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Dockalfar - Sample
The spriggan did not like the goblins. They were malicious little suckling insects that hid behind Zakknr’s impressive bulk. Evil, hairless little beasts that enjoyed nothing so much as making another suffer. Not that Bashru did not have his moments of maliciousness – it was just that he did not like the attitude directed towards himself. Especially when Zakknr was likely to take offense if Lifroth or Swarn happened to have an untimely accident. Bashru did not like the situation at all that the master had put him in. Sending him off with the likes of Zakknr and his cronies, and the assassin of all creatures, on a task that the master had only hinted at the consequences of.
Bashru scratched the mammoth slab of flesh that served as his nose and glared under shaggy, curling brows at the pair of sniggering goblins.
Pests. Pests and assassins that he was thrown in company with. It was a dire day that he was set out on a mission with this motley group.
They rode through the forest on nighthorses, the ogre always leading the group as if he knew the way better than a spriggan might, who knew all the woods. The two pests rose behind him, always whispering among themselves, casting furtive, evil glances back at Bashru. Cooking up, no doubt, some way to get him into trouble with their fearsome protector.
Of the assassin they saw only glimpses. The occasional movement of shadow through the trees. Movement that Dusk most assuredly allowed them to observe, least they forget his lethal presence. No one saw a night sidhe in the dappled shadow. If there was a spot that light did not reach or a corner that threw a patch of shadow, then the dark assassin would make it his ally. Damned unnerving attribute, thought Bashru, who could make use of dark places right well himself, yet still felt his heart jump right onto his tongue when the assassin stepped out of nowhere, pretty as you please. Graceful and slim of limb like all sidhe, but deadlier than the most hideous troll. Anyone who looked twice at a dark assassin and misjudged his worth, never got a third estimation.
Bashru scratched at a bothersome insect that had made a home in the tangle of hair behind his ear. Hundreds of others swarmed about him as he rode on the sleek-coated, red-eyed nighthorse, who unwillingly carried him down the Kazarum forest trail. Horses in general tended to shy away from spriggans and the like. Some inner sense warning them that spriggans especially liked horse meat. This particular animal twitched its long, tufted ears, irritable at each grunting noise that issued from Bashru’s throat. It kicked its razor sharp hooves at the yielding earth in defiance of its rider’s every move and took all available chances to wipe the lump of flesh that smelled considerably worse than it did, off on the gnarled trees of the wood they traveled through. Bashru, for his part, threatened to boil nighthorse flesh over low fires and use nighthorse hide for winter apparel at each infraction. The animal cast many a baleful red glare back at its rider.
For two appearances of the moon they rode through the sparsely wooded foothills of the Desney mountains before they entered the thicker foliage of the forest Alkeri’na. The pixies swarmed around them like curious bugs, until the ogre roared at them to be off and the entire colorful swarm of the little creatures dispersed into the dense, primeval growth. The pixies never left, though. They always harassed travelers with their chattering and their pestering. Tiny, colorful little bodies, devoid of sex, with translucent wings that put the most magnificent butterfly to shame. Pixies, if one could catch them, made good stew. But they were hard to trap and inevitably, swarms of the things harassed a body who ate one of their number. It almost made the meal not worth the trouble. But spriggans were known to go to great lengths for a proper meal.
Half way through the forest and the ogre turned their trail to the east, heading for the more malleable land of the Hallow Hills, Bashru’s own homeland.
They traveled close to the boarder of the forest for a fortnight’s ride until the rolling hills began to grow in magnitude and they found themselves at the beginning of the end of the world range. It was a range that was taller and less agreeable by far than the Desney mountains where Azeral held his court. Only trolls and dwarves lived in its inhospitable mazes of cold and rocky heights. Only the dwarves could claim some resemblance to civilization. The trolls, even a hearty spriggan, stayed far away from them.
But the living inhabitants of the end of the world were not what Azeral had sent the little company after. And Bashru’s always active mind could not stop imagining what use Azeral might have for what he did send them to fetch. He was dwelling on just that subject, shivering from the frost that literally floated throughout the air of the range’s rocky foothills, when the young troll appeared.
He knew it was young because it only stood half again as troll as the ogre and any mature troll would have topped Zakknr twice over. But it was wielding a club that was the length of Bashru’s body and snarling in what could only be prideful imitation of its no doubt fearsome papa. It came down over a rocky rise, kicking down a small avalanche of pebbles and small stones. It had visions of a well-stocked cook pot, no doubt. Bashru could tell a hungry look when he saw one.
Zakknr let out a roar and drew his might war ax, even as Bashru was struggling to back his frightened nighthorse away from the meaty apparition that was clambering down the slope. There was enough snow to make the descent an ungainly one. Zakknr, being an ogre and not the brightest of beings, urged his mount forward and swung his gleaming ax at the troll. The blade thunked against the great club and when the troll yanked the wood back, the ax jerked out of Zakknr’s hand and came with it. Grinning a foul, yellow fanged grin, the troll spread both arms and made to descend on the surprised ogre.
And suddenly faltered, its small eyes widened in shock. It stumbled, looking about wildly. Bashru did as well, wondering what had caused the great lumbering thing to pause. Then his eye caught a shift in movement in the white and gray back ground of snow and rock. The snow seemed to slip up and under the troll, then away, trailing a tiny trace of red. Bashru likely saw the assassin before the troll did in its last moments.
Cloak and skin and hair all white and gray, camouflaged so subtly that it was hard to track him even after one was aware that he was there. The telling trace of red was the smear of blood on the tip of his blade and that he quickly wiped off, kneeling in the snow, confident of his success even before the troll fell. The shadow assassin stepped off the slope, onto the darker ground of the path they were following. His coloring slowly shifted, brown like the earth about the legs and the lower part of his cloak, but his hair, whipping out from the crevice of his hood, still gleamed the creamy white of snow. Last night, Bashru remembered, it had been the midnight black of a starless sky. He shivered, eyeing the assassin warily as the ogre and his henchmen dismounted to pry the ax free of the club and search the body for anything of value.
Swarn took a necklace of teeth and placed it about his own scrawny neck with leering goblinish pleasure. Jealous, Lifroth glared at his companion for the remainder of the day.
They rode into the steeper paths of the true range. Bashru kept a sharp eye for troll signs. And despite all his efforts to keep tack of where the assassin roamed, he could not discern the dark sidhe from the landscape about them. Just as well, he supposed. Neither could any passing troll. And within just a very few days they would reach the portal at the end of the world, accomplish their task and be on their way home to the more hospitable mountains of Desney.
No trolls lurked there. Only the incomprehensible machinations of the sidhe.
He awoke with the sound of fifty caliber guns ringing in his ears. The buzz of Rolls Royce Merlin engines vibrating his body until his very blood echoed the trill of the P-51’s pulse. His hands were sweaty and cramped as if he had been holding the joystick for too long a ride. Too long a ride in the cramped cockpit of the Mustang, over any number of God forsaken, nameless Pacific islands.
For a while, he lay twisted in sheets, staring at a ceiling that was featureless in the dark, trying to control the tempo of his breathing. He did not know exactly where he was. The base on Saipan, or Tinian? Or the navy hospital on St. Matthias island? Other than the memory of the dream he could not hear the roar of aircraft engines, or the voices of marines, or the night-time insect serenade that lulled every man on base to sleep. There was something. A static, metallic beat and the whispered hint of a woman’s voice.
Alexander Morgan took a deep, calming breath, relaxing in the realization that he was home. That he was in a bed with clean white sheets and a thick mattress. That the only Japanese aircraft that he was likely to see were on the news bulletins before the matinee movie. It was just a dream. A nightmare. A reoccurring vision of his last active combat duty.
The battle of St. Matthias, March 1944, would live forever in his memory. A victory for the American forces, a nightmare in the making for Alexander Morgan, flight lieutenant for the 52nd combat squadron out of the 7th AAF. He was home because of it. Home before his tour of duty was over, before the war was won. And he had floated in an ocean with the debris of his own aircraft for over twenty hours to achieve it. He would never, ever forget that twenty hours. The sound of guns overhead always reminding him of the turmoil that raged above. He had a medal to prove that he had been injured in the line of duty, but a piece of metal and a ribbon could not salve the terror. The voice drifting out of the darkness from outside the bedroom could.
He closed his eyes, forcing out the last remnants of the nightmare, then swung his legs over the side of the bed and felt for his robe. His shoulder was still stiff. He worked it, grimacing. There was a nice scar there, where he had come down into the welcoming Pacific and scraped against a jagged piece of his own downed plane’s fuselage. He had been lucky against all odds, he had been later told, that the sharks had not come at the scent of all the blood he had leaked into the ocean.
He padded across the cool wooden floor, squinting his eyes in the tiny bit of light that wafted out from the living room. It was a small apartment. One bedroom, one bath, a kitchen and a living room. It was not his, nor had he ever lived in it before being called to war.
It was Victoria’s. She had waited for him to come back to her, but she had not been idle the two years he had been gone. It was her money that paid the rent and bought the food. It was her beauty and the sweetness of her voice that made her popular with the local clubs and earned her a healthy salary. It was her memory that kept him sane all those lonely, frightening months.
He stood in the door to the living room and stared at her. She had a single lamp on. She sat in the floor, her night robe spread about her like a pool of creamy silk. Her hair, God, he loved her hair, as soft as any imagining and deeply burnished red. It tumbled about her shoulders in soft waves, making him bite his lip with need to put his hands in it. In the lamplight her skin was smooth yellow cream, unblemished and unfreckled despite her fiery hair coloring. Her radio, bigger than a bread box and then some, quietly poured forth some song he did not know. But Victoria softly mouthed the words, her voice more pure than the one coming over the air waves. She had a pad on the floor before her, and occasionally bent down to scribble something on it. He quietly walked into the room as she was doing so. She glanced up at his step, her brows furrowed slightly.
“Did I wake you?”
“Never,” he said, smiling at her, sitting down on the high backed sofa behind her, leaning forward to put his hands on her shoulders and rub his cheek against the soft fall of her hair. She leaned back, content, resting between his knees.
“It’s the new Rosemary Clooney tune. Do you like it?”
With her between his legs the attention he paid to the radio was minor.
“You sound better.”
She smiled up at him. “You, sir, are biased.”
“I know.” He brushed his lips across her temple. “But it’s true.”
She accepted the compliment with grace. “I think I’ll use it tomorrow night. You will be there, won’t you?”
“You’ve asked me that a dozen times. I’ll be there. Watching you is like watching an angel descend.”
She waved a hand at him negligently. “How can I ever live up to your flattery, Alex. Oh, I would so like to do something of my own.”
He glanced down at the pad by her knee. “Is that what you’re working on there?”
She nodded, reaching down to snag the pad. “That’s what got me up. I had a dream. The most wonderful lyrics came to me. I had to write them down before I forgot. Listen.” She recited a litany of words that brought to mind dark passions and exotic, lush emotions. It spoke of painful love and overwhelming desire. It might have served as macabre romantic poetry, instead of the love ballads the songs of the time seemed to aim towards.
He stared at her, still stroking her hair. She tilted her head expectantly.
“You dreamed that?” he finally asked.
“Sort of,” she agreed.
“You don’t like it.” Victoria pouted.
“No, I didn’t say that. I’m just trying to imagine it put to music. It’s sort of dark.”
She sighed and put the pad down. “I know. It must be me. Maybe I’m worried about you.”
“About me? Why?”
“Oh, Alex, you just seem so unhappy. Your nightmares. How horrible it must have been for you.”
His lips thinned. The war and Victoria were two separate things. They had to be kept separate. He wanted a clear definition between them. He could not share the feelings, the terror of ‘that’ with Victoria. It would somehow sully her. Make her less of a safe haven. And he needed a safe haven for escape when reality became to much.
“Don’t worry about me, Victoria,” he said flatly. “I’m fine. You know I am.”
She frowned, staring up at him from an angle. Then finally she sighed and laid her head against his knee.
“I believe you, Alex. I believe you. You came back to me and that’s all that matters.”
“Why wait?” He whispered into her hair a question he had been asking her since his return to civilization. “Why wait to get married? Let’s just do it.”
“Alex, I told you. We will get married, but let’s wait until my brother gets back. He’s my only family and I promised him he would see me marry. I love you, Alex, more than anything, but I owe Tommy that.”
“I want you as my wife,” he protested, sounding sulky to his own ears.
“And I want you as my husband. Just a little while longer. His tour of duty will be up soon. And it can be a Christmas wedding. That would be wonderful.”
She could talk him into anything. With her soft voice and her limpid green eyes.
“I just want to make an honest woman out of you.” He grinned lopsidedly. She pinched his thigh.
“We’re not living in sin. We’re living in love.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Another song lyric?”
She giggled. “Maybe. Another time.”
She wrapped her arms about his neck and drew his lips down to hers. She was a heaven that no amount of nightmares could take away.
The Flamingo was one of Kansas City’s finest night clubs. The dining was the best in the city and the entertainment had the reputation of being one notch away from Hollywood. The clientele were elite and powerful, and only a fraction of the crowds that waited to get inside were ever actually accommodated. Tuxedoed waiters wound though the tables. Women in designer dresses danced with men in their finest evening wear. The band was big and sounded it. The only reason Alex found himself inside the Flamingo’s elegant domain was the fact that Victoria was the star attraction.
He sat at a small round table, near the back on the second level. He had a good view of the dance floor and the twenty piece band. Since Victoria had yet to make her appearance, he watched the people. The rich old men and their young, pretty wives. Or maybe just young pretty escorts that had nothing to do with matrimony. Men young enough to have fought in the war, but rich enough to avoid it, strutting about as if they had something to be proud about. Matrons that came here for the atmosphere and the prestigious company. The beautiful, beautiful women that came hoping to catch the eye of a man of wealth. And they all came, he liked to think, because of Victoria. They called her the ‘Siren’ on the posters outside. Victoria McFadden, the singing siren. There was a talent scout here tonight. A man that had come all the way from Hollywood to hear Victoria sing. Alex had tried to spot him in the crowd, but all the wealth and the power looked alike to him. All that mattered was that he was here, and that one look at Victoria, one note from her perfect voice and he would be enthralled. Everyone was. She wanted this so very much. So Alex wanted it for her. She was too beautiful and too talented not to have recognition. He would be content to stay on the sidelines and bask in her radiance. As long as she was happy. That was what mattered.
There was a lull in conversation and the lights went down in front. He perked up, focusing his attention to the slightly raised dais where the band played. The lazy strains of ‘Sentimental Journey’ poured out into the room. There was a spattering of applause. Then Victoria came out and the clapping grew. She was a vision in a floor length beaded dress. Low cut and tight sleeved, her glorious hair in a sequined net at the base of her neck. The whole room went silent at her first note, all of them floating along on the waves of her silk and satin voice. He drifted with the rest. She gave the room little time to catch its breath, immediately moving on to ‘My Blue Heaven’. After another half dozen songs, including the new Clooney song she’d been listening to last night, she finished up the set to a standing ovation. The band played on after she gracefully walked off the stage. People congratulated her as she passed, men kissed her hand. She worked her way through the tables and the greetings towards him. A rising star, that found it in her heart to love a man whose only great talent in life was flying the plane that he had been shot down in. She climbed the stairs to the balcony and beamed down at him.
“I was good, wasn’t I?” She leaned down and pressed her cheek against his.
“You were fantastic, Vicky.”
“Come down with me and talk to Mr. Williams.” She was beaming at him, her face alight with excitement.
“Are you sure?” He looked past her to the sea of black clad men and glittering women. “I don’t want to mess things up for you.”
“Silly.” She poked him with one long nailed finger. “You could never do that. Come down with me.”
They went down to sit at the table with Mr. Williams from Hollywood and his entourage of beautiful women and powerful men. Victoria got compliments and encouragement, while he found himself the subject of curious stares. Someone asked him a few conciliatory questions about the war and his service and he answered blandly, the standard answers to the standard questions. They were not interested in him, they were interested in Victoria. He was excess baggage. He was a young man with haunted eyes, who looked out of place in the suit the Flamingo required all its patrons wear. He was here because Victoria wanted it. And they were catering to Victoria.
The talk went past him. They spoke of contracts and screen tests and things that held little interest to him. He sat staring at Victoria and seeing the cresting waves of an unfriendly ocean. Remembering the sound the Zeros made when you played chicken with them. The sputter of torrents as they spat forth hot lead. Victoria caught his arm and brought him out of it – she was grinning at him, talking rapid fire. The tail end of it sunk in. Tomorrow she was going to meet with Mr. Williams again and look over a contract. She asked his opinion, eyes expectant. He lied and told her everything sounded fine. He had heard very little of the details.
They took a cab home, and climbed the steps to her apartment. She chattered a while about what she was going to wear tomorrow, how she would do her hair, and he sat and watched her. Finally she put on her best nightgown and her flowing robe, silk and lace against her creamy skin, that made him forget about everything but her. She unfastened his suspenders and unbuttoned his shirt, her long fingers trailing across the skin of his chest. She let her lips follow where her fingers led. They fell back on the bed, melding together. Crisp white cotton sheets and tasseled crocheted coverlet bunching beneath them. She healed him. She always healed him, even when the injuries were self-inflicted. It was the way with them. He dreamed of nightmares and the horrors he had experienced and seen. She dreamed of saving souls with her light. God, his soul needed saving, and if his deity was a mortal woman, then let heaven look down in jealousy, for he would have it no other way.
They lay together afterward, her cheek against his chest, her hair fanning out over his skin.
“Victoria Morgan,” she experimented. “That sounds better than Victoria McFadden. It’ll make a better stage name.”
“Stage name?” he said with a sniff.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” she chided him for his sensitivity. “If I get this contract and I marry you, I’ll be the happiest woman in the world.”
They lay in silence for a while more, then she ventured. “When you’re better, when your shoulder is all knit, what do you think you’ll do? What do you want to do?”
After a long pause, he shrugged under her. “I don’t know. I’ll find something.”
“I know you will,” she whispered, tightening her arms around him. Then she rose suddenly with a wild grin. “I’m hungry, are you hungry?”
She grabbed her robe and fumbled for the lamp by the bed, but froze halfway to it as something crashed in the living room. Light flared from under the crack of the door for a second, then went out. Victoria whispered his name, but Alex was already up, reflexes trained to quick response. He pulled on his pants and hurriedly searched for something he might use as a weapon. He settled for the long necked bottle of wine they had finished up after getting home.
“Stay,” he whispered, pushing her back down on the bed. He heard the swish of silk that told of her hurriedly donning her robe.
Another noise from the living room and she let out a small frightened yelp. He could not control the start he made himself. Something was moving, something heavy shuffling across the floor. It was right outside the bedroom door, he was certain of it. He crept forward, his bottle gripped in white-knuckled fingers. He reached out for the door knob with his other hand. Closed his fingers over the cold brass and suddenly had it ripped from his grasp as the door was torn outwards against the protesting shriek of hinges that were not made to open in that direction.
He stumbled forward with it, half into the living room. The only light was the scant illumination of the moon coming in from the lacy curtained window. All it did was serve to outline something that crouched in the center of the floor, no more than a few steps from him. At first he had the wild thought that it was a piece of furniture. Victoria’s mammoth china press somehow moved to the center of the floor. It was too tall and broad to be anything else. It was the only thing his mind could comprehend, until it moved. It shifted with the creaking of leather and bone and Alex felt the childish urge to scream and run back into the bed room where it could not see him. It was so like a demon out of childhood imagination, some great shadowed form in the corner of a room that young minds convinced themselves was a monster laying in wait for their slightest move. But this was moving. The boards under it protested at its weight, and the moon light hinted at something that was neither human or animal form. Something gnarled and broad that had the ponderous movement of heavy flesh and muscle. He thought he heard the rasping scratch of breath. A deep, low growl emanated from the mountain of shadow before him.
A piercing scream startled him. He whirled, knowing instinctively that Victoria stood behind him. Her presence, the danger she was in set him into motion.
“Back,” he yelled, throwing the bottle with all his might at the shape and darting back, to shove her back into the bed room. The fire escape outside the bedroom window. He jumped the bed, fumbling with the window, tearing it upwards and grasping for Victoria. She was shaking and sobbing, tensed even against him. He pushed her over the sill, forcing her out in a tumbled mass of silk and limbs and threw his own leg over the sill to follow. There was a roar in his ears that sounded vaguely like the engine roar of his nightmares, but he was awake and this out-lash of sound breathed hot breath and specks of saliva on his back. An arm larger by far than his leg wrapped about his neck, pulling him back. He went through the air and hit the wall just by the bed, sliding down in a weak-kneed puddle, his head spinning from the impact.
“Run, Vicky!” he shouted hoarsely. “Run.” He heard her call his name, then something, several somethings smaller than the initial shape flashed past his vision and scurried over the window sill. She cried out. He forced his muscles into action and tried to gain his feet. Something blocked the view of the window. He looked up and caught the faint glint of yellow eyes, then an impossibly hard fist lashed out and slammed him back against the wall. Everything left him then. He was back to the insistent hum of machine gun fire and the never ending crash of waves.
It was cold. The cold was an unusual aspect of the dream. He was usually sweating and sticky, fighting to keep the mosquitoes from feeding off his lifeblood. It was also quiet, save for the low whistle of wind. It was not the quiet of the tropics, for no insistent crickets chirped or night birds sang, no engines marred the perfection of the silence. Not even the car engines that one could never get away from in the city. Very slowly, he opened his eyes. A slit at first, looking under his lashes at what appeared to be flat gray stone, then he moved his head somewhat and looked at more stone. Stone that slanted upwards at sharp angles, decorated here and there with patches of irregular snow.
Snow and stone. Quiet and cold. He lay for a while trying to associate these conditions with the last place he remembered. Victoria’s apartment on the lower east side of Kansas city. Kansas city, as far as he knew, had very little in the way of snow-bound cliffs. Which only left him the conclusion that he was dreaming. The first non-war related dream he’d had since coming home. He was not totally displeased with the change, just confused.
“It’s awake.” A gravely voice interrupted the perfection of the silence. “The bakatu is awake.”
Alex twisted his neck, peering behind him and was doubly assured that he was indeed in the midst of a dream. A very strange little creature squatted beside him. He might call it a man, if he wanted to stretch the description. It looked more like a collection of hairy slabs of flesh improperly pieced together. Its head was large and singularly atrocious. Brows that made the most primitive of cave men seem intellectual, overshadowed small, glinting black eyes. There were no whites to those eyes, no gleam of humanity. The nose was nothing more than an afterthought of flesh slapped in the center of the off-balance face, and the lips were fleshy slabs that hardly hid the sharp, yellowed teeth beneath them. Bristly black hair grew in tufts indiscriminately about the face and head, and what portions of the body uncovered by leather and rags also seemed abundantly blessed with clots of fur. The shoulders were broad in comparison to the spindly legs and bony knees that poked out of holes in the leggings. The hands were huge and large knuckled, the nails sharp and long, well coated in dirt. All in all it was a very gruesome little man, for even squatting, Alex guessed that he could not have topped five feet. This was most certainly not the thing encountered in Victoria’s apartment.
“Who are you?” Alex asked, playing along with the dream. The shaggy brows drew together and it reached out one hand to prod him in the shoulder.
“Shut up, bakatu.” The little man looked over his shoulder. “It talks.”
Alex followed the gaze. Two dark-skinned, wizened little creatures crouched by a fire. Hairless, wrinkled scalps topped faces, that if not more normally formed, were at least as hideously frightening as the thing sitting by him. Sharp, pointed teeth bristled from beneath their drawn lips. Their clothing consisted mainly of wide leather belts and loincloths. They were stout creatures that stood only marginally taller than the misshapen little man.
“Cut out its tongue,” one suggested, cackling. “Bakatu tongue soup sounds good for supper.”
“Never ate bakatu before,” the thing next to him mused, scratching at something that scurried through the hair on its head. “They eat themselves and never leave a scrap for strangers.”
The two dark creatures hissed in what could have been laughter among themselves. Alex felt his hackles rise. This was not turning into a pleasant dream. He pushed himself up to a sitting position, leaning on has hands. His head throbbed abysmally, his mouth was painfully dry.
“What are you?” he asked again. “Where am I?”
“Don’t listen well, does it?” the little man observed to his companions. “Maybe we won’t eat it, maybe we’ll eat its female.”
Alex stared at him blankly. The creature bared its teeth and waved a hand to Alex’s right. There was a pile of cream silk crumpled in the shadow of two overhanging rocks. Alex gaped, then swung his gaze back to the little man unbelievingly before scrambling over on hands and knees to the form.
Victoria was cold. Her skin was chill and flaccid, her lips slightly blue. There was a bruise on her cheek and her hair was tangled in disarray about her face and shoulders. He grabbed her face in his hands, bringing his own close, praying for the telling hint of breath. She breathed lightly. Just a tickle of air on his cheek, and he grasped her up to his chest in relief, murmuring her name
Victoria had not formerly been a part of his nightmares. That she was here now sent alarms rushing though his mind.
“What have you done to her?” he demanded, not bothering to let her go or turn to the creatures.
The little man shuffled over, reaching out to lift a strand of Victoria’s hair. Alex slapped his hand away.
“What do you think?” the thing said with a leer.
Alex gasped at him, a strangling fury rising. “You bastard....”
The yellow grin widened. “Personally, I’d have nothing to do with a Bakatu female. If a female don’t have fur, what good is she, I say.”
“Bashru. What you doing?” A rumbling voice bounced off the rocks and the little man started, glancing around nervously. A great form moved up a trail that led down from the rocky grotto they occupied.
Alex’s eyes widened. It was almost as wide as he was tall, and twice his height. A small head balanced precariously atop the massive shoulders. It looked vaguely porcine about the face and ears. It carried with it an ax a good five feet long. With every lumbering step it took, the leather armor it wore creaked and the great bones beneath the ample padding of flesh and muscle seemed to crack. It was a familiar noise. It brought back the shadowed shape in the darkness of Victoria’s apartment. Alex gaped, shocked silent, holding Victoria closer, as if his puny arms might be some protection against that.
It stood over him, its shadow a complete blanket. The little man scurried past it and crouched a little bit away from the other two creatures, glaring at the giant’s back.
For a long moment it stared down at them, then finally it spoke, its voice a rumbling, grating of vocal chords.
“You don’t do what Zakknr says first time and....” He slapped one fist into the palm of the other. The crack made Alex jump. His eyes practically bugged from their sockets. “....you disobey second time and I break female.” He made a twisting, wrenching motion with those unbelievably large hands. “You understand?”
When Alex only stared incomprehensibly, the thing, this Zakknr drew in a deep breath and roared at him. “You understand, bakatu?!!”
Alex jerked back, huddling against the rock, hugging Victoria so tight that he probably cut off her breathing. He nodded shakily and Zakknr shook his head once in satisfaction, then lumbered over to the fire.
Alex continued to watch him warily, slowly relaxing his grip on Victoria. The little man, after a while wondered back over, sitting on a rock and staring at them. Alex tried to ignore him, looking down at Victoria’s face, brushing her hair back and lightly caressing the bruise on her cheek. Her breathing was regular now and deep. Her warmth against his chest took away some of the cold. He did not have his shirt, just the pants he had hastily thrown on when Zakknr had invaded their living room. She was little better, with only a night gown and thin silk robe. He chanced a glance back up and the little man was still staring.
“What do you want?” Alex ground out, low enough so the words did not carry to the fire.
“Ogres aren’t very pleasant, hmmm?” the creature remarked.
Alex glanced past him to the fire. An ogre? He laughed a bit hysterically. “And what are you? A troll?”
The hideous face twisted with surprising dexterity. “Troll. Paauughh! I be a spriggan and proud of it. Better than any goblin or ogre, that be fer sure.”
Insulted, the spriggan moved off, turning its back on him. That was fine. Its front was discernibly unsettling. Alex rubbed his cheek against Victoria’s hair, craving her softness and warmth. She stirred slightly. He whispered her name and she turned in his arms, burrowing her cheek against his chest.
“I’m cold,” she murmured, still hazy with sleep.
He tightened his arms. “Me too, but it’s okay. It’s just a dream.”
“A dream?” She blinked up at him, her lashes were black slashes against her pale skin. She smiled slightly. “What do you mean, love?”
“This just isn’t real. I’ll wake up soon and everything will be all right.” He hoped so. He truly hoped so.
Her brows drew and she made to turn. He held her close. “You don’t want to see,” he assured her.
There was uncertainty in her eyes now – she pushed against his chest and twisted. He let her, sighing. She gasped and flattened herself to him, one hand at her mouth. For a long time she said nothing. The spriggan turned its head once to stare at them, and Victoria shuddered.
“Alex,” she whispered, “if this is your dream, then I’m in it.”
She craned her neck to look at him, then at the sky above. It was darkening with evening. Tentatively she put out a hand and felt the cold ground, she picked up a pebble and hefted it in her small hand. Suddenly she tossed it into the center of the clearing. The ogre growled in surprise and the two goblins hissed. She drew back.
“Alex.” Her voice was shaky and broken. “This is no dream. This is real.”
“No, it’s not,” he assured her. “I have them all the time, not like this granted, but they always seem real.”
“Alexander, this is real,” she insisted, her voice rising in panic. “I know dream from reality and this is not dream. Nightmare maybe, but it’s real.”
He was about to argue further when a voice came from nowhere.
“Trolls. On the ridge above.”
It was smooth and clear and for the life of him he had no notion where it originated. But the spriggan was staring at a spot just beyond the ogre’s campfire, and the goblins were doing likewise nervously whispering among themselves. There was an inconsistent section of rock and shadow. He squinted at it and as his brain registered that there was indeed something there other than stone dappled in evening light, his eyes began to make out the shake of a roughly man-sized form ensconced in what at first seemed a ragged collection of layered cloaks. On closer inspection, and the more he looked the more details he saw, the cloak was cut with precise imperfection, each layer a differing length of a light, thin fabric. It was the exact color of the stone behind it. It even seemed to darken where the shadow fell on the rock. A concealing cowl covered the form’s head, but it seemed no taller than Alex and its shoulders no wider, and with the movement of the cloak in the breeze he caught sight of a hand that looked very much human, save for the slender, narrow length of the fingers. The skin was very much an echo of the cloak and rock, though only faintly paler.
At the shape’s statement, the ogre lurched to its feet, grabbing its ax.
“How many?” it rumbled.
The form held up four fingers. “Adults, this time,” he clarified. It was a male voice, though beautifully silken and tinted with a hint of accent.
“Can’t take on four trolls,” the spriggan whined, dancing from foot to foot nervously. “Look what almost happened with just a single young one?”
“Shut up, Bashru,” Zakknr growled, then cast his narrow, piggish glare at Alex and Victoria, as if they held some fault in the cloaked man’s announcement.
“Get horses,” he suddenly snarled and stomped across the clearing toward Alex.
Victoria let out a startled squeal as the ogre reached down with one hand and yanked her out of Alex’s arms. Complaining, Alex followed her up on his own and had his arm encased in the uncompromising grasp. With a human in each hand he dragged them across the clearing to where the goblins and spriggan had saddled a cluster of night dark horses. Or something like horses, but not exactly. One of the animals bared his teeth at the spriggan and Alex realized that the teeth were not the teeth of a herbivore. The spriggan was already mounted, his dark eyes scanning the rocks above them. From somewhere out in the shadows there was a crashing and a loud series of grunts. Zakknr let go of Alex to effortlessly swing Victoria up behind the spriggan. Her legs were pale slashes against black horse and tack.
“No.” He tried to struggle when the ogre dragged him away, calling Victoria’s name. She looked over her shoulder at him, helplessly as the spriggan spurred the horse into motion. She disappeared down the trail behind an outcrop of rock. The goblins were already on their mounts and following the spriggan. The ogre hoisted him up into the saddle of the remaining horse, then climbed up after him. This horse was considerably larger than the other three, more like some parody of a draft horse, with thick fetlocks and a flat back that Alex could have stretched out fully upon. The animal grunted under the ogre’s weight. Alex found himself trapped between the ogre’s arms, any route of escape vanished. Not that he wanted escape, with things that even the ogre feared shambling down the slope.
As the ogre spurred his mount down slope, shadow suddenly melted out from the rock before them. The animal tossed its head in surprise and the ogre growled.
“Damned assassin,” Zakknr rumbled. “Don’t do that.”
The cloaked form held up a hand showing three fingers. “Three. But go fast, others follow.”
The ogre swore, and kicked his horse past the man on foot. The cloak swirled as the man danced out of the large animal’s path. Alex looked back only a second later, but there was no sign of him.
They galloped headlong down the treacherous, rocky path, the hooves of the horse kicking loose rocks that trailed after them. Victoria was wrong. This had to be a dream. There was no other explanation. For if it was not, then he was surely insane. It would mean that he had lost the tenuous grip on sanity that the war had left him with.
The horse stumbled and he was thrown forward, pressed against the hard ridge of neck bone by the oppressive weight of the ogre. He felt the breath leave him in an explosive gasp. Something hit the ground just before them to the left. Rock exploded, sending sharp chips flying. The horse screamed in outrage as its legs and belly were hit by the stone shrapnel. The ogre bellowed, waving his ax. Alex risked twisting about to stare up the slope to the right.
Something monstrous stood there in the glow of evening. Something that made the ogre seem petite and graceful. It was tall as a house and almost as broad. It wore a patch work of skins and furs about its thick middle and carried a club that was more like a medium tree than anything else. A thatch of shaggy black hair was pulled back in a long greasy tail and it wore most gruesome jewelry. Teeth, bones and small skulls adorned its wrists and neck. It stooped and picked up a second bolder, carelessly tossing it down upon them. Zakknr pulled up hard on the reins, jerking the horse to one side as the rock hit and shattered. The troll, for that was what they had said, was coming down the mountain, blew out a gust of frosty air at the miss, then started to clamber down the slope. Zakknr kicked the horse into motion, and the animal eagerly scrambled down the path. They could hear the bellows of the troll behind them.
The great horse was breathing hard by the time they had descended a thousand feet, but it was faster than the troll, even with the monster strides it was equipped to take. They thundered into a sparse patch of trees growing on the slope, and though the dappled shadow Alex could just see the hindquarters of one of the other horses. The spriggan’s mount was out of sight. He wished it far, far ahead and well away from the pursuing troll. They burst out of the trees and found themselves on an incline. The animal scrambled for purchase, the ogre berating it and smacking it with the flat of one broad palm the entire way. The horse of the goblin in front of them sent down a shower of small rocks and debris. At the rise, the ogre stopped, turning his prancing mount to view the way they had come. There was no sign of troll pursuit. No movement anywhere. Alex closed his eyes for a moment, trying without success to catch his breath. He felt as if he had run that haphazard route and not the heaving horse beneath him. He turned to look forward, down the other side of the rise and gaped.
Spread below, no more than a mile of rocky and tree dotted slope away, was a mist-shrouded expanse of plain. It was blue and violet with the setting sun and perfectly flat. It spread as far as he could discern to the right and left, but at the very edge of the horizon a darker line of green hinted at what might be forest at its end. The horse moved under him, and with a grunt of satisfaction the ogre urged it to start the down hill passage.
They caught up with the other horses presently, and Alex silently caught Victoria’s gaze and held it. She was pale and scared, and trying her best not to hold on to the hairy form of the spriggan she rode behind. She wrinkled her nose occasionally as the wind whipped back at them, carrying the creature’s particular odor to her nose. He looked about for the cloaked man. The assassin, Zakknr had called him, was no where in sight. But then again, Alex had not noticed him either time he had appeared before until he was practically standing in front of them. Unnerving trait, that.
It was full night before they reached the bottom of the slope and their horses hooves trod on the soft earth of the plain. It was a strange night. The stars in the sky glowed with such luminance and clarity, that it was not truly dark. An unearthly glow encased the land, the horses, the riders. The moon was a huge, looming globe just over his shoulder. Larger than the moon had ever seemed before. If it was the moon he was used to. He was beginning to doubt that.
For what seemed hours they rode across the plain. The ogre would not allow him to speak with Victoria. His head rang from Zakknr’s slap the last time he had tried. She cast worried, sad looks his way. The chill seemed to have departed entirely, once down from the mountain. The air on the plain was almost spring-like. Behind him the ogre was sweating. The moon was high in the night sky when they reached the edge of the wood that had been hinted at from the vantage of the mountain. The foliage was thin and new at the outside edges, but the eye could not penetrate further than a few dozen yards, so it undoubtedly thickened further in. The party turned left and followed the line of trees, staying just outside of the wood’s boundary. Occasionally Alex saw lightening bugs flare up within the depths of the foliage. But they were strange colors, often blue and green instead of the yellow of the lightening bugs he was familiar with. There was no sound of crickets, but night birds trilled constant songs and once in a great while, there was the drifting note of what could have been music. It was distant and elusive, like the fleeting memories of a dream.
At some point he dozed, for he woke suddenly to find himself leaning back against the ogre and straightened immediately. Zakknr paid no heed. Alex craned his neck to assure himself of Victoria’s nearness. She was leaning back, as far from the spriggan as possible on the back of a horse, staring into the wood. He thought he heard the music again, but it faded as soon as he thought he picked up the melody.
Finally the ogre called a halt and they made camp just within the overhanging presence of the wood. The goblins gathered wood and started a fire. The spriggan settled himself a good distance away from them, folding its knees up to its chest and glaring into the wood, at the horses, at the ogre and goblins. He seemed a foul-tempered little man. Not knowing what else to do, Alex and Victoria sat down an equal distance between the spriggan and the goblins. The ogre moved about the horses, fumbling with the tact. He ambled back among them clutching a slab of brown dried meat of some sort in its hand and a leather wine skin in the other. He ravished the meat without offering any to the others, then greedily guzzled the contents of the skin. The goblins eyed him intently, whispering among themselves, then one of them scurried off to the horses in pursuit of food of its own. After a bit the spriggan followed suit.
“What do we do?” Victoria asked him, her voice small and barely audible. The question took him off guard. He had no notion whatsoever what to do in the present situation. What could possibly be done? Fight free of the ogre and his beastly little companions and flee into a wood that held more trolls or things just as bad? If he had some vague idea where he was, or what these strange beings wanted with them, then maybe he could think on what to do. But he knew nothing. Absolutely nothing.
“I don’t know,” he murmured helplessly. “I can’t even convince myself that this is real.”
She was silent, watching the spriggan as it wandered back from its horse, a smaller skin than the ogre’s clutched in its hand and a chunk of meat that it was stuffing into its broad mouth. It sat down a few yards from them, peering at them from the slit of one eye. It continued this the entire time it chewed on its meat, shifting its gaze only to lift the skin and sloppily drink from its contents. Finally it lowered the skin and took up its inspection of them. It lifted one hip to scratch at an irritation under its loin skin, then moved closer. Alex drew breath, not knowing what to expect. But it only thrust out the skin and glared foully at them.
“Don’t suppose bakatu can foul it any more than goblins.”
“What is it?” Alex warily took the proffered skin. The spriggan rolled its black eyes.
“What you think? Water. Stupid bakatu.”
Alex sniffed it, glanced at Victoria, who shrugged, then took a tentative sip. It was water. It was musty from the skin, but cool and pure. He took a longer swallow, rejoicing at the relief to his dry mouth. He passed it to Victoria, wiping his mouth on the back of his arm. The spriggan was still watching, almost curious.
“Where are we?” Alex took a deep breath and ventured the question, hoping the little man’s generosity might mean he was more open to conversation.
“This? Boarder of the Alkeri’na.”
The spriggan shook his head and spat. “The land’s Elkhavah, if that’s what you’re asking, bakatu.”
“How...how did we get here?” That was the important one. He held his breath in hopes of an answer.
“Portal.” The spriggan reached out one long arm and snatched his skin back from Victoria. “Portal at the End Of The World.”
“What’s the portal?” Victoria ventured.
“Gate between worlds,” Bashru replied.
“Why are we here?” Alex asked.
The spriggan’s eyes narrowed. “None of yer business.”
“None of my business?” Alex gasped. “How’s it not my business.”
The spriggan clamped his mouth shut and turned away, disinclined to further the conversation. Alex forced his voice back to calmness.
“All right. Why do you keep calling me Bakatu. That’s not my name. My name’s Alex Morgan. This is Victoria.”
The spriggan looked over its shoulder at them. “What’s it to me? Bakatu’s what you are. Or as close as I can figure. Haven’t been one of your kind through the portal in close to three hundred years, far as I know.”
“And you won’t tell us why we’re here now?”
“No, I won’t. Not my business either.” Then he frowned, staring hard at the horses. Alex followed his stare and saw nothing but the bulky bodies of the horses. The spriggan shook his head and took another swig of water. A moment later there was a figure crouching at his side. The spriggan let out a yelp and scrambled away, trailing water. Victoria gasped and dug her nails into Alex’s arm, but he was fairly proud of his own control at the sudden appearance of the shadowy assassin. The spriggan was cursing fluently, shaking one fist at the wispy cloaked figure. The cloak was mostly black now, with traces of shadowed green. The hand that touched the ground was dusky. Tendrils of hair that escaped the hood were as dark as the cloak.
“Twice damn you, Ciagenii,” Bashru cried. “You like to scare me to death.”
The assassin rose in one fluid movement, the cloak made not a sound as it moved about his body. He flowed past the grumbling spriggan to stand before the fire. The ogre glared up at him.
“What you want, Dusk?”
The assassin lifted one arm, trailing filmy strands of his dark cloak, and indicated the eastward direction they had been traveling.
“Morbibeasts gather in mass on the plains leading to the Hallow Hills. There is no passing there.”
The ogre grunted, slamming one fist onto the ground. Tufts of grass and dirt spewed outward.
“Means we have to travel though the Alkeri’na.”
Dusk shrugged, offering no opinion. He stood for a moment more, then passed the fire and stepped into the shadow of the wood. In the blink of an eye he was gone. Or he was still there, lurking in the shadow, beyond everyone’s comprehension.
“Where did he go?” Victoria whispered. “He just vanished.”
“He does that,” Alex explained.
She shuddered. “He almost seemed...human.”
Alex shook his head, never having seen more than a glimpse of slender hand or a lock of long hair. His attention was drawn away from contemplation of the assassin by the ogre’s muttering complaints.
“Did not want to go through forest. Take more time. Master be angry.”
“Don’t see any way around it.” The spriggan sniffed. “Lessen you want to ride though migrating morbibeasts. Have the life sucked right out of you.”
The ogre glared, but refrained from comment. “Forest it is. But you can tell master why we’re late.” The ogre settled down, stretching its legs before it, feet almost touching the fire. “Sleep.” he commanded. “Long ride tomorrow. No rests then.”
The light never reached the forest floor in the same condition that it hit the uppermost leaves of the forest canopy. It was green filtered in places and dappled hazy yellow in others. Some trails were so gloomy, and the moss that covered the ground so brown, that it was doubtful that the sun ever reached the lowest recesses. There were hints of paths, but they seemed mostly to be game trails, although very little sign of large animals was to be found. Birds frequented the trees though, and butterflies swarmed with abandon. They were everywhere, large as kites and tiny as newborn moths. The ogre and his smaller followers swatted at them in irritation, but Alex was amazed. He had seen his share of tropical jungles in the pacific, but even the most uncharted had been nothing compared to this. He had never seen trees so tall, so huge in circumference. Never seen so many explosions of color in the petals of the flowers that dug their roots into the soft wood rooting limbs and moss covered trunks. Tiny frogs and lizards often darted across the path, or froze in their hunting for food to stare at the passing intruders. The birds called down at them from the branches indignantly.
They had given up riding some time ago, when the path became too snarled for the passage of mounted riders. The ogre forged the path ahead, slicing vines and foliage out of the way with his mammoth ax. Alex and Victoria walked behind the spriggan, the goblins bringing up the rear with the horses. She clutched his hand, her fingers tightening occasionally, either to receive comfort or to give it. She stared at the glory around them in awe, often nudging him to silently point out some spectacular bird or clustering of butterflies. When they spoke, they cast their voices low, out of the ogre’s hearing. The sporadic discussion they were having was a repeat of what made up most of the morning’s conversation.
“How can there be such a thing? A portal between worlds...it’s fantasy.” She was scrutinizing the spriggan’s misshapen back as she whispered this. They seemed to be taking turns arguing the reality of the situation.
“I’ve seen some odd things, Vicky, I really have. Seen men do crazy things. Just because a man won’t normally do a thing, doesn’t mean he won’t do it under stress. Same thing here, I guess. Because we aren’t familiar with the concept, does not mean it cannot exist.”
“Why us?” She hit the concern that had been gnawing at him for some time. “Why would this portal open into my apartment?”
He had no answer and their captors would not venture to give them one. The sense of helplessness was overpowering. Not knowing. He could cry with the frustration save that Victoria needed his strength to lean on, little as it was in comparison with what they journeyed with. He put an arm around her, for her comfort, but it was his own that was somehow eased.
Something screamed out in the forest. A punitive, scratchy cry that momentarily silenced the bird chatter. The party hesitated, alert. The goblins drew wicked knives and stared out into the foliage. The horses threw up their heads in nervousness. The cry repeated, ahead of them. The ogre forged onward. They followed and came upon a great tawny body sprawled across the game trail. It was feline in some respects, huge, its body almost ten feet stretched as it was. Thick gray fur, liberally dotted with black and fading to white on its tummy. It had a great plumed tail and ears that sported tufts of soft white fur. It was quite dead, and newly so by the luster that still clung to the fur and the state of the body.
“Gulun,” the spriggan said behind them, a wary tone to his voice. “Damn lucky we are to come upon this one dead.”
Alex turned to stare at the little man, even as Victoria moved a step forward towards the animal corpse.
“Very dangerous?” he asked, as if anything in this place was not.
Bashru snorted. “A troll would think twice before crossing one’s path.”
Alex paled and stared back at the cat. And found that there was movement in that fur after all. White and black shifted and moved at its belly. Large black eyes and flattened ears peered up over the rise of fur. The cry that had alerted them voiced again, this time hardly more than a hiss. The spriggan let out a wail and scrambled for his knife. The ogre lifted his war ax and rumbled forward.
“Kill it! Kill it!” the goblins shrieked from the rear. And none of them descended on the gulun cub as quickly or as absolutely as one slim and silk clad form that swept it up in terror and held a mewing spitting kitten to her chest gazing at them all with wide furious eyes.
Alex made a rush for her, terrified. “Put it down, Vicky!” he shouted. “It’s dangerous!”
She backed away, clutching the squirming furry body that was bigger than an oversized house cat and considerably more vocal.
“It’s a kitten,” she cried back at him, at all of them. “It’s scared.”
“Put it down woman,” Zakknr rumbled, waving the ax. Her eyes widened as the ogre advanced. Alex made a grab for the great arm, and the ogre shook him off.
Victoria backed another step, tears streaking down her cheeks. “I won’t let you kill it.”
“Put it down!” the ogre bellowed, shocking her white. The kitten flattened its ears and buried its face in her hair. Its claws drew blood on her shoulders. Alex was in turmoil. He wanted to talk her into putting the thing down, he wanted to keep the ogre from laying hands on her or worse, and he felt hopelessly inept to achieve either goal. Her look was pure stubborn righteousness and the ogre’s strength was unconquerable. She took another step back as Zakknr and the goblins descended upon her. She collided with something that had not been there a moment before. She gasped and whirled and faced the assassin, all green and brown with hints of shimmering gold. He was slim and faceless and apparently immovable, and Alex thought more deadly than the lot of the others combined.
He curled his fingers into knots of tension, then utter dismay as she grasped a handful of layered cloak and pulled herself and her small victim behind the assassin. She continued to hold onto the cloak. The assassin did not flinch. A mere inclination of the hooded head, what might have been a glance at her fingers clutching his cloak.
“It’s just a baby,” she murmured. “They want to kill it. Please help me.”
She was pressed against the back of a creature that had killed trolls with ease. She could not imagine the danger, could not imagine how badly Alex wanted to yank her away from him, to the safety of his own arms, how suddenly and purely Alex developed a loathing for a faceless silken voice, when the assassin lifted a hand and stopped the ogre in its tracks.
“Leave her be. The cub is not danger.”
Zakknr swelled in outrage, wanting dearly no doubt to smite the assassin where he stood.
“Mind your own business, Dusk!” he roared. “The humans are mine.”
“They are not,” the assassin whispered, low like the caress of a feather over silver. “They are the Dark Lord’s.”
“Mine to keep ‘till then,” Zakknr cried, his authority usurped and he afraid to punish the usurper.
“So be it.” Dusk inclined his head. “They are yours.”
The ogre nodded slightly mollified until the assassin added, “The cub then is under my protection. Touch it at your own risk.”
He moved, almost faded into the forest and found himself restrained by a small white hand in his cloak. Victoria had her face buried in the cub’s fur, hardly noticing to whom she held. With her hands on him his colors almost seemed to ebb, to turn cream and alabaster. He turned to Alex. A silent command.
Trembling, Alex went forward, caught Victoria in his arms and pried her fingers from the cloak. It was like silk and light. He chanced a glance up under the hood, wondering morbidly at the face it hid and caught his breath as he got a glimpse. It was not human, but it might have been angel. It might have been some visionary artist’s fevered dream of unearthly perfection. Only it was not perfect. It was too unattainably beautiful to be perfect. Almost, but not quite feminine in its beauty. There were undertones of Victoria in the skin tone, undertones of the muted forest around them. It changed even as Alex drew Victoria away, softly shifting back to gold and powdery green-brown. The assassin stepped back into the shadow of the foliage and melted away. Alex was left with a woman and a catling in his arms and the feeling that in all the horrors he had yet experienced in this world, the one that he had just seen could very well be the one that might haunt him forever.
|Kidnapped by creatures out of folklore, Alex and Victoria find themselves stolen to a land beyond imagination and under the power of creatures both deadly and beautiful. Will the seductions of this new world destroy their love and doom newfound alliances, or is their presence, mortals from a world without magic the salvation of this forgotten, fey realm?|
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