Author's Note: Updated Sunday 30th March 2014.
Apologies for taking weeks to update. University life has been really busy and this chapter was quite hard to write for some reason. Please let me know what you think. Reviews are always welcome :)
Ariel knew that by leaving the party, he was breaking the terms of his agreement with Len but he knew he couldn’t endanger Terri. The way she had been looking at him since he had woken from whatever stupor he had been in for the past couple of weeks or so very much unnerved him. It spoke of trust. It spoke of love. He knew he deserved neither of these.
Carrying a gun to a party filled with students had not been an option, but he felt his trusty daggers strapped near his ankles. Rebecca’s twin swords, he reminded himself. He wasn’t nearly as apt with them as she was, but they would have to do.
“Len,” I don’t want any trouble, Ariel said.
Blackness practically poured out of Len’s eyes in that moment. He certainly wanted trouble. “This is my house, so you follow my rules,” Len said. “We had a deal.”
“That was my mistake. I don’t make deals with your kind.”
Len laughed then, a deep menacing thing of great vigour, as though he was being threatened by a gnat.
“By attempting to leave, you have broken the deal. I have every right to take my compensation. How about I make a start on that right now?”
Len’s eyes flashed silver briefly, before retaining their blackened state. He pursed his lips slightly a though he were about to start whistling, but instead, he sucked a breath. Ariel heard Terri squeal but forced himself not to look in her direction. Distractions had to be snuffed out. This girl was not his girlfriend. She was his assignment.
“I can play fire with fire too, Belenus,” Ariel stated. “Even mara’s have fears of their own.
In Ariel’s mind’s eye, he grasped onto the tapestry that was Len. The threads at the top were bland, as though he had once upon a time lead a mundane life. But that was a long time ago, and Ariel was clearly able to pick out when Len had been cursed to live his life as a fey. It was rare for mortals to be made into one of the fey, but it was possible.
Ariel picked at the already fraying seams— memories so dark that Len’s own mind had tried to wipe them for his own protection. He witnessed a dark-haired man, tied and gagged, left at the mercy of the fey in a darkened wood by his own brother. Sacrifices to the fey were a rare occurrence these days, but they were well known many centuries ago. The man wept as writhing shadows came for him, whispering his name in the black of night.
A part of Ariel felt sick to his stomach. How could one’s own brother betray the other to the Fair Folk? And mara’s no less. Some came in stallion form, neighing and whinnying as they galloped circles around their tribute. And all night, Len’s screams were heard as they fed from his essence, pulling out his darkest fears and forcing him to relive them.
And this is what Ariel did as Belenus stood with that ridiculously triumphant grin. Ariel dug even further into the recesses of Len’s mind and everything around him seemed to disappear. He faintly heard the mara’s muffled screams, but he was too lost in Len’s experience of his first Feed.
A rush of excitement pulsated through Ariel’s body as he lived through Len’s own fears and gluttonous Feed. The hesitation in young Len’s newly-made mara form had been quickly shattered by the hunger within. Guilt had surged through him even as he straddled the prone form of his sleeping victim.
Ariel felt the world around him tilt and soon enough, he found himself toppled to the ground. The residual excitement from Len’s own memories quickly abated as a blow landed to the stomach. It wasn’t good form to kick a man when he was down, but Ariel had never expected his opponents to play by the book.
Ariel rolled aside and got to his feet. The large fey that had previously stopped Terri and him as they attempted a quick exit advanced on him. All the while, Ariel was in a different place. Having had a taste of a mara’s appetite for fear, he knew he had to continue with the banquet that form Len’s fears.
Ariel delved into Len’s psyche once more, focusing on a faery child he had known long ago. The boy’s bright moss-coloured eyes was a vision of beauty, but this creature’s innocent appearance hid a darker nature. Ariel watched as a young girl approached a lake that Len used to visit. The girl was a friend of his it seemed. That fateful day nearly a century ago, the creature had approached the girl. Len ran for her, yelling his protests as the cherub faced youth offered to swim with the girl. She heard not Len’s warnings and accepted the offer. The faery child drowned her that day.
When Ariel blink he saw the faery crumpled to the ground not too far away from him. A small crowd had gathered outside to watch and were muttering amonst themselves. Somehow, Len had appeared in front of him. Ariel did not recall unsheathing his daggers or pressing them to the mara’s throat, yet there Len was, within his grasp.
“Belenus!” A voice roared. “Cease and desist this madness immediately.”
Len turned around for moment and it was all Ariel needed to plunge his dagger in the mara’s stomach. Len gasped and released his grip on Ariel’s neck. Ariel grabbed the Mara’s wrist, yanking his arm behind his back.
“Dammit Seanlaoch! You trying to get me killed?”
“You’re doing that perfectly on your own,” the figure replied. When he stepped into the light, Ariel saw Mark approach them. “Release my companion, and you have my word that no further harm will come to you or the girl.”
“And how can I trust you?” Ariel asked. “Why shouldn’t I just kill him now?”
A dangerous smile appeared on Mark’s face that instant. “Because your friend over there isn’t faring too well against my guard. All I have to do is say the word and he will sever her head. All in all I think this is a more than fair bargain.”
But how could that be? He had lain prone of the ground not a moment before. He had bled that fey.
“I want to hear you swear it,” Ariel said.
“I swear it,” Mark nodded. “Now please, release him.”
Apprehensively, Ariel did so and the other fey released Terri.
“I had everything under control, Sean,” Len spat. He appeared to be nothing more than a mass blackness on the pavement.
Mark —or Seanlaoch, as Len preferred to call him — kneeled on one leg in front of the injured mara, grabbing its shadowy hair. “I told you that it would be permissible to feed from the girl so long as you did not make a scene. I warned you not to cross paths with the Prince and above all else, I warned you not to do anything that might get you killed.”
“Get out of my sight. Now.”
The silver orbs went out like a light switch, and the shadows shimmered, then dissipated.
“My apologies for that. I asked him to keep you here so that I could speak with you, Prince.”
“Seanlaoch… That name is familiar,” Ariel stated.
“It had better be. If I’m correct, it still strikes fear in the hearts of many fey.”
“Only now superseded by Quinlan, that other King.”
“He’s reasonably harmless this side of the veil,” Seanlaoch shrugged. “Although he’d probably rip out the tongue of the person who referred to him as ‘the other King’.” Although that sounded like standard procedure to Ariel, it still caused him to tense his jaw and raise his head a little bit in defiance.
“Ariel, what’s going on?” Terri asked. The Prince turned his head towards her, and saw that the faery guard’s sword was beneath her chin, ready to slice open her throat.
I should have ended that fey. The dark thought didn’t even frighten him. But it was not his own thought. Murdering a fey in front of mortals would have been unwise, despite how many memories he could have altered at once. If Terri saw him in all his hideousness, then it would have jeopardised his assignment.
“Release the girl," Seanlaoch ordered. The guard complied, and Terri fell to her knees, tears cascading down her face. Ariel approached her, and pulled at his feet. “I must speak with you both, but not here.”
“And what makes you think that we will go anywhere with you?” Ariel asked.
“Because you and I have similar interests."
“You are of the Ivbal court, and I am of the Iabal court. We do not share common interests.”
“But we both share a common enemy,” Seanlaoch answered. “How long are you willing to put up with the tyranny that you were born into? Tell me you do not seek freedom from your King and I will leave you alone.”
“I am not a slave. I am prince of the Iabal Court and it is my solemn duty to serve its king and it’s fey.”
“You did not answer my question. Swear to me that you do not seek freedom from them and I will let you go, no questions asked. But the girl stays, regardless.”
“You swore you wouldn’t…”
“I swore that I wouldn’t harm her, not that I wouldn’t take her. Now answer the question.”
It was a simple enough question. Ariel knew he loathed the Iabal Court and its ways but admitting that in front of Terri to his father’s worst enemy could have serious repercussions. There was little chance that he was being overheard, but it was still paramount that he got Terri to tomorrow’s ball with as little fuss as possible. Barring that, he could simply force her.
“I do not seek freedom from the Iabal Court. I seek freedom for all Galatea, from the slavery of both courts. But most days, I seek oblivion. And now I’ve finally met the other faery responsible for it.”
Seanlaoch quirked a smile and glanced at Ariel up and down, as if only seeing him for the first time.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you too, nephew.”
Terri was beyond confused. The night had started off as a nice dinner date, and then it had become a party, then a fight to the death, and now it seemed that she and Ariel were going with the very people who had tried to kill them… voluntarily.
Ariel opened the car door for her and she stepped inside the black sedan. He followed shortly after her, with Mark and the other fey sat at the front. Seanlaoch, she reminded herself. His name was Seanlaoch, and he was meant to be one of the most dangerous faeries of all time.
The car started, and Ariel tried to take Terri’s hand to comfort her. She snatched it right back, and moved a little away from him. She was glad that he had saved her life but that would not excuse him from all the lies and secrets he had kept from her, especially when she had needed him most.
“Terri, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth but can’t you see that it was for your own protection?” he whispered to her.
“That is a pathetic excuse. Don’t you think it would have been better that I had known what I was dealing with? Maybe if I had had a way to protect myself, I wouldn’t have been so scared all the time. Do you know what it’s like to just sit there in your room, hoping that monsters won’t come and kill you?”
“Of course I do!”
“Then why didn’t you tell me the truth?”
“Are the love-birds fighting?” Seanlaoch asked. “Oh, don’t let me stop you, but I thought you should know that we have reached our destination.” Terri could hardly recall the car starting.
“Already?” Ariel asked.
Instead of replying, Seanlaoch simply opened his door and walked off into the darkness.
“Terri, I’m not entirely sure what he wants, but whatever you do, don’t trust him. The fey have a knack for twisting words to trick others.”
“So, kind of like you then?” Terri asked.
She expected him to look ashamed or apologetic but instead he continued to just gaze at her with those deep blue eyes.
“No, not like me. They are worse. They cannot speak untruths but they can distort things to make you think one thing, when they really means something else. They will manipulate anyone and anything to meet their own ends, even family. Trust me and I will do my best to get us out of whatever situation they try to force on us.”
Feeling a sudden heaviness on her shoulders, and a sickness in her stomach, Terri gave him a light nod and uttered a word of assent before exiting the vehicle.
The first thing that struck Terri was that they were in the middle of nowhere, and yet they had literally been driving for five minutes. A field stretched out before them, and they were surrounded by nothing but flowers and grass.
“Welcome to Asphodel,” Seanlaoch said.
“Asphodel,” Terri repeated. “Isn’t that a place in the underworld, in mythology?”
“Yes and no,” he replied cryptically. “You will find many wandering souls here, so keep close, but they shouldn’t be too much of a bother.”
“Why have you brought us here?” Ariel asked.
“I wanted to show you who you were dealing with, and vice-versa.” Seanlaoch closed his eyes— Mark’s eyes— and when he opened them again, his eyes were completely blackened. As if in a fantasy movie, Terri saw a hazy body step out of Mark, right foot first, with the rest of his body following slowly afterwards. Stood before them was giant of man with black skin and blue spiralling tattoos along his arms and on his face. Behind him, Mark collapsed to the ground and spasmed somewhat.
The creature ignored him, keeping its gaze at them as it gave a predatory smile.
“This is closer to my true form,” it stated. “but honestly, where are my manners?” Then it shifting into a more human shape. He shrunk a bit so that he was not as bulky and muscular, favouring a lean shape. His skin lightened significantly but the blue tattoos remained. Terri found it somewhat strange but relaxing that he was fully clothed in the same clothes as Mark.
“I came here so that I may show you my predicament and so that I can make you aware of yours.”
“Do enlighten us,” Ariel said. “Though it was pretty obvious that there was more than one soul residing in that body.”
“Ariel,” Terri cut in. “That body is Mark. What have you done to him?” She asked.
“He shall be fine,” the creature stated. It kneeled in front of Mark and checked to see that he was breathing. “My host will not suffer for this. Here in Asphodel, a world between worlds, we can survive as two separate entities whilst still tethered to one another.”
“Your… host?” Terri inquired. “Like, you’re possessing him?”
“Yes, essentially I am,” the fey admitted, showing no signs of regret. “He has served me well thus far but he is finite and I am eternal, and so I long for my former body.”
“What happened to it?” I
The faery scrunched his nose a bit as he answered. “I became something else, perhaps something I should never have been, but something certainly lesser.”
Why faeries seemed to like speaking in riddles was beyond Terri’s comprehension. Would answering a question in a straightforward manner kill him?
“Be that as it may, it gives you no right to take Mark’s body,” Ariel said.
Seanlaoch shrugged his shoulders, standing once more. “I cannot leave the boy now. For that he will suffer an ill-fated death and his time is limited as it is. But I did not bring you here to speak about the boy. We came here to discuss the courts.”
“What of them?”
“My dear brother— the fool that he is— is still meddling with powers beyond even his control. It seems as though he has not learned from past mistakes.”
“He is my king,” Ariel stated. “I do not question his methods.”
“Then why do you seek freedom for the Galatea? If you are content with your king, then why conspire against him?”
Ariel had no answer to that.
“Where do I factor into this equation?” Terri asked.
Seanlaoch gave her a broad, toothy smile. “You, my dear child, are in grave danger.”
“Yes, it seemed that way too when I was stolen away to a world between worlds by a creepy body-snatching fey.”
“I do not appreciate that tone, child. The one who seeks you will be your demise.”
“The only one here seeking me right now is you, and I certainly won’t be entrusting you with my safety.”
“Your protection is not warranted or needed, uncle,” Ariel affirmed. “If you attempt to take my girlfriend without her consent then you will sorely regret it.”
“I understand that you are bound to your king and that you cannot do much to directly conspire against him, but if you will not let me keep the girl safe, I ask that you do whatever it is within your power to not allow her to fall into the hands of the Iabal Court. There will be nothing but despair for her there.”
“Why?” Terri asked. “What do they want with me?”
“Nothing that will ensure your longevity, I’m sure.” The faery knelt to pick up Mark and then approached Terri and Ariel. Mark, the strong and outgoing Head Boy of their high school, looked nothing more than a damsel in distress in Seanlaoch’s arms. “The way of the Gemini will keep you safe. If no one else, trust your other half.”
“What are you talking about?” Terri asked.
“I betrayed my other half; the one who balanced me— my equal in all things and the one who I was destined to share eternity with. Do not forsake yours, for your existence will be nothing without them. He will protect you.”
Unsurprisingly, Terri was perplexed. She and Ariel were close, and in many respects she did consider him her other half, in a sense. But the earnest look in Seanlaoch’s eyes suggested something more than what they had. His words suggested some sort of divine order or something, like she would immediately know who this Other Half was when she met him. And worst of all, he suggested that no one else could be trusted. And if Ariel had ties with this dangerous faery king, perhaps he could be on the list of loved ones who would hurt her, just like the Stromkarl had forewarned.