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The Curse – Roxanne Fosch 0.5, by Jina S. Bazzar

 

Here’s a brief blurb:

 

Wanted neither by the Seelie or unseelie, the Dhiultadh are a proud, secretive mixed breed, half Seelie, half unseelie. They took refuge on earth many centuries ago where they thrived with their anonymity, away from their better kin, the sidhe land fee.
This story will talk about how Fosch, the clan leader of the Dhiultadh came to be indebted to Oberon, the Seelie consort, and put his entire clan in danger and under the human government spotlight.

Epilogue

Epilogue:

 

 

All seven members of the High Council of the Unseelie Dhiultadh assembled in the green room and watched the infant sleep.

They had gathered to decide the hybrid’s future, to agree upon her fate.

“It’s an abomination.” Alleena declared hottily, indignant merely to be in its presence.

“I still can’t believe he gave his life for her.” Rubin murmured, the grief apparent in his dark eyes. The youngest in the group, he was, without knowing, the only one who felt sympathy for the scion.

“What kind of bargain could he have possibly made?” Jaspion wondered aloud.

They all looked at Archer, but he didn’t answer. His shock didn’t show through his passive facade, one he had learned through mimicking his older brother, Fosch himself. He had learned plenty from him, had adored him as a child, looked for approval as a youngling, asked for opinion as a man. Even when Fosch had passed leadership on to him, it was to Fosch he had turned to when a challenge had been issued, a problem had been presented.

The news of the execution had shocked him greatly, so much that he had refused to believe the truth until he had arrived at the stone circle and watched his brother refuse to fulfill the bargain with his own two eyes, heard it with his own ears.

He recalled that year in the spring when he had miraculously recovered from the plague, the vague memory of waking up in the middle of the night to find his brother standing by his bed. He touched his forehead, the place where a dash once marked his skin for a few hours, scrubbed his index finger over the phantom mark.

“We could leave her in the wilderness.” Bebbet suggested from his right. The oldest in the entire group, Bebbet was the one who still clung to old traditions and rules with teeth and claws.

“Or send her for Cora to raise.” Jaspion said. He was one of the few who remembered to pass on the news to Fosch’s younger sister, the leader of the earth witch coven.

“Or outright kill her. She’s so tiny. She won’t put up a fight.” They sniggered in unison.

“Enough!” Archer snapped sharply. “We aren’t going to kill her. We aren’t going through all that hassle with the court to just get rid of her.”

“What do you suggest? Are you going to raise her on your own?” Alleena asked with a smirk. “You already have one incompetent hybrid. It wouldn’t be any hardship on you.” The truth was, Alleena felt entitled to Logan’s position, feeling she had been robbed from it, since she was Fosch’s stepsister and even older than Archer himself by a few years. Now, this hybrid appeared out of nowhere, and somehow, Alleena felt threatened by it.

Archer cocked his head to the side, met Alleena’s unflinching stare. He knew she coveted Logan’s position, but rules dictated he was given enough time to heel after the death of a mate, and for Arianna, Archer would give Logan – the son of Arianna’s heart – as much time as he needed.

“That incompetent hybrid you mock, Alleena, is my second, the mate of my daughter. I will make sure that once he has recovered from the shock of losing his mate, to make you the first to challenge him, if you so wish. Unless you would rather challenge me?”

Alleena looked away, as Archer knew she would. Logan was the best fighter he had, no matter if he was not a pure blood. He wasn’t a hybrid, or not a human one, but a mix between the two Dhiultadh clans, though his father – and mother – had never stepped up and assumed responsibility for him.

Archer looked around at the six faces surrounding him, met everyone’s eyes until each and everyone looked away.

“Her name is Roxanne,” He said with the authoritative tone of the clan leader. “You will call her by name, Roxanne Fosch.”

He read the defiance in everyone’s eyes and added, more softly, more deadly, “I don’t know why the bargain was struck, but that Fosch would have had a damn good reason for it. All of you have admired my brother for his cunning, followed his leadership for centuries without a doubt. One deed, and only one deed that we don’t even know the reason for and every one of you is thinking lowly of him. Which one of you has never committed a wrong, a deed to be ashamed of?”

This time, he saw shame on a few expressions before they were turned away.

“Now,” he went on, “I’m not going to throw his sacrifice away without knowing why he did what he did.” He inclined his head at the now smirking Alleena and said, “You will raise her and discover why.”

Alleena’s smirk faded. He watched as she swallowed her denial and rephrased it again. “And if there’s nothing to find?”

“The government wants her for research. You will pick up the fight in court for her as her mother’s only living relative,” he raised his voice a decibel to cut off alleena’s protest and added, “And as the clan’s only scientist, you will study her blood as the child grows.”

Alleena snapped her mouth shut, her eyes blazing with anger.

“And if there’s more to her?” Ruben asked, stepping in to save his mate from an unforgivable mistake. “Fosch had been acting recklessly –” he ignored Archer’s growl of warning and went on, “but I know for a fact he was a smart man, probably had a good reason to do what he did. Maybe there is something we’re missing.”

Archer inclined his head. “If there’s something, Roxanne will disappear before we have to fulfill the human’s verdict.”

“And if there’s nothing to find?” Alleena repeated.

Archer looked at the infant, contemplating the small bundle, remembering his own daughter. His heart iced around, hardening against the emotion that tried to well up. “If there’s nothing, we can use her to make the humans lose interest in catching one of us.” There was a tiny flicker of guilt inside him, dulled by the numbness he felt for all he had lost. He wondered, even as the other members of the council looked at one another, if he’d come to regret this decision one day, if the iciness surrounding his heart ever thawed again.

There was a shocked pause before Jaspion chuckled. “Ah, if they find that she’s no more than a lesser preternatural, than there’s no reason for their persistence.”

Bebbet nodded. “It was Fosch’s fault they got our trail in the first, it’s only fair his daughter fix his mess.”

Decision reached, everyone stood and left the council room, except for Archer and Roxanne. At the door Ruben paused, glanced at Archer.

“Sir, I’m sorry for your loss.” He said and left, and Archer recalled all he had lost these past years. A daughter, a lover, a friend and now a brother.

He frowned down at his brother’s daughter, hoped she proved to be more than she looked – for his brother’s sake, for his sacrifice. Then he called Laura, his in-house assistant and ordered her to take the hybrid upstairs, to the room across from Logan’s.

 

Want to know what happens next?
Stay tuned!

Coming soon HEIR OF ASHES, the first book in the ROXANNE FOSCH series.

 

Check out the previous chapters:

Chapter 10 – The Outcome

 

                        Chapter Ten

 

The Outcome…

 

At the hospital, Fosch paced back and forth. He wanted to take her to someone with more experience with the preternatural world, but there wasn’t any time for that, even if flashing through dimensions would have made it faster.

There was internal hemorrhaging, the doctor had said before ushering Bella to an operating room. And like it or not, he thought, at the moment she was human.

Fosch clenched his jaws, felt a welcoming ache, clenched his fists to ad up on the pressure. He spun around when Oberon entered the waiting room.

“What are you doing here?” He demanded, almost feral now.

Oberon eyed the eyes that were flashing between black and yellow, crossed his arms over his chest. “I have Benty watching over the procedure. She will report soon.”

Fosch felt the fight abandon him, felt his knees weaken.

Tone conversational, Oberon tried to keep his posture non-threatening. “A Seelie healer would make the process easier. I took the liberty to send for Hiendrich.”

Hiendrich, the best healer in the entire sidhe land.

A Seelie, a powerful one, considered only one step below Queen Titania herself.

No. no. but Fosch didn’t voice the protest. He would give anything right now, even an open favor to Oberon, in exchange for his mate’s safety.

Oberon watched Fosch fight with himself, watched as Fosch’s eyes flashed yellow, once, twice. Under any other circumstances he would have never interfered, but this was an emergency, one Oberon himself cared greatly about its outcome.

Suddenly, Oberon stiffened, turned around to face the door.

“What? What?” Fosch jumped beside him in an instant, grabbed Oberon by the arm, whirled him around. “Tell me!”

Oberon snarled at him, and Fosch watched for the first time in his entire existence anger darken the expression of the Seelie – and couldn’t care less.

Benty popped into existence in front of Oberon, just as Fosch was about to shake him. The pixie spoke agitatedly, in the tiny high pitched tone that Fosch couldn’t understand. He had an urge to pick up the pixie out of the air and start squeezing it for information, so Fosch fisted his hands.

Oberon listened, looked at Fosch, his expression blank. Benty popped away, disappearing just as a doctor, white faced and eyes wild turned into the room. There was blood on his green scrubs, the gloves he still wore. Fosch was pretty sure that wasn’t supposed to be there. Not when the doctor came to visit an expecting father and delivered the good news.

“Sir . . . Sir . . . the baby . . .” The doctor swallowed once, and Fosch recognized the tone of hysteria in the man’s voice. Fosch took a step forward. “Sir – she got …” He swallowed once, twice. “…talons.” He whispered, his eyes wild with maniacal hysteria before they rolled back and he fainted. Fosch didn’t catch him. Instead, he watched as the man smacked his nose on the floor tiles, as blood began oozing.

With a calmness he didn’t feel, Fosch stepped over the prone doctor, moved toward the operating room, toward the hysterical screams he could tell were coming from Bella’s room.

———-

Fosch stood in the middle of the stone circle, surrounded by his kin and Seelie alike.

To his right stood his people, the council of the unseelie Dhiultadh on the middle. To his left the Seelie courtiers, queen Titania and Oberon on the front and slightly apart.

In all his years of existence, Fosch had witnessed this type of execution only once, though they had been common during his grandfather’s reign.

“Dhiultadh Yoncey Fosch,” Leon spoke in a clear voice that rang inside the circle, “You have made a bargain with the Seelie consort, Oberon. Do you deny?”

“I do not.”

“This bargain entails a human hybrid, the offspring of a human female and you, do you deny?”

“I do not.”

Leon turned around, facing the crowd. “We have gathered today to witness the execution of Dhiultadh Yoncey Fosch, son of Dhiultadh Bran Fosch, for denying the Seelie consort his rightful prize.”

Oberon stepped forward, his steps unhurried, his posture relaxed, his jeweled sword by his side. He met Fosch’s eyes, showed none of the regret he felt. “Dhiultadh Yoncey Fosch, I hereby give you this one last chance. Do you die like a coward, or do you fulfill our bargain?”

Fosch met Oberon’s eyes unflinchingly. “My daughter will not be raised as a Seelie whore.”

Oberon stepped back, inclining his head one last time to Fosch.

“You confirm that you forfeit your own life then, your own existence, Dhiultadh Yoncey Fosch?”

“I do.” Was Fosch’s calm reply. Fosch heard Archer’s murmured protest, didn’t glance toward him.

“Let it be known,” Leon called above the murmuring fee and Dhiultadh alike, “that Dhiultadh Fosch has been given one more chance for repenting and has refused.”

Fosch looked at Oberon; saw no traces of triumph, mockery or glee. On the contrary, the Seelie consort looked somber, grim even.

Leon turned to the assembled crowd, addressed both parties. “Dhiultadh Fosch has been sentenced for a coward’s death, by the claws of the jubada, and we all bear witness today.”

He already felt dead inside, detached from the man he had been once. Like a shell, an empty one. Hard on the outside, empty on the inside. The only reason he had held on this long was to save his daughter from a horrible fate, to honor his mate’s sacrifice.

He had felt his daughter’s strength when he held her in the hospital, had helped her retract her tiny talons. He had known from the moment he held her she would be strong, a powerful being. Her aura, despite looking plain and human, had blazed full of power, and Fosch had then and there performed a ritual of containment to keep his daughter’s strength bound until her first shift, which only happened at the cusp of the scion’s puberty cycle, and only at the presence of the clan’s leader. He trusted his brother to seek help if his daughter exhibited more power than Archer was accustomed dealing with.

Fosch turned, met Archer’s eyes. “My daughter’s name is Roxanne. I trust you with her life.” He looked away before his brother could voice the denial and strolled to the pit that had been prepared.

He would have rather died by the sword, but for his daughter’s sake accepted the coward’s death.

In reality, any death would be preferable to a life without his mate. As he knelt, he recited in his mind all the joyful and wonderful times he had spent with his mate.

He closed his eyes, but not before he saw Oberon clenching his fist, Queen Titania’s jaws tighten. He heard the hoofs of the jubada approaching at a gallop, heard Bella’s laughter, saw his daughter’s dark eyes looking up at him, new she was destined for a great future.

 

… … …

 

 

Check out the previous chapters:

And don’t forget to drop by tomorrow for the epilogue and a brief blurb for HEIR OF ASHES, the first book in the  ROXANNE FOSCH series, coming soon.

 

 

Chapter 9 – The Pay-off

                        Chapter Nine

 

The Pay-off…

 

The moment Bella entered her third trimester Fosch knew. The flicker was barely present now, gone entirely for most days. The pregnancy hadn’t been kind on her, and it tore him apart to watch her wasting away, little by little. He had seriously contemplated getting rid of it, and even danced around the topic, testing the waters to see how Bella would react, but the mere possibility of losing that scion had put such distress, such despair in her eyes that Fosch put the topic aside without really broaching it.

She was thirty five weeks along when Oberon came. By then, no traces of the magic could be seen – or felt. Bella’s aura had become plain blue, completely human two weeks earlier.

There was nowhere to hide from Oberon, and he was ashamed to admit to himself he had considered that coward’s path plenty the past weeks. But because of the bargain, Oberon would be able to find him wherever he went, and he couldn’t leave Bella alone, now that she tired merely by standing up too long.

He had taken her to a shaman far in the wilderness of Prague, a witch in the deserts of Egypt, a human healer. All concurred the scion was fine and in good health, all showed confusion when Fosch explained the aura angle.

There was nothing to do but wait, and pray Oberon wouldn’t show.

But show he did, one evening when Bella was taking a restorative nap before they had to go see the human healer again.

Fosch stepped aside for Oberon to enter. There was no need for pretense. If Oberon was here in such a time, it was because he knew. Fosch abhorred nothing more than a liar, and to deny Oberon now would make him a poor liar at best. So he invited Queen Titania’s consort into his home and offered him hospitality, per the sidhe code.

Oberon moved to the window on the far side of the comfortable living room, glanced out at the spot where he usually watched Bella from, before turning to face Fosch.

“You have met the bargain, Dhiultadh Yoncey Fosch. I have come to collect.”

The room flashed in Fosch’s mind with denial.  Although he had been expecting it, Oberon’s words felt like a blow to his heart. He wanted to howl in protest, to shout the injustice of the world to the universe.

Instead, he crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head to the side, his expression mocking, arrogant. “As I recall it, our bargain entailed a human hybrid, did it not?”

“Indeed.”

“Then the bargain has not been met yet.”

Oberon raised his head up, listening to the soft inhalation and exhalations of Bella’s quiet breathing. “Is she not carrying yours?”

Fosch’s stomach muscles cramped. “She is. But she is not human.”

Oberon watched him with his patient, cold brown eyes and waited.

Bella hadn’t been human when they met, but she was very much human now. He had a wild thought that perhaps Oberon could see the future and had been told about Bella before the bargain had been struck. But no Seelie, or unseelie, could tell the future, and prophecies were given in bigger scales, not for an event for an individual alone.

“Bella is a descendent of a witch line. Her human looking aura is only due to the weaking effect the scion has upon her.”

“Ay? It was made known to me that when a female carries a scion she becomes stronger, resonating both life forces.”

Fosch inclined his head. It was true, and Fosch had often wondered about it too. “You can verify her heritage for yourself. She is an offspring of an air witch and a water mage.”

“Who?” Oberon asked curiously. He had not heard the particular details about the witch’s ritual, had not wanted to know. Too much darkness and sorcery, he had argued – along with both queens. But Arianna had been determined to go through with it even without the Sidhe’s approval, and Queen Titania had at last conceded to take in the scion and prepare it as Arianna had instructed.

“Who?” Fosch repeated blankly. “Her mother died when she was but a child, her father was killed during the mage war ten years ago.”

Fosch thought he caught surprise in Oberon’s eyes and he pressed on. “And there is still a chance that the scion is male.” A slim one, but slim was better than nothing. “And once the scion is born Bella’s aura will return to its normal. Borrenski said this can happen sometimes, that sometimes the scion takes a lot from the mother.” He sounded desperate, he knew, so he forced himself to shut up.

“The bargain entails that the mother gives birth at court.” Oberon reminded Fosch.

“If she were human.” Fosch countered.

Just then, Bella came into the living room, her brown hair must from sleep, her foot bare, her aura as blue as a human’s. Her eyes, more green than hazel today, were sharp, focusing on Oberon with the quality and intensity of a laser beam.

“I know you.” she said sharply. “I see you in my dreams.” She cocked her head to the side, as if the motion would make it easier for her to reach into her thoughts. “Oberon, the Seelie consort.”

“And you are?” Oberon asked, skillfully hiding his surprise. Maybe the witch hadn’t been as thorough as she had claimed to have been.

“Bella.”

“And your mother?”

Bella frowned and glanced at Fosch. The beginning of doubt began showing in her eyes, the dawning of a primeval fear. “With all due respect, I don’t see how that is your concern.”

“It is, indeed. Who sired you?”

Again Bella glanced at Fosch, and because the panic he read in them tore at him, he growled at Oberon, something he would never think himself capable. Not the growling part, no, but the total urge to protect, protect, protect that came over him. It was in that instant that he realized that Bella, of all people, was his mate.

Oberon stilled, his eyes moving from Bella to Fosch, back and forth, back and forth as if he were reading a book.

Fosch placed a protective arm around Bella’s shoulder, her enormous belly rippling with the scion’s movement.

Mine. Mine. Fosch growled again, an inhuman sound he wasn’t able to suppress. He glanced at Oberon, his eyes flashing yellow with his inner beast. “You will respect my mate.”

The words shocked everyone in the room, even Fosch himself, for he had not expected to say the words allowed.

Oberon recovered first. “You have mated a human, Dhiultadh Yoncey Fosch.”

“She. Is. Not. Human.” Fosch gritted. Beside him, Bella’s shoulders jerked once, a crease appeared between her brows.

Oberon turned to Bella, who recoiled into Fosch’s side, who growled in return. “Who sired you?” he demanded.

Fosch wanted to rip into Oberon, but reason began to creep in and he forced himself to take a deep breath, Realizing Oberon wouldn’t give up without verifying for himself. Fosch forced himself to gently push Bella back so he could look into her frightened eyes. “It’s ok. This is just a misunderstanding. Go ahead and tell him.”

Bella shook her head mutely, her hair bouncing wildly, her eyes looking everywhere.

Fosch put a warm hand on her cheek, conscious of Oberon’s watchful eyes and forced Bella to look at him. “Hon, I promise you it’s ok. All you need to tell him is who your parents were so he can verify for himself you’re not who he thinks you are.”

Bella’s lips moved, but no words came out. “Louder, hon. Come on, you can do this.” Fosch massaged the tense knots on her shoulder with one hand, kept his other hand over her cheek.

Bella’s lips parted. Her eyes darted sideways. The world shrank to that single moment in time. “I – I – I can’t remember.”

It took Fosch a moment to comprehend what Bella had just said. For a moment, Fosch didn’t move. Then with a ferocious roar that shook the house, he jumped on Oberon with sharp teeth and talons and attacked.

Only to freeze an inch before Oberon’s throat.

“To attack Seelie royalty,” Leon, the enforcer of the Seelie court uncloaked herself and said silkily, “is to forfeit your life, Dhiultadh Yoncey Fosch.”

“He did something to my mate.” Fosch spat, his teeth too large to be properly accommodated by his still human lips.

“I did not.” Oberon replied calmly.

Fosch’s eyes narrowed, for he knew the Seelie could not lie – but was well crafted in the art of evasion.

“You sent someone.”

“I did not.”

“You did something to my mate to make her human.” Fosch Enunciated slowly.

Here Oberon tread carefully. “I have no part, Dhiultadh Fosch, by any mean, foul or otherwise in the happenstance of your mate being human today.”

Fosch’s eyes narrowed. “Neither directly nor indirectly?”

Oberon met his eyes steadily. “I am not responsible, directly or indirectly by the status of your mate’s mortality, Dhiultadh Fosch. Neither are my people, directly or indirectly. If she is human, it is because that is what she is. It is through no doing of mine.”

Fosch deflated. His talons returned to fingers, his teeth normal. He took a step back and Leon lowered the sharp dagger she had poised at his throat.

Turning, Fosch glanced at Bella, still standing where she had been when he had jumped Oberon. Frozen, eyes wild, skin pale.

“She is human,” Leon mused from beside Oberon. “Completely so.”

Fosch growled, but he didn’t look at them. Instead, he kept his eyes fixed on Bella, at the way her shoulders trembled slightly, her stomach rippled, her hands fisted tightly beside her.

Fosch tilted his head to the side, studying her plain blue aura. Not a flicker of the witchy sheen was present now, not even a tiny speck.

Bella jerked again; her eyes widened slightly, her skin, if possible, paled even more.

Fosch’s nostrils flared. “What –”

Bella fainted.

One moment she was standing there, the next her eyes rolled back, the whites showing all around and she went limp.

Fosch caught her before she could hit the ground, gently lowered her to the floor.

“Bella?” he choked with a hoarse voice. “Bella? Bella? Please say something.”

Leon crouched beside him and studied the prone woman without touching her. “The scion is coming.” She announced in her cold voice.

 

… … …

 

 

Check out the previous chapters:

 

Chapter 8 – The Vigil

 

                        Chapter Eight

 

The Vigil…

 

On the other side of the street, Oberon watched the exchange unseen. He knew this chain of event would be problematic, even if he had refused to interfere at the beginning. But it had struck him then and there, while he kept watch over Bella that perhaps this was meant to be all along. Now he waited. If the dark witch was right, at the end of the next trimester, Oberon would be taking Bella and the offspring to the Seelie land with him.

Despite of Leon’s doubts and his advisor’s arguments, Oberon was not one to question fate.

He might have been wary when Fosch and Bella had met – by chance – soon after the dark witch had completed the ritual, but Oberon couldn’t have asked for a better turn of events. He had contemplated snatching Bella the moment she had conceived, as had been arranged with Arianna. But it would be to him Fosch would  come first, and the dark witch had reassured him by the end of the trimester the residual of the ritual would be all sucked inward, a last layer of protection for the scion. So, against some protests, he had let Bella’ to her own devices, to live as much of the mortal’s life as she had wanted to. The reminiscent of the ritual the dark witch had used was fading as promised, and soon Oberon would be able to claim his prize from Fosch, fulfill his agreement with Arianna.

Oberon watched as Fosch rubbed Bella’s foot gently, brushed his hand over her belly. If he hadn’t known any better, Oberon would have guessed Fosch was in love, or very much besotted.

Oberon chuckled to himself, shook his head in amusement. Fate, that mysterious force.

It complicated things, yes, he understood his advisors warnings, but this, this scion was so much more than what they had expected. He understood there would be need of treachery, of carefully treaded steps to acquire this particular scion, to return Bella to the Seelie land for protection until the sidhe healers could find a way to make her recover. Yes, this hadn’t been part of their agreement with Arianna, but both Queen Titania and Maeve had decided upon it, already sent inquiries over their lands respectively.

He frowned into the night, knowing that this part would be trickier.

“Do you believe , Leon, that Zantry is no longer?”

His enforcer contemplated his question. “It has been a long time since his return. I cannot say.”

“Perhaps,” Oberon mused, “If he happened to return, then Arianna would not be inclined to stay human.”

Leon angled her head, looked at the couple on the sofa. She had been a fierce advocate against the couple, had predicted a gruesome feud between the court and the Dhiultadh. “Arianna claimed he had not registered for more than a full cycle. She would not make such claim lightly.” she replied, then turned to face her liege. “We have found another patch of death. It seems like the third have opened another portal.”

 

… … …

 

 

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Chapter 7 – The Second-chance

                        Chapter Seven

 

The Second-Chance…

 

3 years later . . .

Fosch picked flowers on his way home. Soft pink roses, entwined with wild blue lilies to give the bouquet more appeal. On his other hand he had a box of chocolate, a bag with Italian take out from the restaurant on the corner.

He looked happy, free, in love.

“Witchy witch,” he called the moment he opened the front door.

“Here.”

Fosch followed the voice to the kitchen, where the woman he had fallen in love with sat, rubbing a small bump over her belly. Her aura flickered faintly with magic, fainter than last week’s, but he kept his concern hidden.

“Brought you chocolate.” He said with a flourish, placing the Godiva box in front of her on the table. She sniffed once.

“And Italian. Alfredo sauce.”

Fosch chuckled. “And flowers. For my lovely witch.”

But Bella didn’t reach for either, just continued to rub the bump over her belly in slow circles. Fosch’s focus sharpened on the movement, on the pallor of her face, the feel of her aura. She was hurting.

“What is it?” he asked, worry sipping through his voice despite his effort not to.

“I guess I’m just restless.” Bella said with a faint smile.

Fosch brushed her hair back from her face, noticing the sweat gathered along her hairline.

“You sure?” he asked lightly, guessing the temperature in the room to be below seventy again. “Want me to make you some tea?”

“Nah, just finished a cup.” She waved at the empty cup on the sink, and stood slowly, the effort taking more care then it warranted, smiled at Fosch. “Can we eat in a while? I’d like to watch a movie first.”

“Sure.” Fosch said, taking her clammy hand in his and leading her to the sofa. He would have rather carried her there but knew pride wouldn’t permit Bella to accept it. So he took her hand in his, ready to catch her should she fall, and she indeed looked ready to drop. Fosch fussed over the pillows, arranging it so she would be comfortable, then pulled her legs up to rest over his knees, began massaging one, then the other foot thoroughly. She was asleep within minutes.

Fosch watched her sleep for a long time, touching her knee, her hand, brushing the bump over her belly gently, careful not to wake her up. Worry tightened his gut. She was only twenty weeks along, and the pregnancy was taking a lot from her already. Sometimes he cursed himself for being a fool, for being selfish for wanting this. He hadn’t forgotten about his bargain with Oberon, but Bella wasn’t human, thus the bargain couldn’t hold true. He glanced at the faint flicker in her aura, frowned at it. It had gotten fainter as the pregnancy progressed, and it worried him that should it continue to weaken, it might look plain and human by the time she gave birth. And unless her aura did a quick turn about then, he would have a lot to explain. To his clan, to Oberon.

Of course, he could continue to keep Bella and the pregnancy a secret, until she was well and her aura regained the witchy sheen back. He hated the lying though, the evasion to his brother’s questions, the secretive life he had been leading lately.

He was glad he no longer had any responsibilities to the clan, having shrugged off the leadership mantle the week following his brother’s healing ritual to ensure Oberon couldn’t take advantage of Fosch’s position. He’d played with exposure a few times, just to ensure that he no longer was worthy of the position, acting reckless and adventurous to keep the clan, and his brother, from suspecting anything, any alternative reason for his sudden change of character. He had made himself a kind of intermediary between the human government and the clan, so that he could never again assume the role of leader. And he had never regretted it.

There had been challenges issued to Archer over the leadership, as there should have been, and Fosch had counseled and attended them all, giving his younger brother all his support, helping him fit and mold the mantle onto his shoulders.

Now, almost two centuries later, and Fosch had never been gladder for his renegade status.

He glanced down at the faint flickering of Bella’s aura, the small lump over her belly. The child wouldn’t be a pure blooded Dhiultadh, but then, neither was he, even if his mixed status made him stronger than a pure blood. And his child would be strong, of that he was sure. Would make sure of it. One he’d be proud to teach all his parents had taught him. the fact that Bella was a witch – all be it a watered down one – meant the scion would be able to power runes also, hopefully manipulate energy as well, instead of merely being able to identify them.

Fosch felt a frisson of adrenaline, and couldn’t wait to start teaching his son, or daughter, the art of magic. Will the scion be able to shift? Probably, since the alternative form was a dominant trait, even weakened as it would be. Closing his eyes, Fosch leaned his head on the sofa and dreamt of a future.

———-

Bella dreamt of Mattie again. The black woman was familiar, though Bella only met her in her dreams. She beckoned to Bella, but Bella didn’t follow. She knew where the dream would lead her. She had dreamed it over and over. Once or twice before she had conceived, and often after. Now-a-days, she’d dream of her twice on the same day, if she happened to take a nap.

Like most times Bella was in a strange, yet familiar forest, the trees tall, the animals strange. Here, in the dream, she recognized the land, knew it was the sidhe land. Mattie called, and when Bella glanced up, she was looking into a mirror, but the woman who looked back was not her reflection. She had long, straight black hair that shimmered in the moonlight, soft green eyes that gleamed with intelligence and power. In the dream, Bella knew this woman was her reflection, but Bella’s hair was short and mousy brown, her eyes moor hazel than green. There was a resemblance, yes, but again, the woman in the mirror was not her. She had a leaner face, her body was thinner.

They were both tall, had similar light complexions, high cheekbones. Bella always thought that the woman looked like she had been eaten from inside, like she had suffered greatly.

Mattie called again, and like in the way of dreams, the mirror disappeared and she was now standing in the Seelie court, facing Queen Titania and her royal entourage. Queen Maeve entered the room from a doorway to her left, moving regally to stand beside Queen Titania. The courtiers knelt and bowed to both queens, Seelie and unseelie alike, but Bella did neither.

A royal fee, a Seelie, whom Bella recognized – in the dream – to be Oberon detached from the group and approached her, radiating sadness, even if his eyes remained flat. He knelt in front of her as he took her cold hand in his.

“m’lady.”

She already knew what was to come, so she braced herself. Something brushed against her cheek, and jolting, Bella awoke, still on the sofa, the face of the man she loved above hers, his eyes concerned.

“I fell asleep.” She said apologetically.

“Bad dream?” he asked, brushing a knuckle over her pale cheek again. Another one, he thought, stifling his concern. She needed a healer, but not a human one. Where could he take her and still keep her a secret?

… … …

 

Check out the previous chapters:

 

 

Chapter 6 – The Plan

                        Chapter Six

 

The Plan…

 

Arianna was given a royal suite, a celebration, a dinner in her honor. She dressed in the Seelie finery she was provided, ate and drank and danced, but her mind was somewhere else, her heart frozen somewhere deep. She would have rather hurried things along, but after she explained to Queen Titania the situation, her plan, their part in it, they received a message from Queen Maeve, requesting audience, permission to talk to Arianna.

Arianna had effectively gotten delayed, and there was nothing she could do but wait for the unseelie convoy to arrive the next day, so Arianna pretended she was normal, attended both festivities thrown on her name, deflected the flirtatious attempts of the Seelie males, danced another night with Oberon.

But the third day finally came, and with it, queen Maeve and her royal entourage’s arrival.

It took Arianna time to convince both queens and a lot of arguments and denial on both parts before she was able to convince them there was no other way, that they had no other choice but to follow her plan.

She was forced to reveal a few secrets, explain what she had learned before she had retreated to wait for her friend Zantry, made the queens understand that they had to work, if not together, then in tandem with each other. But the queens had as much to lose as anyone else, so they listened attentively, even if they acted nonchalantly.

A fortnight later everything was ready. Now, all she had to do was to convince her friend Matilda to perform the ritual.

———-

Matilda and her husband sat on the couch as they listened to Arianna explain her plan with precision and with care, proving to them that although she had been idle during her stay, her mind had not.

Arianna knew the entire plan hinged on her friends acceptance of the unspeakable, so once she spoke all she had to speak, she left the couple alone to debate among themselves and moved to the kitchen to prepare herself a cup of tea, to give the couple a sense of privacy.

When she returned Matilda was standing at the window, watching the New York traffic outside, her husband nowhere to be seen.

“You know what you ask of me, Arianna?”Matilda asked without looking back at her.

“Yes.” Matilda would be considered a practitioner of dark arts, might even be banned from the local coven. The residual of the dark art would reflect upon every work she performed after that.

“Have you talked to Archer?”

“No.”

“Are you going to?” at this, Matilda turned to look at her friend.

Arianna met her eyes with a steady gaze. None of the grief and pain she had left with a fortnight ago showed through. “No. You will tell him you have no news of me, as you have been doing for the past year.”

Matilda sighed and came to stand beside Arianna, taking her friends hand in her dark ones. “Can’t you find another way?”

“I have tried. There is no other option.”

“If I do what you ask of me,” Matilda inhaled a deep breath, recomposed her thoughts. “You understand you will be human. You will lose what is essentially you.”

Arianna’s soft green eyes held no doubt, no fear. “I know.”

“You might forget about everyone, everything. I don’t know if I can spare that part.”

“I understand.”

“How are you going to teach the child if you can’t remember? If you don’t have any more magic?”

“I won’t.”

“You…” Matilda dropped Arianna’s hand, huffed a humorless laugh. “You want to forget, don’t you? You think that if I do this, the pain will go away, that you will no longer grieve?”

Arianna didn’t reply, didn’t feed her friend any bull.

Matilda turned around, moved away a few steps. Whirled back, her brown eyes blazing with anger. “What about those of us you’ll leave behind? Don’t we get to grieve, to feel?”

“If we don’t do this it won’t matter who can grieve or not, Mattie. The portal can’t be closed. If we kill Remo, even for a few weeks, the portal could activate at a time he isn’t present to capture the beings. I’m giving you a chance here to close the portal and get rid of Remo.” She opened both her hands and showed the empty palms to her friend. “I can’t do this again and know I will lose what I cherish at the end, Mattie. This way, I give you all I have without the pain of me feeling.”

“And get a chance to live a normal life, away from everyone.”

“Do you begrudge me that wish, Mattie?”

“And if it doesn’t work? Then we lose you for nothing?”

“It will work. I have both the sidhe queens invested on the plan.”

“Both? Seelie and unseelie? You bargained with them?” Matilda asked in horror.

“Not bargained, no. I explained the situation, told them I could give them a weapon to fight the invasion. They are both willing to teach it all it will need – mentally, physically, magically. It’s the best weapon I can make, the best plan –”

“It’s a baby!” Matilda exploded. “It’s a life, for god’s sake, not a weapon!”

Arianna’s eyes iced over, her voice cooled. “It’s a weapon, Matilda, that will be created for this sole purpose. It will be raised and trained by both sidhe queens to become this deadly weapon that will save all those planets. At the end, it too, will die to protect you all. Don’t belittle it.”

Matilda swallowed a terse reply, knowing she had hit a festering wound. “What about Archer?” she tried again.

“He already thinks I’m dead. He’s already grieved for me. I am not his mate, Matilda. He’ll find someone, eventually.”

Matilda closed her eyes briefly, grief already beginning to carve a hole inside her.

“If I do it wrong?”

“You won’t.”

“Maybe if I leave something for you to build on, you won’t have to forget, to – to” she almost choked on the word “Maybe, like with Cara, maybe I don’t have to dabble in the dark power. I can invert some of your energy inward, we can work something from there.”

Arianna didn’t say anything. They had already tried that before and it hadn’t worked. Plus, she didn’t want to raise a child, or be part of that child’s life, knowing she would be sacrificing it later on.

Matilda exhaled deeply. “It will take time pulling everything inward, getting it ready.”

“As much as it needs.”

“It could be years.” She exaggerated. “It’s not like I can yank it all and redirect it toward your womb.”

Arianna inclined her head once.

“Won’t you want to know how it ends?” Matilda asked with a frustrated snap.

Arianna shrugged. The truth was, she felt empty. “It will be a means to the end, nothing else. Fitting, for the trio to undo themselves, don’t you think?”

“Zantry might still come back.” Matilda argued fiercely.

“No. he could have come back within a few days. A few weeks the longest. It’s been more than a year, Mattie. He doesn’t register in the ether, and I can sense Remo even in the Low Lands. I know something bad happened to him. Remo knows it, so it must have been him. I don’t know. All I know is that he’s been gone from the ether for a long time.”

“Maybe . . .” Matilda began.

Arianna shook her head. “Not without letting me know.”

Matilda slumped to the sofa, closing her eyes in defeat. She understood the necessity of her friends sacrifice, but damn it, Arianna was the closest thing she’s had for a sister.

“When?”

“Tonight.” Arianna said, sitting beside her friend. “We will start with the ritual tonight.”

“And once you’re ready to go? How will we know?”

“I will be watched by the sidhe at all times. No one is to interfere until I’ve conceived.”

“Do you have the father ready?”

“No. But you’ll make me want to be near someone strong, preternaturally or otherwise.”

“And once the baby is born?” Matilda demanded.

“The Seelie will come for you. You will erase my memory, give me an impression of a past, then let me be. You can even show up later on, introduce yourself.” Arianna suggested with a faint smile, but they both knew that wouldn’t happen. Once the dark ritual was over, they wouldn’t be seeing each other again.

… …. …

Check out the previous chapters:

 

Chapter 5 – The Grieving

Check out the previous chapters:

 

 

                        Chapter Five

 

The Grieving…

 

Arianna fell right in the middle of her friend’s living-room in Brooklyn, on the middle of a glyph that had been carved into the mortar during the building of the two-story home.

Matilda spilled the mouthful she had just sipped onto herself and jumped to check on her friend. She wasn’t surprised with the sudden appearance, no; she had been expecting her friend to arrive ever since she had heard about the dreadful news, although she had been waiting for her friend to arrive in a more conventional way. She hid the shock that jolted through her at Arianna’s unkempt appearance, the torn and bloodied clothes, the hair wild and loose, knotted and greasy.

Matilda touched a tentative hand to her friend’s shoulder, unsure if the blood on her clothes was her own or something – someone – else’s. She felt the tremors that shook Arianna’s shoulders first, heard the silent sobs next. Her heart went out to her friend, hurt for her, for the horrific loss she had endured this past week. She understood tears didn’t come easily to her, so she crouched beside her, gathered the grieving woman to her chest, let her purge her grief, met her husband’s eyes before he silently stood and  left the room to give them privacy.

When Arianna was spent, Matilda helped Arianna to stand, then lead her to the spare bedroom on the second floor. Without a word, she helped Arianna to undress, cataloguing the injured palms, the raw knees before helping her to the bathroom, under the hot spray. It was comfort Matilda offered, not nursing. They both understood so.

When Arianna emerged clean and naked from the bathroom a few minutes later, she found soft, worn pajamas neatly folded atop the single bed, dressed mechanically. She hadn’t cried before, hadn’t shed a tear even when she learned her world was turning upside down, upended in a way that dropped away all she had gathered and nurtured and tucked inside that basket of life. But the hopelessness of today, of realizing she couldn’t take her revenge on her foe, on the murderer of her daughter without dooming the entire universe with it broke something fundamental inside her. She wished for Zantry, the brother of her soul, but he too, had mysteriously disappeared. She believed Remo was responsible for that too, but his lack of gloating over his victory had yet to worry her. She believed Zan would show up soon, as he always came back, that together they would figure something out.

Matilda brought her chamomile tea, sat with her in companionable silence as she drank it all, knowing that the witch had used some soothing spell in the tea, though neither women commented upon it. When she was done, Matilda picked a hair brush from the nightstand, brushed Arianna’s beautiful glossy black hair slowly, gently. Braided it down her back. Tucked her in. Woke her for dinner, watched helplessly as her friend retreated deeper and deeper into herself.

———-

For months Arianna stayed with Matilda and her husband, tucked inside her own world, in a guest room in a town house in Brooklyn. Rarely did she come out to the living room, rarely did she ever speak. She asked only after her friend Zan, but Matilda was sorry that she didn’t hear anything new. He hadn’t returned, the hunter’s were beginning to lose hope. Every now and again Archer would call, ask if Matilda had any news about Arianna or Zantry, hang up the moment he heard the expected negative reply. Matilda informed Arianna about the calls, of course, but her friend seemed not to care that the world believed her dead.

Exactly one year after Arianna had flashed into Matilda’s living room, she came out.

Matilda watched as her friend, now dressed in the jeans and green blouse Matilda had bought her a few months back, moved into the living room, her posture straight, her eyes determined.

She looked well, Matilda thought, though far from recovered. She had offered counseling, meditating, even crafted her a few charms to dull the edge of the grief, though both of them knew it would be temporary. So the charms lay forgotten inside the stand drawer beside the single bed her friend occupied for the past year, and the meditations and counseling only went as far as her friend was willing to let it go. Matilda understood there was more than the death of her daughter bothering her friend, more than her daughter’s mate withdrawal, more than Zantry’s disappearance. Not that these were weak motives for the grief, but there was also a deep fear Matilda could sense,   a depth of hopelessness that went far beyond her friend’s loss.

“You are leaving.” Matilda concluded. She worried for her dear friend, for the grief and pain she could see neatly tucked and festering inside her, even If Arianna was making an effort to hide it.

“It is time.” Arianna said simply. She didn’t need to thank her, they both knew no gratitude was required here. “We will talk about all this soon, Matilda.” Arianna told her friend, because Matilda deserved to know what had transgressed between her and Remo that had caused her to retreat so far away.

They ate breakfast in silence, and when Arianna stood to leave, Matilda walked her to the door.

“You will come again, Ari. Choose wise, consider your own sake.”

Arianna held Matilda’s gaze steadily, knowing her friend had known she was up to something. Probably had even seen it in the mirror, she knew her concern would have driven her friend to search. Arianna softened, hugged her friend. “I will do what’s necessary. I will come back before anything is decided.” With that promise given, Arianna left, took a cab to central park, where she knew she could use a direct route to the sidhe land without having to pass through the Low Lands and risk giving Remo any hints.

She was welcomed warmly by the Seelie courtiers, lead to Leon – the enforcer of the Seelie court, who although never looked warmer than coldly aloof, held a deep liking towards Arianna. Leon lead Arianna directly into Queen Titania’s inner sanctum without even announcing her presence first, understanding her queen would want to meet with her at once.

Leon knelt in front of her queen, bowed her head deeply. Arianna, on the other hand, only lowered her head in a deferent bow – for Queen Titania was not her queen– and when she raised her head again, met Titania’s eyes head on without any fear of retribution.

“Arianna Lenard. Where is your other half?” Queen Titania wondered aloud.

“Dead.” The single word had all the heads turning to look at her, all with equal shocked expressions.

Queen Titania straightened, her only sign of surprise, and waved a hand at the royal courtiers gathered around the room. At once everyone began to exit, muttering loudly under their breaths.

Arianna ignored the whispered words, holding instead Queen Titania’s eyes without flinching away. It was time, she told herself. She had waited long enough for Zantry, for the brother of her soul, the only friend who could truly understand her. And he was dead.

Remo had truly found a way to kill one of the three permanently.

 

Chapter 4 – The Awareness

Check out the previous chapters:

Chapter 1 – The Secret: https://authorsinspirations.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/chapter-1-the-secret/

Chapter 2 – The Ritual: https://authorsinspirations.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/chapter-2-the-ritual/

Chapter 3 – The Bargain: https://authorsinspirations.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/chapter-3-the-bargain/

 

 

 

                        Chapter Four

 

The Awareness…

 

Arianna Lenard stumbled on a rock, both blind with grief and rage. The daughter of her womb, the son of her heart, the brother to her soul. All gone within the span of a week. The first murdered, the second little more than a vegetable, the third . . . just missing.

She had come to the Low Lands to seek revenge, but revenge was not what she got. She stumbled again, fell to her knees.

“You could always join me.” Intoned a nasal rumble behind her.

“Never.” She spat through gritted teeth.

The man sighed dramatically. “There will be only two sides where you can stand when this is over, Ari. Either you are with me or against me.”

“I’d rather die a permanent death.” She hissed, clutching the needle pointed rocks hard enough into her fists to break skin. Blood welled, but the sharp pain kept her focused.

“We cannot stop it. Even if you kill me over and over, the inevitable will happen as nature wills it to. This way I ensure control and authority over it all.”

“And who made you a god?” Arianna sneered with derision. She had never in her life used such a condescending tone, not even to Remo, but she felt detached from the person she had been a week ago. “You are nothing but another creature, one of them. Soon they will wonder why it is you and not one of them ruling. What do you think will happen then?”

Remo didn’t say anything.

Arianna threw her arms wide, encompassing the entire planet in the gesture. “Look what three of us did, take a look around.” They both looked at the complete destruction their arrival had caused over half a millennium ago. Though neither of them remembered the land the way it used to be, both had seen enough of paintings and portraits to know they had destroyed one of the most beautiful planets in existence. Nothing had escaped their arrival, no insect, no single plant or tree, no animal, not even the warriors sent to fight for the land. Even the water had been drained, for it was full of energy, the food of the quasar stellar beings.

“They are coming, Ari, with or without your approval.” Remo said calmly – flatly.

Arianna stood slowly, her bedraggled appearance just a warped mirror of her grief. “I will find a way to stop it. I will shove you through that portal, then I will close that thing behind you.” her soft green eyes blazed with determination, but the man only watched her patiently. Once he had been as tall and handsome as she, but power and greed had corrupted him into this – this manifestation. “Look at you, Re. You are losing yourself to it. It has transformed you into a monster.”

Remo smirked, raised his arms in a pose. “Power is a wonderful thing, Ari. External appearance means nothing.” He let go of the glamour he held always in check, and a blast of energy hit Arianna so hard, she took a reflexive step back – though it wasn’t an attack, just his power without a leash.

She hissed at his knowing smugness. “You have been feeding . . . from what?” she asked through gritted teeth. Once, a long time ago, she had hunted with him, revved in the energy they could cultivate from a being. But that was before, when she hadn’t yet known she had to hurt someone, hurt something to make power, even if it was hurting a plant. Both she and Zantry had recoiled from the notion, had stopped draining things, taking only enough to survive – and that only from a source of water. For a time then, Remo had joined them, had been content with what they got. Once, she had even considered him a friend, another brother to her soul.

Remo came closer, pulled back the corrupt energy into himself.  “You said it yourself. Look around you, Ari, see what three of us have done. The portal can’t be closed. What do you think will happen when they come pouring in unchecked?”

“You killed my daughter.” Arianna choked.

Remo cocked his head to the side, his beady eyes flat as he contemplated her. “You created her to kill me first.”

His words felt like an icy blow, made more potent by the truth in them. She had made Cara to kill Remo, being that she was half a Dhiultadh and half of her womb. She had learned long ago that both powers combined could freeze the portals Remo had opened, and learned that mingled into one, they could possibly destroy it. Now she would never know, for her daughter was dead. Logan, Cara’s mate, had felt her loss so acutely he had retreated deeply into himself, nothing more than a man vegetable now, unwilling even to raise a spoonful to his mouth.

In her mind she had always known the danger she was thrusting her daughter into, but to her credit, she had never imagined throwing her alone or unprepared to Remo Drammen.

She whirled around before she did something she’d regret later on. Not killing him, because that would be very satisfying, even if he’d return after a few weeks – but if he was telling the truth, which she suspected he was, then the portal could activate at a time when Remo wasn’t present and other creatures of the quasar stellar would start pouring in unchecked. the land here was already dead and there was a possibility that nothing would happen, but if the creatures learned to travel through the paths like Arianna and Remo and Zantry had . . . and the three of them had killed an entire planet just to be able to physically manifest . . . Arianna didn’t want to think about the consequences if Remo wasn’t present to guard the portal, to bind whatever came through to his will by taking from its essence – even if it made him more powerful in the process.

Furious with herself and the sense of futility, Arianna balled her hands into fists and began marching away; searching the path in the ether she had made once, long ago for emergencies.

“And Zantry?” she paused to wait for a reply, but when only silence met her, she flashed to earth, to the only person she knew would give her the space and solace she needed.

 

 

Chapter 3 – The Bargain

 

Check out the previous chapters:

Chapter 1 – The Secret: https://authorsinspirations.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/chapter-1-the-secret/

Chapter 2 – The Ritual: https://authorsinspirations.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/chapter-2-the-ritual/

 

 

                        Chapter Three

The Bargain…

 

It took Fosch a few months and about a dozen other rituals before he had purged the clan entirely from that cursed plague. It had come to be known that those who escaped the plague awoke in the morning exhausted and with three strange scars – which was true – or swore that an angel with huge feathery wings came at night to their windows and stared at them until they had been cured – which Fosch knew wasn’t.

Only three members had died, and those only because they had been too stubborn, or afraid to report the symptoms, making it too late to save them. Still, Fosch had tried, had to perform the mercy kills himself.

Those three he grieved for, but such was the way of life. There were those that lived too far for him to reach in time, even skipping dimensions – messages had to cross the ocean by ships– and when message reached him, it was already too late.

And there was the outbreak in Siberia where the plague had killed eight members of the clan that Fosch had only heard about a few months later. He had grieved for those too, the Belochkin family had been a close acquaintance, but their death’s had happened even before he had acquired the binding stones.

The clan was too big and too far out spread, he had often told the high council. They needed to split, form sub clans that responded to the head clan leader. He had, however, always been outvoted, but it was only now whenever he had to perform the mercy kill that he hated he had been the one to suggest they vote for each major change.

Fosch had kept the stones for an entire year after he’d done the last ritual before returning them to Oberon. Though he had no doubt the plague was over, if any of the members exhibited any signs of the plague, Oberon would return the binding stones to Fosch without any further demands.

“What does completion of the bargain entails?” Fosch asked Oberon, standing on the same spot where he had met him once two years past. The sky was still that vivid blue, the trees still lush and full, whispering rustling breezes behind them like the soothing caress of a beloved. The ground was as green as it could possibly be, full of crawling insects and unseen miniature life.

Oberon jiggled the pouch contemplatively, making the stones emit a surprisingly appealing sound. He took his time replying, though he had had two years to contemplate his asking price. It made the knots in Fosch’s stomach tighter, though his face remained passive. He had already taken steps to ensure the safety of the clan, made sure word travelled and reached far into the sidhe land.

“Completion of the bargain . . . perhaps an offspring would be a fitting price.” Oberon mused, and Fosch’s stomach contents curdled. “A Dhiultadh, one strong enough to power the binding stones and still live to tell. It makes me wonder, what an offspring of yours and a Seelie would create.”

He hadn’t expected such   a request, had in fact, considered it among the last few options, and more importantly,  hadn’t considered or rehearsed a convincing argument for it. A mistake, he realized now, since he was well aware of the difficulties the sidhe faced to be able to produce an offspring. An offspring of him would already have some fee blood, and a couple – maybe three generations later, that scion would be pure blooded enough to mate and produce one or two Seelie before infertility kicked in. A matter of fifty years, perhaps, and a few new sidhe pure bloods would be created. And Fosch would be helping his enemy’s army grow. His clan would never forgive him, he thought now.

So he tried the truth, knowing Oberon had already made his mind and there was nothing he could do about it.

“No Seelie would accept a coupling with a Dhiultadh, much less an unseelie Dhiultadh.” Fosch pointed out reasonably.

“Nay, we would not.” Oberon agreed equably. “For that, you will produce an offspring that will be raised according to our rules and traditions, here in the Seelie land.”

Fosch’s jaws tightened, his hands wanted to fist.

“It is increasingly hard to produce an offspring. Surely, your highness, you know this.” For the Unseelie Dhiultadh, although blessed once with fertility, now faced difficulties to reproduce.

Oberon grunted. “You Dhiultadh are increasingly stubborn. Your better peers have not had such difficulties, for they are flexible creatures.”

ONCE, A LONG TIME AGO, Verenastra, TITANIA’S DAUGHTER met with Madoc, the leader of the Unseelie court at that time, and produced with him an offspring, a daughter she named Oonagh.

Fosch’s clan were descendant of Oonagh, who had mated with no other than Finvarra, queen Maeve’s bastard child. When Madoc tried to kill Verenastra, she fled the sidhe land and mated Tristan, the leader of the Tristan star. They bred and started a different line altogether, now called the Seelie Dhiultadh, or the unseelie dhiultadh’s ‘better kin’.

“Their blood is diluted.” Fosch argued without any heat. He had never been one to consider his cousin clan weaklings the way all the elders from his clan suggested, but once – during his father’s rein – he had dared to voice his opinion and almost gotten himself ostracized for it. After that particular incident had been straightened, Fosch had stopped voicing his opinion, even when a debate arose – and they often did – and some of the elders aimed nasty – daring – comments at him.

Yes, his mother had not been a Dhiultadh, but His parent’s marriage had been an unconventional arrangement, a way to strengthen the clan during a time of war, and even that hadn’t worked well. Fosch, the firstborn was supposed to be a scion of the earth witch coven, but his father, the clan leader at that time had circumvented the agreement by declaring Fosch the next clan leader, which would subject Fosch’s first century to a rigorous life in training, making Fosch by default unfit for the earth witch clan.

A long, bloody feud had followed his father’s declaration, until his mother had produced another scion, Cora; a sister Fosch met only a handful of times and who now ruled over the dwindling coven. His parent’s had been the only ‘permitted’ interspecies marriage, and not a single member of the clan protested when his ancestors, arrogant, backward leaders of the clan had decided that any interspecies marital relations would dilute their blood and decreed such thing a blasphemy. Of course, at the time of this decree, breeding hadn’t been an issue, but had in fact, been a blessing. A lot of his ancestors had more than half a dozen siblings; some even more than a dozen.

His cousin clan, the Seelie Dhiultadh, bred more easily because of their flexibility and willingness to explore interspecies relationship, and even with this truth facing them like a bright star, the clan still refused to expand.

Fosch suspected that one day the clan would see reason – or be forced to se reason – when the unseelie Dhiultadh number begin to dwindle into extinction.

Oberon waved a hand dismissively before placing his hands behind his back. “We talk not of the Tristan clan. An offspring is my bargaining price, Yoncey Fosch, son of Dhiultadh Bran Fosch.”

Fosch inclined his head in agreement, though his insides screamed in denial.

“But I will ease the choice for you. I want a half human scion, to breed four royals for my            queen.”

Astonished, Fosch turned to him. “For you? An offspring of mine and a human for you?”

Oberon tilted his head upward, his brown eyes scrutinizing Fosch sharply. “It offends you.”

Fosch shrugged. Fulfilling his side of the bargain didn’t mean he had to like it.

Unperturbed, Oberon returned his gaze to the land before he spoke again. Though both his stance and Fosch’s were relaxed, tense energy began crackling around them. “To answer your question, not for me, nay. But I will let you know the third generation of this offspring will be Seelie enough for my queen.”

Ah, Fosch thought. A human hybrid, an easy enough feat to produce. Already part fee, to produce four offspring’s. Each would mate and produce as many as they were able, increasing the sidhe genes. And those would produce as many as they could. And once Queen Titania deemed them Seelie enough, she would choose the ones that showed promise, pair them with her best.

And the Seelie army would grow, Fosch thought, god knew by how many.

“For how long?” Fosch asked.

“The scion will be born and raised at court. You are allowed to visit and be presented as the sire, if you so wish. Once the four offspring’s are produced, the scion can leave with you, or return to the mortal realm.”

Fosch was quiet for a long time, contemplating the asking price for his brother’s life, along with a dozen others. He found that he didn’t regret his deed, the bargain, even the asking price. No, what stuck in his craw was the human part.

He didn’t like humans, never made it a secret. Could even be why Oberon specified the human hybrid, Fosch mused – just to get back at him.

He’d have no trouble handing over the scion, wouldn’t want to present himself as the sire.

A human hybrid. Nothing but an abomination. Easy enough to hand over, Fosch repeated to himself. To reproduce four times it would have to be female, so any male offspring would be disregarded.

Oh, it was true that the difficulties of the dhiultadh’s to breed extended as far as their avoidance to mate outside the clan, like their cousin clan had done long ago. Not that his cousin clan endured human hybrids, no, not at all. Even they didn’t stoop so low as to breed with a human. Yes, human hybrids were very easy to come by. In fact, it would be more troublesome to procure a worthy human to carry on his seed.

“I will need to find a suitable vessel for my seed.” Fosch finally said.

Oberon inclined his head and started moving away. Business concluded. He hoped his first offspring was female so he wouldn’t need to produce more than one, and that this female produce four male offspring’s so that Oberon wouldn’t be able to breed an army out of them.

In any case, Fosch thought gloomily, what was he supposed to do with a human hybrid after that? The clan would have no use for it, would in fact, make that scion’s life a misery of ridicule and humiliation.

Fosch paused in the forest, his head cocked to the side as if listening to some inner thought. Gongo appeared by his side, his faithful companion, still the size of a child even if he was already three hundred and fifty six years old.

Fosch met the understanding in the shell shaped eyes of his familiar. We never agreed upon a date, He thought to his familiar, who crouched beside him knowingly.

“No, master.” It hissed in a deep, barrel tone.

Fosch laughed then, a long, booming sound that echoed around and spooked the exotic birds into flight.