Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: The City Burns
The city burns. Smoke, thick and black, wafts up leisurely into sky. Every other building is broken and cut into the sky like jagged teeth. The diamond-like twinkle of electrical lights still shine in some windows, but it is the orange flicker of flames sprinkled throughout the city that cast the shadows and warm the night. The mortals are already scurrying about like ants trying to scavenge what that they can from their smoldering city.They even have their helicopters flying about, the whopping sound of their spinning blades a constant drone above our heads. Say what you will about mortals but there's no denying they are a persistent little breed. A lot like ants, actually.
Her hands, cool even through the fabric of my shirt, run up my back and over my shoulders the moment before I feel her head press against my spine. "It's late," she murmurs. "You should be in bed. Why aren't you?"
I sigh. I love her. She is my light eternal, the star around which my whole existence revolves, but Savannah does not understand, can never understand. I shake my head.
She moves, her hands slipping back over my shoulders as she comes around to stand in front me, her arms coming to rest loosely around my hips. "Tru? Talk to me. Tell me. What's the matter?"
"The city is burning, lumina mea, and it saddens me."
"Does it?" She turns, pressing her back against my front, and looks out at the city. For a long, drawn-out moment, she doesn't say anything, keeping quiet while she studies the view intently. I wonder what she is thinking.
I know what I am thinking. I think...I know that We are responsible for this, perhaps not directly, but our actions, our plans and plotting, our ambitions and goals had set in motion the events that had lead here. Thousands have died and thousands more are dying; the mortals are tearing the world apart with their fear and anger. They want things to be like they were a year ago, when magic was just something read about in stories and monsters were just figments of their imagination. They want the world they knew, the world they understood, the world they thought was safe, and when they realized that was impossible they set about forcibly changing it back by purging the world of all things magical. Mortals are persistent creatures, yes, but, more often than not, they are idiots. Magic cannot be erased from the world with violence and bloodshed anymore than disease or blue eyes. What is more, Magic fights back, viciously, ruthlessly, mercilessly, absolutely. Magic does not simply lie down and allow itself to be targeted, to be erased, and Magic has the greatest weapon of all; the Fae.
"Tru, the mortals will rebuild, they'll bounce back. It's what they do. Rome, London, Chicago...cities burn, mortals mourn, maybe even weep, then rebuild. It's how this works."
Savannah laughs her happy laugh and, damn, I love that sound; so light and musical, like rain and windchimes. I wish she would laugh like this more often but...that is not who she is. She splays one hand against the window glass and I can see her smile reflected there. "Right now, the world is burning and the mortals are afraid, but a century from now? Two centuries from now? The descendents of these mortals will have accepted Magic and adapted; they will have learned and grown and become so much more. What's more, they will have accepted the Fae and become familiar with our wrath, our mercy, and our power."
"The Fae? Savannah, the Fae are hiding in their hallowed hills and behind their glamours, content to let the mortals kill each other right to the brink of extinction."
"Today, yes, but today they're lack the proper incentive to get involved. Tomorrow...tomorrow might be different."
A chill runs up my spine. I love my mate; a century and then some we've been together and she's as much the frustrating, intriguing, amusing enigma today as she was then. That being said, Savannah is still Fae; she's every bit as vicious, ruthless, merciless, and absolute as Magic itself. She knows what she wants and goes after it with a relentless and unwavering tenacity, regardless of what might get in the way or what collateral damage might ensue. It is frightening. Especially when you do not see, or even suspect, what game she is playing or what goal she is playing towards.
"What have you done, lumina mea?"
She shrugs. "You said it yourself, the Fae are content to hide and that doesn't work with what I need to happen. The mortals need to know about us, need to accept us, if my plan's going to work."
"The Fae will never reveal themselves so long as the Queens forbid it, lumina mea, and the Queens would never take that risk. Mortals...they do so love to poke the unknown with sticks, after all."
"I thought about that, Tru, but there's just no way the Fae can remain hiding if the plan's going to work. You know I'll take what precautions I can, especially for the Low Fae, but there's just no other way."
I shake my head. The implications here are huge. For millennia, the Fae, vampires, and werewolves have run their Courts, covens, and packs just beyond mortal perception. Yes, mortals had their legends and stories, remnants leftover from when the creatures of Magic last lived openly, but that is far from the same as seeing the living, breathing proof and being expected to knowingly share your world with them. Mortals had problems enough sharing the world amongst themselves.
"The Queens will not take the risk, lumina mea."
I have made her angry. Savannah huffs out a breath and pushes away from the window, storming across the room before spinning on her heel and stalking back. "I'm a Queen, Tru, remember? And besides that, I can pretty much guarantee that the Queens will indeed take the risk!"
"Oh, and why is that?"
Savannah snorts. "Push the right buttons, pull on the right strings, and you can pretty much get anyone to do anything."
I sigh, knowing already I am not going to like the answer to my next question. "And what is the right button to push, lumina mea, that would drive either Emer or Aoife to be so foolish as to disclose their Courts' existence to the mortals?"
Savannah bites down on her lower lip and looks away, her hair falling forward over her shoulder to veil her face. She looks torn between shame and determination and I understand. Whatever it is she plans to do, it is one of those things...one of those horrific, terrible, dreadful things that people commit knowing full well how dark the action is, but taking the greater good and the big picture as justification.
I go to her and take her in my arms. I know what sort creature my mate is, know the shade of her heart, and accept her as she comes. As far as I am concerned, that is what it means to be mated. Fortunately, Savannah feels the same way; it is not easy finding a girl who accepts a man prone to the occasional massacre. "Savannah? What are you going to do?"
"I've sent a wraith to kill Emer's son. I told him to make it seem like the mortals were responsible."
I frown. "I thought Brennus, as heir, was protected from death, same as you."
The Fae Courts, and the Fae themselves for that matter, depend on their Royals in too many ways to count; it was the only reason Savannah, as true Queen of her Court, still lived. For one, without her, her Court and all its Fae would cease to exist. Literally. For another, it was essentially impossible Heirs to the Fae Thrones to die; they possessed a sort of invulnerability that shielded them from harm from the moment of birth until it ultimately passed to their first born child.
Savannah nods. "Brennus is, as am I, but Emer had three more sons with a second mate."
"How is that possible? Fae Royals are only supposed to have one child, no? I thought Magic made certain of it to avoid there being any confusion with succession."
"Magic prevents the conception of more than one legitimate child, which is why Da had to marry my mother before he lay with her. Emer and Monarch didn't handfast, didn't have their union blessed; in fact, Emer did everything in her power to ensure their coupling was as illegitimate as possible. I believe more children was her goal."
"Aha. Does Aoife not have a son as well? Why target Emer?"
Savannah winces. "Well, um, two reasons. One, Fiachra's like a brother to me and, um, well, I just...I couldn't possibly...he wasn't an option. Is that horrible of me?"
I snort and kiss the bridge of her nose. "No, love, not at all. Killing a sibling...it is not supposed to be an easy thing."
She takes a deep breath and nods. "So, um, the other reason is that Emer's more predictable. She's already lost one son; the middle of the three, Anann, died accidentally when he took a bad fall from his steed. Emer responded by having every worker, trainer, and animal in the steed's stable, executed and then ordering the steed's whole species driven to extinction. I really liked Bluebucks too."
I raise an eyebrow. "Anann was your cousin, no?"
"Um, well, yes, but it goes without saying I was sorry he had died. I'm sorry Dionnu must die too, of course...but I need the Fae exposed and Emer, in her grief, will lash out before remembering why she shouldn't."
"Do you know Dionnu very well?"
Savannah hesitates. She breaks away from my arms and goes back to the window, pressing her forehead and both hands against the glass. "He has a terrible sweet-tooth and was always flirting crazily with the kitchen staff to try and get extra cookies and cakes to snack on between meals. Whenever I'd visit the Summer Court, he'd follow me and Bran around everywhere we went like a right proper little brother. He's grown up to be a decent warrior, from what I've heard, and his mother put him in charge of his own little A-Team a few centuries ago."
"Are you sure about this course, lumina mea? We have centuries of time yet to work with; perhaps we can think of another plan, one which does not require such sacrifices."
Savannah laughs, but it is not her happy laugh. This one is hollow and flat, devoid of any humour. She looks at me over her shoulder with tearful eyes the same smoke-stained indigo as the night sky behind her. "There's always going to sacrifices, Tru. If not Dionnu tomorrow, than someone else further down road. Heck, regardless of Dionnu's fate tomorrow, someone else might still be sacrificed further down the road. This life, these choices, our path...they are what they are."
I go to her yet again, pressing myself as close to her back as I can and laying my own hands over hers on the glass. Savannah is short, not even five feet tall, and so the back of her head presses against my sternum, a familiar weight after the countless times we have stood like this. "Will you bring him back?" I ask. It is one of her gifts, as a necromancer, that she is able to restore the dead, returning them to this world as wraiths bound to her forevermore.
She shakes her head. "No, I can't risk it. He's connected to his mother too closely; I'm worried she'd sense his resurrection and deduce my part in all this. For this to work, his death must be true. Besides, a sacrifice isn't a sacrifice if you can just rewrite it later."
We say nothing, neither of us, for several long moments. We simply stand here and watch the city burn while Savannah silently weeps for a cousin she has sentenced to death and a world she has sent into chaos and bloodshed. We believe the ends justify the means because we must. How else could we live with ourselves? How else could we do what next must be done, whatever that might be?
The city is burning and it saddens me. The world is burning and it worries me.
"They'll rebuild, Tru, they'll bounce back. It's what they do. Maybe one day, I'll bounce back too."
I've had enough of talk. I bend my knees and scoop my mate up into my arms. Her arms wrap around my neck and she looks at me with those big, sky-filled eyes of hers, eyes I love more dearly than any others. She smiles, a small, tiny smile, but a smile nonetheless, and pulls my head down with an almost painful tug so that her lips might reach mine. Her kiss is hard and soft, loving and fierce, passionate and docile all at once and I revel in as I walk unsteadily towards our room and the bed therein.
Back in our living room, just beyond our windows, the city burns.
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