End of the World (Champion of the Sidhe urban fantasy series)

BOOK: End of the World (Champion of the Sidhe urban fantasy series)
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End of the World

and

In Whom You Trust

by

S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart

Ravynheart Publishing

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End of the World

and

In Whom You Trust

Copyright 2011 and 2012 by S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart

Cover Art Copyrighted 2011 by Ravynheart Publishing

http://www.sidhetouch.com

Amazon Edition

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form without permission, except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law. Printed and bound in the United States of America.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Introduction

A Quick Lay of the Land

The Sidhe series takes place in the modern world, where most humans are unaware of the magical and paranormal beings living among them. ‘The fey’ are all the races of beings that come from the fey realm, known as ‘the Mounds’, and we base them loosely on Celtic mythology. These include elves, fairies, dwarves, Brownies, Changelings, goblins and many other races. Among the fey, the most magical, and therefore the ruling class, are the noble elves. They are also called ‘the Sidhe’, pronounced ‘shee’. Because the Sidhe are so powerful, all other fey are known as ‘lesser fey’ by comparison.

To some degree, all fey have the ability to teleport and use Glamour, which is a magical illusion usually used to disguise oneself or to hide something. In addition to this, the Sidhe as a race possess a common magic known as ‘the Touch’, which is a form of sharing magic. The Touch is a bonding and beautiful experience for the Sidhe, and is a gift when presented to lesser fey. However, the Touch is dangerous to humans, who become forever addicted to the magic. Touched humans will need to have that magic replenished every few weeks, or they suffer the same withdrawal symptoms as drug addicts, and they will eventually be driven insane by the need. Besides teleportation, Glamour, and the Touch, each Sidhe possesses a single ‘aspect of magic’ which dictates how their personal magic will manifest. For example, Lugh’s aspect of magic is the sun, so he can produce light and heat, encourage the growth of plants, manipulate fire, and so forth.

The Sidhe have always been divided into two philosophically opposed courts. The Seelie Court, also known as the Light Court, values civilization, pageantry, beauty, and subtle intrigues. They are all about the presentation of chivalry and gallant performances, regardless of what truth may lie beneath the lovely facade. The Unseelie Court, also known as the Dark Court, doesn’t waste effort on pretending to be anything other than what they are. They are blunt and to the point. They embrace freedom, individuality, and are headstrong in their dislike of all that is ‘fake’ about the Seelie.

The predators hunting the fey include vampires and werewolves, who find the magic-laced blood and flesh intoxicating. There is also a sect of humans known as wizards who have discovered ways to strip captive fey of magic, usually killing them in the process, to power their own enchantments.

In the very back of the book is a
glossary
and a
pronunciation guide
for the more unusual fey names.

We hope that this little introduction gives you a framework for understanding, as we begin our tale…

Chapter One

of

In Whom You Trust

Prequel to the Champion of the Sidhe series

Bonus Content

“Celebrating prematurely, aren’t you?” Lugh used his glass to indicate the party filling the grand ballroom of the Seelie Court. It was as spectacular an event as any other victory gala he’d ever partaken in, with the notable exception that this time victory had yet to be secured, and to Lugh’s mind, probably never would be.

“Have faith.” Manannan offered a handsome smile full of arrogance. The Seelie king cut a dashing figure in his brocade doublet of a color that matched his ocean blue eyes. To gaze upon him, one would have believed nothing could tarnish his confidence, not even the rather inconvenient truth.

“Faith? I know the Unseelie. They shall never submit, not to you or any other Seelie king. That is at the very heart of the Unseelie, to never surrender their wild ways.” Lugh scanned those in attendance. All Seelie, which rather proved his point. The brightly attired Sidhe danced the familiar waltzes in the center of the rotunda to the traditional songs. The conversation groupings milling around the fringes were in the usual pairings, so much so that Lugh could almost with certainty describe the topics of conversations without even guessing. He knew the ones discussing politics, or domestic trivialities, or the gossip about the latest romances. All of the trappings of civility and pleasantries that the Seelie did so enjoy, and would have sent an Unseelie’s skin crawling.

Manannan tilted his head back to finish his drink, and then said, “This time, they shall accept our invitation. Danu herself is presiding.”

That did capture Lugh’s attention. He searched the guileless, even expression on Manannan’s face. Perhaps a shade too controlled. Something lurked unsaid just beneath the surface. To be certain, the king owed him no explanation, but Lugh rather wished he would accept his council in the spirit with which he offered it. Though he did not wish to see Manannan fail, in this matter he saw no conceivable way he could succeed. Save one possibility which could never be. Although it should have gone without saying, Lugh reminded his king, “Danu would not compel the Unseelie to obey her. Not in a matter such as this.”

“Certainly not,” Manannan dismissed the notion, “But they are the weaker court. Their strength is waning. The time for division is declining. We shall soon embrace our wayward brethren in one united court.”

Though ruled by their king, the Seelie Court moved by Danu’s bidding. She crowned the king for whatever term she deemed appropriate. Lugh himself had held the crown twice, and served his court with the love and dedication that ruled his life. While each king governed in his own fashion, no other had drawn more controversy than Manannan, crowned only a mere century earlier. Almost immediately the prophetess of the Unseelie Court spoke against him. Aoife predicted a grave doom would befall all fey should the courts be united, and that Manannan would drive them toward that doom with a relentless passion. Before she’d spoken of it, Lugh would have never even suspected such a thing as uniting of the courts would be possible, but Manannan embraced the prophecy as a challenge, as a prediction not of doom, but of his success and the Unseelie fear of it. A legacy no other Sidhe could outshine. The unification of the Sidhe. One people. One court. And, of course, all ruled by one king.

Ambitious, even for the arrogant Seelie.

Lugh gave no credence to predictions, Aoife’s or anyone else’s. Too often circumstances changed, defeating the disasters before they even manifested. But there were many that saw conspiracy woven into every action and every utterance, unconsciously determined to fulfill the very prophecy they claimed to battle. This movement among the fey, this undercurrent of fear, alone should have been enough to defeat the summit’s goal to find peace between the courts. In truth that was probably the very reason Aoife spoke of it, a political maneuver rather than a true vision. How Manannan thought this time would be any different than any other, Lugh could not fathom. The Unseelie queen and her king declined to even attend the last several times Manannan invited them to discuss the issue.

The king raised his empty goblet in a comradely salute, “Don’t trouble yourself about this tonight Lugh. Let us freshen our drinks and find ladies in need of a dance.”

As Lugh casually surveyed the room, he noticed one of the wood elf waiters moving too quickly through the crowd. He did not offer the glasses on his tray to any of the guests. In fact, his gaze was fixed on his destination. His target.

Lugh’s heart nearly stopped, the wrongness struck him that bluntly. Though he had no doubts that the summit would once more fail, there were those who feared it enough to do even the unthinkable to defeat it. It would not be the first time an assassin struck in public.

Lugh departed from Manannan without taking his leave. He cut through the crowd. Closing the distance.

The elf headed for Kaitlin, a princess and Manannan’s sister-in-law. The princess saw the elf coming. Her chin lifted. Eyes lit up. She breathlessly froze in anticipation.

Lugh slowed mere strides before reaching the elf. Had Kaitlin seemed frightened, or even unsuspecting, he’d have quietly detained the elf and discovered his true intent, for serving drinks certainly was not it. The elf removed a folded napkin from his tray. As he moved passed Kaitlin he passed the napkin to the girl without slowing down.

Kaitlin accepted it and then cast an anxious glance about her. Lugh turned away before her eyes could fix upon him. He murmured a random compliment to one of the ladies and she rewarded him with a musical laugh. When he pivoted back toward the princess she no longer faced in his direction, but rather slipped through the crowd with hast. The silk of her dress flowed about her lithe, dancer’s figure. Her loose hair spilled down her back before curling into soft ringlets that bounced youthfully against her back, too eager to make her escape to depart without noticeable excitement.

Curiosity sharp, he trailed behind her. The barrier over the castle prevented Glamour as well as teleportation. Not that following the young princess required an inordinate amount of stealth. Once he saw her safely to her private chambers, he suspected he knew her intentions. And the potential dangers.

Chapter Two

Not another fey stirred in the dark courtyard outside the family wing of the castle. Lugh expected someone would attempt to scale the castle wall, perhaps even the elf he’d spied slipping something to the princess. But, it was the princess herself, clad in dark form-fitting pants and sweater like a thief, who lowered herself to the courtyard with a rope.

Saying nothing, he watched her descend with practiced ease, for he was well aware that this was not her first time slipping out without permission. Not that she truly required permission; at two-hundred-some-odd years she was well old enough to go where she pleased. Be that as it may, she was still a youngling among the long-lived Sidhe, and a princess whose safety, or the threat thereof, could serve as leverage to the unscrupulous.

Lugh slipped silently to the wall next to the trailing end of the rope. He leaned back, his arms crossed, patient for her to climb down and notice him. She was beside him, practically face to face with him, before she squeaked in surprise and dropped to her feet. “Bless it, Lugh!” She whispered with the annoyance of her fright. “You scared the spit out of me.” She smacked his arm with girlish strength that was barely noticeable.

“Sneaking off for a midnight tryst?” He teased, but highly doubting that was the truth.

“Mercy, you’re going to do that thing you do, aren’t you? You do know how utterly annoying you are when you play Champion, don’t you?” Kaitlin didn’t wait for his reply. Instead she shielded her fair face with the dark hood of her sweater and rushed off at a jog.

With his longer legs and swift stride, Lugh kept pace with just a brisk walk. “I pride myself on the knowledge that I have annoyed every single Sidhe I have ever met at least once.” When she cut him an incredulous glance, he grinned back with just enough brightness to cause her to roll her eyes in that amusingly exasperated way she had.

“Only once?” She snorted rather unlady-like. “I don’t need a chaperone. Any chance I can talk you out of shadowing me?”

“Slim to none.”

She spun around to face him, to block him, her tapered finger pointing at his face. “You can’t mess this up, Lugh. This is important. I’m not going anywhere, not taking another step, until you promise me, for real Champion-of-the-Sidhe, promise me, that you will not do or say anything that will mess this up.” Even as he opened his mouth to respond she shook her finger at him again with complete seriousness in her young face. “And no fey-logic excuses to weasel out of your word.”

That closed his mouth. Her blunt rebellion was almost Unseelie in unbridled determination. Even as Lugh searched her face, the memories he possessed of her, a mischievous child with enough tomboy in her to lead her into trouble at every conceivable turn, transformed into something else. Into the young woman before him, possessed with the serious passion of youth, and lacking in caution or wisdom. “Just what manner of trouble has befallen you, Luv?” He reached to stroke her cheek, but she shied away from it.

“You have to promise me and mean it.” Kaitlin repeated. She shifted, looked past him at the castle as if just now realizing that she’d not yet made good her escape. “I would trust you, if only you didn’t trust Manannan.”

“What is this about, Kaitlin?” The dread that twisted his gut earlier in the evening when he’d spotted the elf, moving with deception and purpose, returned. Publically, Manannan and Kaitlin played cordial for the Seelie sake of decorum, but the undercurrent of dislike was easy enough to discern. Lugh knew something of the issue that divided them. Kaitlin’s father held the Seelie throne before Manannan, and though content to be a caretaker rather than a progressive ruler, Tethor had been very popular. Manannan’s attempts to ingratiate himself to the king had met with cool dismissal until the eldest princess, Leannan, became pregnant with Manannan’s child.

That changed everything. Because the Sidhe so rarely sired offspring, fertile couples were lawfully bound into marriage immediately. The fact that Leannan lost the baby early in her pregnancy didn’t dissolve the union, as Tethor had petitioned of the All-Mother. When Tethor was killed in one of the frequent goblin raids, and Manannan was raised to the throne as king, it had been the popularity of his wife that smoothed the transition. His ambition and the circumstances of his ascension spawned rumors and dissenters.

Lugh folded his arms, giving serious weight to the promise Kaitlin implored of him. He understood what she was requiring. The fey could easily ‘interpret’ agreements in a manner more suiting their preferences. The Seelie raised the practice to an art form, which was why most didn’t bother with promises anymore, but rather appealed to chivalry or pride to procure favors, for a favor was not an obligation, but a promise was.

So to make a promise, and forsake the escape route of fey-logic, was no light matter. “I cannot grant a promise as grave as you beseech without knowing the particulars.”

Kaitlin nervously glanced back at the castle, then hooked her arm in Lugh’s and began walking with him. He did not waste a glance back himself. If someone spotted them, what might have appeared to be two conspirators whispering in the dark became lovers sharing a moonlit stroll in the courtyard. “It’s about Aoife. Where she’s been imprisoned.”

Lugh rubbed his forehead to cover his exasperation at this confession. “I rather thought you were too clever to fall for the wiles of that faction, Princess.”

“Everyone ignores what I think because I’m young. What if I’m right? What if Aoife spoke of a true vision and we’re all in danger? What if Manannan had something to do with Aoife’s disappearance? Wouldn’t you want to know? You, of all people, should be investigating this stuff, not blithely taking Manannan at his word.”

That made him smirk. She appealed to his pride. Very Seelie of her. She was just beginning to learn the techniques of their court. With her tendency toward bluntness, carefree rebellion, and her interest in conspiracy theories, Lugh wondered if the princess might come to the revelation that her heart lay upon the Unseelie path. Though her future yet lay before her full of undiscovered vistas, he longed to keep her safe and innocent and shielded from the dark realities of the Unseelie as long as he might.

Lugh slung an arm around Kaitlin’s shoulder and hugged her against his side in brotherly fashion. “Fool’s errand though it maybe, I shall do my upmost not to ‘mess things up.’ I will, however, protect you from all eminent danger. Of that, you may be assured.” Even as he smiled to feel her excitedly hugging him for his affirmation, Lugh reserved his misgivings. After Aoife vanished, the movement against Manannan lost its leverage. How easy to confuse and enlist this guileless Seelie princess and use her with ill intent. That elf disguised as a waiter had been no misbegotten youth rebelling to fancy himself a man. The safety of the princess weighed upon Lugh. If he could not convince her to stay out of trouble, he would at least escort her safely through it.

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