Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 1
You know, it may not...may not be my fault. Not entirely. She's just one of those girls - the kind that you can't help but love. I think it may be something in her aura, something that just...pulses from her and gets into your head, makes you want to keep her safe, keep her protected. Decades, centuries, eons - an eternity spent at her side, longer than anyone else, the first - or, well, one of her first...her second, technically, but only by a few years. And I've been good, loyal, devoted. She commands, I obey. She requests, I acquiesce. A lifetime spent as general of my own legions, master of my own domain, now enslave forever after in my afterlife to an insane Fae Queen everyone and their broomstick wants dead.
I'm one of those lucky mighty who didn't just fall; I hit rock bottom and kept right on falling.
Oh, and look, here she is now. Savannah is the perfect specimen of her species; as beautiful and graceful as any angel, as fierce and deadly as any predator. Blood red hair with snowy bangs falls to her waist - she's decided to embrace the fairy tale motif and go for the long, rippling waves you'd expect of a Fae Queen. Her honey golden skin is a network of various dark umber tattoos. And her eyes...her eyes are big and vibrant, her thick irises a constant swirl of colour and patterns. I love her eyes; like endless pools of possibilities.
Why couldn't she be ugly? Everything would be so much easier if she were ugly. Maybe had some warts or a hideous birthmark or two or ten.
"Keeley!" My name is Bel-keelal-tohu. Time was, my name inspired fear, so much so it was whispered in hushed tones for fear its utterance would draw my attention. Then I died for a couple of millennia and woke to a child who told me it was too much of a mouthful and cut it down to Keeley. A name of awe and power brought down to a cute little snippet. By a child.
"I've been looking for you everywhere." The woman can summon me with a thought; why she'd bother to expend the energy actually physically searching for me boggles the mind.
She plops down beside me on the edge of the bed and flops back, going briefly spread eagle before bouncing up to prop herself on her elbows, smiling, oblivious to my resentment, my anger.
"Is something the matter, milady?" I ask coolly, my hands clenching, my fingers digging into my knees.
"Keeley, do you remember when I brought you back?"
"I'm afraid it is not one of my most clear memories, milady."
"You put me in a coma for three days and Da wanted you destroyed. He thought severing our tie would wake me."
"Ah, yes, fond memory. Can't imagine why it didn't come straight to mind."
She laughs, shifting to her knees and draping herself over my shoulders from behind, her cheek pressed against mine. "Fairy tales all start off pretty rough, you know. They usually get better though. I mean, I did wake up after all, and just in time too. And Da let you out of the dungeons, gave you back to me. Do you remember what you did the first time we met?"
"No," I tell her, and it's the truth. Memory lane, at least for me, is a dark and dim street, one I try not to travel too often.
"You tried to kill me," she murmurs, rubbing her cheek against mine. "You took me by the throat, pressed me back against the wall, rattled off a long list of impressive names and titles, and demanded I release you."
I sigh, turning away from her, breaking away from her. I leap to my feet and start to pace, wanting distance but unable to bring myself to leave. Under her thrall, always and forever hers - bound, tied, tethered, linked, whatever pretty word you want to give it, trapped all the same.
"Do you remember what I told you? My answer, Keeley, do you remember it?"
"No." A lie this time - her words haunt me, echoing through my mind in every whisper of silence, but...but it's not my part to tell.
"I have titles too and names," she says, echoing those first words to me. "I'm not even a century yet but already I've got quite the collection going. I have a whole kingdom beyond this room who'd burn the world to ensure my survival. Plus, you know, I'm a princess which is exactly as awesome as you'd think. Unfortunately, I also have a father who's a time walker, so I know exactly where my story's going. A thousand years ago you were a god, a lord of darkness and nightmares, a demon knight, and then you died and woke up here and now to find yourself leashed to a hurricane and, really, truly, I am sorry. There's no undoing this, no cutting the ties, no unlocking the shackles, no setting you free. Ever. From now until my last breath, you and me, we're a package deal. And I'm really sorry about that. My story...my story's going to suck."
I frown. "You're saying you warned me? Suggesting, perhaps, that I should just suck it up and carry on because at the start you gave me the courtesy of a warning?"
I realize too late I've crossed a line, made her angry. Savannah is powerful, the sort of powerful that scares ancient vampires and makes original demons think twice about engaging. All that power does not mix well with strong emotions, particularly anger, and so someone - probably her Da - had taught her that anger and rage, like revenge, were best served cold. Glacial, preferably, if not colder. And so when she gets angry, Savannah shuts down, folding up like one of those night blossoming flowers and swiftly drawing in all the warmth and light around her until she seems to pulse with chilling darkness.
If I'd been paying attention, I would have noticed sooner, would have recognized the danger. But I wasn't and I didn't and now...
Now she lashes out, her hand clamping down on my wrist, her fingers digging in hard enough to bruise, and pushes her power into me. It's a spell I've felt before, felt often in fact - it's a favourite of hers, one she uses to share memories and calls her Vulcan Mind Meld. This time, it has teeth and claws, its bite sharp and painful as it drags me into her mind and our past.
"No! Da, no, no, no - I won't do it! I can't...I can't do it." I'm shaking my head and pulling futilely at my wrist that's caught in my father’s grip. Angry tears are a warm weight against my cheeks and I can feel something - some emotion I can't quite name - sitting heavy in my chest, like an iron grip around my heart.
"Kitten, you must; this has to be done to see the extent of your powers, here and now where the fallout can be controlled and not as a surprise that catches us all off guard. Not again."
It's panic, I realize, and fear. I'm afraid; I don't want to do this, don't want this choice taken from me. Khary was an accident, a horrible, terrible, beautiful accident but doing it again, knowingly and willfully inflicting his fate on another soul...it would be monstrous. And I'm not a monster.
I pull harder but Da won't let go. He loves me and wants me to be safe, wants me protected. He doesn't see what he's doing as stealing my choice from me, as essentially raping my Magic. He doesn't see what I'll do as a perversion. No, Da sees this as your classic two-birds-one-stone scenario: he gets a sense of just how powerful my newly discovered gift is and, should it prove successful, I'll have a powerful defender at my side for the rest of my life. That said defender will no doubt resent and loathe me is inconsequential so long as he serves his purpose.
Surprise, surprise - Fae morality is a darker shade of grey.
"You told me death was to be respected! That warriors earn their rest and have a right to it, a sacred right and deserve to left to it."
"I am afraid that Bel-keelal-tohu will simply need to re-earn his happily ever afterlife, kitten. Now, please, get on with it. Now."
Desperately, I summon my energy into my free hand and push at Da; the ultimate useless move seeing as how Da just absorbs my magic with a small grunt and an exasperated look.
Sighing, he shakes his head and turns to one of his guard. "Bring in the ghost!"
His words instantly change the panic and fear from an iron grip to an icy javelin, spearing right through me so swiftly it paralyzes me. I know what they're going to show me before the guards even return but it doesn't make it any less horrifying; Khardeen is chained spread eagle onto a wooden wheel carved with various magical symbols meant to dampen and block our bond and keep him from corporeal and bound. He is bloodied and bruised from torture; apparently someone wanted to test they'd hit upon the right combination of spells to affect our bond.
"Kitten, I am sorry, but I'm afraid your choices are to have two of these creations of yours or none at all."
"You can't kill Khary, Da."
"No, but I have faith that were our dungeon masters to apply their arts to their fullest, we'd at least be able to break him into something unrecognizable to you. Choose."
It isn't a choice at all and Da knows that.
I sigh, defeated, and summon my magic.
Da nods and lets me go, stepping away to give me space. My tears are flowing faster now, sprinkling the dusty floor at my feet like raindrops. This demon, warrior, high lord, whatever he was...he's going to hate me so much. Ripped out of whatever peace he's managed to claim to serve a fairy princess for the sake of an experiment, he's going to hate me. All of time is going to be spread out before us, trapping us together for the eons I'm going to have claim to, and he's going to hate me for all of it. That Khary doesn't is a bloody miracle, one that's probably defunct now after what Da's done.
Is it petty of me to not want to spend eternity linked to beings who loathe and resent me? I...Because of Da's gift, I know what my future holds - I've known, gods, seems like since the womb I've known exactly that nightmares await me. Da says there's nothing to do but endure them, that they're necessary for a future that's brighter than anything I could imagine further down the road. Easy for him to say; he just has to die, I have to live. Is it selfish of me to want at least one person with me through it all who wants me alive by preference rather than necessity?
I mean, doesn't everyone want to be loved?
I wonder...I wonder what that must be like as I close my eyes and set my magic free.
Savannah is gone when I open my eyes. I'm on the floor, collapsed beside my bed, and I have no idea how much time has passed, a side effect of her spell. Groaning, I manage to get myself sat up when I notice Khardeen leaning against the far wall.
"What are you doing here?"
"You're an ass."
"I'm aware, but that doesn't answer my question."
"Milady wanted to be sure you were alright. She's gone for a walk to calm down."
Khardeen glares, the gold in his eyes heating with anger. "No. London and Banshee are with her and Sabine and Jester are sweeping the area around her."
"She is very angry; we do not wish for her to do something she will regret with the return of her senses."
I nod, understanding, and scrub at my face with both hands, frustrated.
"You should have told her what was bothering you, Keeley. She would understand. She knows us, after all, better than most anyone."
"Because she rents out room in our heads, Khardeen, because she's infiltrated us like some sort of virus to which there's no cure and no recovery."
Khardeen shakes his head. "It has always amazed me how you could be so outwardly loyal while so inwardly resentful, even after all these centuries."
"Not all of us are made to be good little puppies," I murmur. "We're not all like you, Khardeen."
"I'm not her puppy, Keeley, none of us are; that's not how this works and you know it."
"How do you do it, Khary? How do you serve her, obey her, love her, without losing yourself, losing who you were and all respect for yourself?"
"The rest of us - Djinn, Fae, vampires, werewolves - we're used to servitude of one degree or another. Fiddle with the volume, change the channel, play a different song even, and it doesn't change anything, not really; we are what we are. You, though, you were one of the mighty, someone strong and powerful and free, someone who'd had so many centuries of independence, of command he'd forgotten any other way to live. Worse still, you awoke to a world that had forgotten you. Your name, your triumphs, your legend, all of it had been swallowed by time and lost to its ravages. You were nobody, tied to a child. You forget, Keeley, that I was there when Lyr spoke to you, that I heard what he said while milady slept."
Ah, yes, the missing scene from our origin story. After Savannah had brought me back to life as her wraith, before she woke, there was her father. Same hair, same eyes, but a beauty that was more harsh, less graceful, and with none of that vulnerable tint that baited your protective instincts. Quite the opposite in fact.
When I came back to myself, the first thing I remember is Savannah smiling, looking down on me with an affectionate look neither of us had earned a right to. I remember passing out - I've never known for how long, never bothered to ask the few who might know - but when I next became aware, I was caged. On the other side of my bars, two men argued; Lyr and Khardeen, the latter still tied to the wheel that was now hung on the far wall like some sort of bizarre decor piece.
"Let me down, Lyr," Khardeen growled. "I have served your purpose - milady has resurrected the demon lord - now let me go! Let me...let me go to her."
Lyr chuckled, the sound dark and laced with ice. "Twenty years ago, you were dead, a mere figment of people's imaginations trapped haunting ruins no one had visited in centuries, and now look at you attempting to give orders to a king. An impressive turn of fate, wouldn't you say?"
"Is more powerful than I could have ever hoped," Lyr snapped. "Giving corporeal form to a spirit, that was incredible. But what she did today? Drawing forth a long dead spirit with nothing more than the place of his death to draw from? That should have been impossible. She's not even connected to our people, has no other source but herself to draw from, and look what she has wrought."
Bound, bloodied, and bruised, Khardeen should not have been intimidating with a mere glare, but somehow he managed. "At what cost, Lyr? When Fio woke me, she was fine afterwards, walking away like it was almost effortless. Today? She's UNCONSCIOUS, Lyr. And for what? She's Fae, he's a demon; he will never care for her, only ever be a monster to her. You go too far and risk too much."
Lyr shrugged. "Fionnuala is immortal; there is nothing he can do to her that will not heal in time. And it was not for nothing. Eventually, Fionnuala will tame him, one way or another, and have at her disposal one of the greatest weapons our enemies have ever produced and an asset we could never have hoped for if not for her magic. The great and powerful Bel-keelal-tohu, revered for his brutality and viciousness, famed for his prowess as a warrior and skill as a general, leashed like a mongrel cur to a Fae child. Couldn't it have happened to a nicer guy."
He knelt down in front of my cage and smiled coldly when he caught me staring back at him. "Welcome to our Court, Bel-keelal-tohu. May you enjoy that defiance of yours while it lasts."
Five centuries later, that defiance of mine still burned strong, despite outward appearances to the contrary, in spite of all Savannah's efforts.
"Congratulations," Khardeen tells me. "You've resisted Savannah's allure. She was captured and tortured for three centuries, but you resisted. She was driven insane and unleashed two massacres and a plague before I could find her, but you resisted. She has you lead her protection detail and manage her plans, is careful to always ask and never command, and has never once summoned you, but you resisted. And now she's dying, but, hey, you resisted."
Everything stills, the world hit off its axis and unsure of what to do next. "She can't-"
"Oh? She has seven Wraiths tied to her, feeding off of her energy, plus the dragons, plus who only knows what else. Over five centuries at her side and you know I never bothered to ask if the cats feed off of her? If the werewolves?" He pauses to chuckle and shake his head. "She's starving, Keeley, and she's dying. And when she goes, so do we. We're entwined, like vines around a tree; when the tree falls, the vines are crushed, and all die. But, hey, congratulations, demon lord; you resisted. And soon you'll be free. We all will."
"I never meant-"
"For five centuries, Keeley, milady has tried while you've done nothing but hold tight to your defiance and pride. Now, well, as they say, it is too late to matter. But, hey, enjoy your victory."
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