank the Earth Fae tight against her body. Captain’s hungry thin lips are close enough to kiss the plump dark burgundy of Vivvus. Captain’s simmering orange eyes burn from under her hat as she looks Viv up and down quite slowly. Viv raises her sharp chin with flashing bright emeralds as she attempts to look rather unimpressed, but she doesn’t push Captain away.
I grin, glancing at Novak who can’t veil his joy at the sight. Orion blushes, his hand tangled with the handsomely dressed Emeric beside him. Emeric smiles at me, he looks much older with his brunette hair swept back and such a fine suit adorning his soft figure. The suit matches Orion’s perfectly, I wonder how Vivvus had it made and sent to him so quickly. She is truly a miracle worker.
Captain’s arching black brow raises as she kisses the top of Vivvus hand, and she asks her the only question that matters. “And who might you be, little princess?”
Captain’s siren song possesses Viv. The warrior Princess grabs a fistful of black hair and thrusts her mouth onto the pirate’s waiting smile. Red and green auras meld so intensely it’s like a coal forge has exploded before us, setting my heart ablaze in an instant.
“I wish you could see this.” I take Novak’s hand, exhaling a deep breath as my heart pounds. “They’re mates.”
The power from their bond pulsates around us, thrumming my ear drums. Novak proudly watches Captain scoop Viv up in a swift move, and I smile. I wonder how long she’s been alone for, the happiness on his face tells me it’s been a long time. The lovers leave in a flurry of passion, and the remnants of their joined Aether lingers around us.
Orion sweeps an arm around Emeric’s shoulder, using his other hand to push up his glasses and rub his face. I would’ve thought all that Aether would’ve healed his eyes, but some things just can’t be fixed. “What just happened?”
Novak chuckles as he pulls me back to his thundering chest, handsome dimples showing. He rests his chin on my head, having to lean over a bit. “It appears our dear Captain has found her mate.”
“Great, let’s add another troublemaker to the family.” Orion drawls, but the lines in his eyes are pulled up. I snicker, letting out a long laugh I cannot reel in.
“We are the most dysfunctional family ever.”
My friends find humor in my dark sentiment, unable to contain their own joy, even after Alvis joins us. Confusion wears on his thin face, his scarred brow arching as he takes in our state. At his side, the Hero of Sylvan clings to his arm with her tight face held high.
Charis looks alive. She is clean with a warm glow to her skin, and her hair is cut evenly to her scalp. The injuries on her face are healed and her violet eyes flash with Aether once more. She wears a flowing lilac gossamer gown, the only sign of her weakness are the trembling hands around Alvis’ thick arm. I learned from Viv that Charis and Alvis used to cause quite a bit of trouble together, childhood best friends.
“Did I miss Lyth becoming funny?” Alvis taunts. Orion’s laughing subsides long enough for him to lock eyes with Alvis, which in turn releases a deep rumble echoing from the warrior through our circle. Charis’ cheeks warm as she watches Alvis, a small smile quirking up her pink lips.
“You know it’s rude to not share with the class.” Novak teases the twins.
“Yes, well, it’s much faster this way.” Orion says nonchalantly as he kisses the top of Emeric’s head. Emeric smiles up to him, eyes flashing red. Charis breaks away from Alvis, causing the group to fall silent.
“You look lovely tonight.” I offer as she walks right up to me, and my lungs pause when she throws her arms around my neck. For the first time in my life, I hug someone smaller than me. Not only in stature, but she is so thin my muscled arms wrap right around her. I curve over and hold her with care.
“I couldn’t have done it better myself.” She whispers into my chest, her shaking voice full of anger. When she doesn’t let go, I nod to Novak who insists the twins show him their fancy new thrones. Alvis’ haunted gaze lingers for a moment, and then he decides she is indeed safe with me. There aren’t any thrones here, and I wonder if they’re really going back to the castle. Those bastards better not leave me in this party alone.
After they’re gone, I speak confidently in a low tone. “You’re quite brave, you know. I heard what you did, what you’ve done your entire life. I will forever be in debt to people like you, you remind me what I’m fighting for.”
Charis looks up from my embrace with surprise, then wipes her tears away. She takes a step back and smooths out her dress, then speaks softly. “I believe hope is the word you’re looking for, Lythienne. That’s all I wanted to do, bring hope to those trapped here.”
Her words make me think of Panrauth at once, what I said to him long ago in the Pit. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
Charis lingers at my side for a while, quietly filling me in on the Fae she recognizes and the dramatics of Sylvan. When I spy the High Lord of Terra entering with his brother, I decide there is one more thing I want to do before the end.
“Excuse me, I have to visit an old friend, would you like me to find Alvis for you?” I scan the party but don’t see the twins, or Novak. Just unending finery and happiness, no societal barriers present, and I’m glad I reached out to the lower classes and invited them personally.
Novak, Vivvus and I ‘redistributed’ some of the castle goods to the lower and middle class in secret on the fourth day here, high quality clothes and food stores that were in overabundance. We went door to door and after necessities were dropped on the doorstep of very surprised Fae, I invited each household to join us and meet the new High Lord.

Chapter – Don’t leave me behind. (Lyth and Captain’s conversation)

“I need to ask you something.”
“What’s on your mind?” Captain leans on the grand steering wheel, glowing red eyes peering at me from under her feathered hat. We are alone, at last. I rest on the railing beside her and watch the ocean disappear behind us, taking in a breath of sea air before speaking.
“How did you meet Novak?” The heat of the day glares off the vicious waves brewing below. A rainstorm is coming, after all this time. Captain smiles and raises an arching brow. She sets the steering mechanism and faces what we left behind, with me.
“We’ve been friends for quite a long time. The first crew member I hired when I got this beast going, but we knew each other long before that. One day my father and I visited Dew Falls, which back then was a big deal for Fire Fae. When we landed at their airport, a pathetic looking skinny thing was picking a fight with some bullies.” She chuckles, eyes glazing over with memories. “With no family and no where to go, he came with us. The rest is history.”
“I didn’t realize how long you’ve known each other.” I remark, fingers fidgeting. “How did he end up leaving, and coming back?”
She nods, knitting her fingers together. “We’ve been through quite an ordeal, that’s for sure.” With a pushed out breath, she continues. “The twins had been on for a year, Novak and Alvis …”
“I already know, that they were together.” I say with a smile and she nods.
“That year was the best this ship ever had, they were so happy. Then Novak met his mate, having no idea she was already married to an old human friend of his, a fact she neglected to mention until after the bond set.” Captain’s voice is filled with disgust, her eyes softened with sadness.
“And he just left Alvis, and you?” I ask, unable to fathom Novak leaving the ship or Alvis just like that.
Captain nods, biting her cheek. “None of us understood it, that female, she was just … the complete opposite of Novak, but Alvis was right there, watched their connection snap across the room. I’m sure by now you know how Al is, he gave Novak an out, he understood what it would be like to be without your other half. He just wanted Novak to be happy, even if it wasn’t with him.”
I turn my eyes down at Captain’s words, I didn’t realize how much Alvis has suffered, right from the beginning. I remember what Alvis told me, how Umber was there for him after Novak left. I groan and rub my face. “Tell me what happened.”
Captain removes her feathered hat, crimson aura darkening while she brushes dirt off the oilskin. “I had just landed in Vabel, the village nearby where they were staying. Alvis had been on a bender for months, and Novak was the only person I could think of to get him out of it.” Captain’s whispers crack and she wipes a tear from her porcelain face.
“Sage traveled her and Mav there, both distraught and her magic drained,” I watch her face falter with her voice, “it wasn’t just your run of the mill asshole Purists. They were personally trained by Typhan himself. Those Nafshyi you’re worried about? They are mild compared to the things that took that poor kid’s magic.”
A lump forms in my throat and I rub at the headache brewing on my right temple. The only thing Vabel is remotely near is Arca Hallow, which was hundred of miles away. “Why didn’t you tell him? Novak thinks they just took off.”
Captain shrugs, putting her hat back on. “They spent a week together before Mav came calling, and when he showed up, she acted as if nothing happened between her and Novak. Kid thought it was a good idea to stick around, even if it meant stuffing his feelings down. Perhaps the only good thing she did was make it easy for him to let her go. In the end, it didn’t matter anyway.”
“So, you sent the twins then?” I ask, already knowing the answer. She nods, lips tightening into a thin line.
“Yes. Novak had been off the crew since, well, since finding Sage. As far as he knows, I was in the right place, at the wrong time. After the Tzel moved in, it took all of Alvis’ energy just to keep him sane and fight the beast when it appeared, I didn’t wind up telling Novak anything.”
The wrong time, too late to stop Tzel from destroying an entire town, murdering hundreds of people in it’s anger at being trapped. I highly doubt Captain could’ve done anything to stop him, but then again, she is powering a hulking pirate ship through the air.
“He told me they were mates, but she still pushed him away like that?” I pause, shaking my head, unable to finish the sentence.
“You can reject a bond, but it’s painful. Sometimes I wonder if that’s what did it.”
“Did what?”
Captain peers over her shoulder, red eyes darting back and forth. We are still alone on the helm. Color fills her porcelain cheeks for the first time since I’ve met her, they didn’t even flush when she was crying. “Years after them being separated, Sage became so ill, not even Aether could save her. It was long and brutal, she withered right before Mav’s eyes.”
“Novak never saw her again?” To have experienced all that pain through a rotting bond, it’s a wonder Novak ever smiles at all.
“In the end, she told Maverick everything. He thought the kid could help her, they made it halfway back.” She sighs, flames dancing in her eyes while she stares at me. “The Tzel broke out when it happened, and he nearly killed Mav. That’s who he visits, in Cervalis. Mav has a family now, and never had hard feelings, even after finding out.”
“And have you ever met Tzel?” I ask and she raises a brow at my wording.
“Face to face, once. Alvis, that was his job.” She closes her eyes, aura shuddering. “You should’ve seen him when he came back and you were gone, in Cervalis. At first it was just the kid, pacing and yapping incessantly.” My breath pauses, thinking of him losing his mind in Hallowed after finding out about Umber. “All these years together, he kept it hidden away from me. But, there was a moment when I looked into his eyes, and pure death stared back. At first I couldn’t understand it, but the thing wanted it’s-”
“Lady. He refers to me, as My Lady.” I push out the words and shoot Captain a solemn look, gauging her initial reaction. She leaves my side to gaze upon Novak below, a chuckle escaping her when Viv swats him over the head for eating. Silence fills the helm for another moment. I shift closer and lean into her twitching, black tufted ear.
“I think he’s a Fallen.” I whisper.
Captain’s usual composure disappears, her head turning on a swivel. “What did you just say?” I study her broken facade, catching worry and fear in her sharp beauty.
“I’m just beginning to understand us. I gave Orion everything I have, just in case.” My tight shoulders curl in, lungs struggling for air. I grasp the vial tight as the deck sways under me.
“Us?” Captain asks, voice tight. All I can do is nod and focus on not vomiting.
Captain takes hold of me, pulling me close to her. Oil in her hair and sea salt on her skin, the smell of my two favorite people beckons me to sleep. For a moment I rest, leaning my weight into her arms and forgetting the words I can’t get out. Viv’s calling voice pulls us apart. I give Captain a small smile and nod before leaving her.
Captain stops me, taking my hand firmly. “If what you say is true, not only will Novak never let you do this, but neither will the Tzel.”
She does know what he is, what I am. I swallow, shrugging her off.
“I know. I don’t have another choice, do I?”
Captain releases my hand, silence filling the void my question leaves. She tips her hat to me before we leave the helm together and join our family, silently answering my question.

Chapter – Quit being selfish. (Revealing who the spy was.)

The castle disappears and before I have a chance to register the change we are now standing in a blizzard. This memory is tainted as well, but not with excitement.
Loss, disappointment, and fear.
Familiar faces linger in the outskirts of Eros’ mind, one in particular I recognize. Lexeran. Eros is hidden in furs upon furs, with a young white wolf at her side. The pair stands by the dwindled company in the stone circle. Fae faces are hidden from the biting cold, but Lexeran’s thick ginger beard and figure is unmistakable, goggles hide his flaring eyes.
We have been searching for the elusive tablets for so long now, no one dares speak in fear of breaking the surreal moment. The note Mother left has been enough to keep me going, even through the doubt and loss along the way. So many friends, gone, and for what? I glance over to Lex, his gloved hands balled into fists. Mira gave her life for this, for my mother’s pipe dream.
A Fae steps forward from my side, pulling down her woolen hood and revealing tight coils of sapphire. She kneels, brushing snow from the ancient text carved into the towering stones, and the ominous words strike fear into everyone remaining in the company.
“When the end has come, find the one who lacks power, locked away in a hellish tower.
Take the leash, and we shall feast with every Fae, Human and Beast.
Only when Aether is one, can you have your true home.
Free the land, give up your right, beware of the two unite.
Forever they shall roam, cursed to have no known.
Love is worse, they can never find first.
Beware of those who fall, for they are the deadliest of them all.”
Mother Hewyn rubs her chin, contemplating the riddle. I snarl at the thought of another puzzle, pulling a hand through my snow filled hair. Perhaps Mother really did send me on a wild hunt, just another fucking clue.
“Now what? Another riddle? Another clue? I think Rohana was too far gone when she got locked away, Mother Hewyn. You’ve said it yourself, and I don’t know why you insist we keep going.” I gesture to the pacing blue haired Fae who is muttering the rhyme repeatedly. I march over, anger filling my face, and take the distracted female by her shoulders, shaking her into reality. “Umber, it’s time to call it quits.”
“We can figure this out, we can do this. Don’t give up now.” The thought of giving up after everything we’ve lost breaks my heart, but not as much as it must Umber’s. I pull my mate close, shielding her from the wind. Trihewyn discusses with the Satyr, but the goat creatures are just as clueless as we are. They didn’t even know this place existed, and it was right under their nose.
“It can’t all be for nothing.” Umber whispers, tears freezing on her cheeks.
“Umber, it is for nothing. All those two did was for nothing. They tried to save a world that isn’t worth saving, leashed to a god-damned Machine. We have to focus on,”
Trihewyn holds up a hand, silencing me immediately. “You just said it.”
“Leashed to the Machine.” Umber repeats in a daze, then pulls back, her silver eyes flashing. “It’s how we break the Eternal Machine.” Umber rushes away from me, drawing fury into my soul as I watch her hurriedly read the rhyme again. Trihewyn’s face glows, and others let out murmurs of surprise.
A land without the machine? Lexeran and I connect eyes, but his face is unreadable. I know he has ties to that place, and Knothall personally. Where does he stand on this?
“The world has gone to shit, so let’s wreak more havoc and break the Eternal? Do we even know what would happen?” I snap, the familiar burn of Aether filling my body doesn’t even hurt anymore, it’s comforting.
Silence fills the group, from my words though, not my power. The time to study and evaluate my nameless powers is over, and no is surprised anymore by my frustration fueled outbursts. No one here even considered such a thing like breaking the Eternal is the answer we’ve been looking for to unite Iverbourne. The idea it could be possible is terrifying, let alone the consequences.
Of course, I’m the only one who thinks of those.
Umber returns to my side and shakes out her snow filled sapphire hair, then pulls up her hood. “Maybe Rohana went in there for a reason, maybe all this time she knew, and that’s why she went there, to get inside information.” Even with the howling wind, her whisper strikes a chord in me. “Knothall is still there, he might know something.”
“I’ve told you, I don’t want to see him. Have you seen the desert eating away at my people?” I shout into Umber’s face, then shove the surprised Fae back into the snow.
Mother Hewyn travels across the space, landing in a flash of clouds, then rests a wrinkled hand on my hair covered shoulder. “Eros, control yourself.”
Snow swirls in a vortex around me and the wolf at my side snaps at Trihewyn. The Elder backs up, horrified at the sight of the white flames licking her granddaughter’s body. Well, that’s new. Umber is on her feet, clinging to Trihewyn’s side in horror at my state.
“The ancestral home of my people is called Echo Valley. The screams of starving children dying echo for miles across the barren jungle, devoid of life. And you’re telling me to calm down? This is a fantasy, I’m not having any part of it. It’s about time I picked up the shattered pieces you all left behind and actually did something about it, this is our reality, get used to it.”
A hurricane of snow takes the blue Fae’s mate away, leaving Umber and Trihewyn alone in the ancient wilderness with what remains of their battered company.

Prince of Sylvan

Adult Dark Fantasy Novella to the Eternal Machine

The novella Prince of Sylvan occurs 20 years before The Eternal Machine and focuses on Alvis’ years in Sylvan. This will contain spoilers for those who have not read Eternal Machine, though it can be read first. The Eternal Machine can be enjoyed without this novella but many clues and world building elements are exclusive to this story, and prepare you for Realm of Giants, book two.

Alvis is the preferred heir to the throne of Sylvan, a Fae court built on hatred and blood. High Lord Typhan pushes Alvis every day to murder his own brother and absorb his power, becoming an unstoppable weapon.

A lifelong blood bond will force Alvis to make a choice between his brother or mother, as he cannot disobey a command given by his father. Unlike most blood bonds, his can be broken, at the expense of his mother’s life.

Typhan is losing patience and soon his request will be a command, then Alvis will have to kill his kin by the sword, or a broken blood bond. Alvis decides he would rather take his own life than choose between his kin and live as a monster any longer, but a legendary Captain arrives with a troublesome first mate the Prince can’t keep out of his heart.

Friends, love and a whole new world waits outside their imprisoned court, but at what cost?
Blood, or sanity?

Excerpt from Prince of Sylvan
The Binding

“From this day forth, and until the day each of us die, we shall be bound by blood. Orion and Alvis cannot conspire to harm me in any fashion, or do so physically or by means of Aether. They cannot leave the walls of Silverbury unless I say so.” Typhan orders, his command tightening the Aether chains until they dig into my skin.

No, no. This can’t be happening.

“Furthermore, Yira shall be physically or verbally unable to organize any more of these foolish rebel groups, or smuggle any more Fae or Humans out of Sylvan.” A soft cry emits from Mother and she finally locks eyes with Orion and I, desperate violet eyes searching us for forgiveness.

We’ve known about her ‘crimes’, but they do not shame us. She has finally given up after centuries of fighting, that is where her guilt lies. I wish I could tell her to feel no such thing.

“And one more thing,” Typhan keeps his gaze on me, a smile playing at his lips, “You two, Orion and Alvis, will not be able to resist a command or order given by me, my word will be law. Dutiful sons, shall we say?”

“It’s servitude!” Orion barks, fighting against the bonds that are now almost entirely immersed into his skin, and all of ours.

“The blood bond can be broken if … ” Typhan holds up a finger and I narrow my brows, the whole point of a blood bond is that they can’t be broken.

“Hmm, let’s see, for example, dear Alvis, if you decide to disobey my command, a horrific and tortuous death would befall your Mother and Orion. Attempted assasination will earn you the death of her, and Orion. However, if you plan to escape, only your Mother will receive a fatal fate.” Elation fills his last statement, and I stare at him with stunned fury.

“And dear Yira, if you break your bond or ever attempt to leave me again,” Typhan grasps her chin firmly and pulls her face upwards, his smile fading into a snarl. “Both of your sons shall die, and your life shall be bound to mine, for all of our eternal life.”

“And you? You have no conditions?” I ask, tears falling without apology. Typhan smiles wide and tilts his head.

“I am not the traitor here, Alvis.” With an echoing snap, the vines settle into all of us, our blood bond permanently marked for all eternity, or until one of us breaks.

Prince of Sylvan is a dark fantasy with several content warnings related to fictional violence and trauma, please read the preface before beginning your adventure. 18+ audiences only.

Prince of Sylvan is free to all newsletter subscribers.

Thank you!

I am blown away by the response and the results from the first week of The Eternal Machine being released. Over 70 copies of digital and print versions of The Eternal Machine have been sold.

I’ve also had the book added to my local library and bookstore, which makes me happy beyond belief. I’ve had good reviews on social media and Goodreads, there has been one negative review on Amazon but that is inevitable.

If you’ve read the book I would really appreciate an honest review anywhere you feel comfortable. If you post a review on social media and do NOT tag me in it I will not engage, I want everyone to have a place they can review comfortably.

I’m hoping you enjoy the adventure, as a debut author I’m aware there are aspects I can improve but I hope you enjoy the story nevertheless. Realm of Giants is the next book in the series and releases in February.

Welcome aboard.

The Eternal Machine is a DARK Steampunk Fantasy, intended for audiences 18+.

Keeper of Death is quite a fitting name for a villain, and yet Lythienne finds herself as the only Fae who can save Iverbourne.

Born an Empty Fae, she is sent into the Eternal Mountain, a prison designed for the most malicious, blood thirsty and cursed creatures alive. Her crime, along with so many other creatures, is being Lesser than the grand High Fae who rule the divided lands abo

Aether rules Iverbourne, a whimsical land ravaged by long held prejudices, unkind to all those without magic. The Others are a mysterious court to the south, kidnapping and murdering all those on their path through the continent.

Only a Fae without Aether can wield the mysterious Harbinger, a weapon of mass destruction needed to defeat the epic evil taking over the realm. The elegant call of immense power corrupts most, especially those who have been mistreated.

Dangerous lust, high stakes adventure and loyal companionship are thrust into Lyth’s life, but can she be the Hero after playing the Villain for so long? After all, why would you want to save a world that wants to see you buried six feet under?

Perhaps this isn’t a hero saves the day story. Perhaps, this is the origin story of the Deadliest Fae alive.

Excerpt from The Eternal Machine

Hundreds of blood thirsty Fae eyes burn on me, and every step is carefully placed.

Lifting brass and leather goggles on a burgundy nest, I halt before The Machine. 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 the ladders leading 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 replacing death hanging in the air. Exhaust vents huff speckled night now, instead of the purple haze.

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

We are not in a place far away though. 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 is 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 meeting rock. Dull emeralds shine for a moment, his jaw tightening. My soft face brushes against his filthy cheek, my full lips meeting a pointed ear, a lover threatening sweet nothings. “Darling, what’s this?”

Explore the world of Iverbourne here and order your copy today.