The sea has been crashing against the rocky cliffside for so long parts of it have worn away, leaving the ruins of a steep stone tower hovering precariously on an outcropping above the strand. Thick billowing clouds, deep grey and pregnant with storm-rain, muster ominously behind it; the wind howls through the empty windows like a dying ghost. Like the cry of a beansidhe, she thinks, though she only heard the sound once, and that was years ago.
The scene is familiar but not—like places she has seen in other dreams, or through the shimmering walls of a Gate. Each time she dreams it, more of the cliff is gone, more of the tower's walls have crumbled. She wanders through the desolate corridors, chasing shadows—out of the corner of an eye, the back of her mind, she will catch a glimpse of movement or a flash of colour, and follow it, until the sky opens again and only the sea is below her.
“You dreamin' again?” Davy isn't yet awake, his voice bleary with sleep and close against her ear. She shifts, rolls over, and gets a nice whiff of morning breath.
“Yeah. Don't worry about it, go back to sleep.”
He pulls her in close, and she lets herself relax against him. “I would if I could, but you keep pushing me. Gonna fall off the bed at this rate.”
Already the sound of the sea is fading from her memory. “Sorry.”
“It's okay.” David kisses the top of her head, and this time she's the one pulling him closer. “I just wish we knew what—I mean, if it's just leftover scraps of Faerie floatin' around, or somebody tryin' to get a message through....” He trails off, but he doesn't have to finish.
“You mean Fionchadd,” Liz says, because she knows it's been on his mind. Alec's too, and probably Calvin's and the rest of them; she just doesn't see them as much.
David nods, his voice tight and pained. “Well, it wouldn't be the first time. Just want to know the guy got home okay.”
“I know,” Liz says quietly, “but I haven't seen him, and I don't know what this is, at all.”
By morning, the dream is gone. Liz hums while she makes coffee, a melody she can't ever remember learning, but doesn't think about where it came from. David's tense but they both are lately; planning a wedding is harder than it looks and both their families seem to have come out of the woodwork with ideas and suggestions and things that just have to be done a certain way or some ancient relative will be disappointed. If David didn't want Alec to be his best man so bad, Liz thinks she could probably talk him into eloping.
Course, then half their relatives wouldn't speak to them again, but she's starting to think that wouldn't be a bad thing.
It's her final fitting today for her wedding dress, and that's not as much fun as she'd once thought it would be either. Nothing kills the wedding magic like having people stand around you discussing whether a bustle makes you look fat and whether there should be shoulder pads. By the end she's got a killer headache and just wants to go home. Or anywhere, really, which might be why, when she turns away from the mirror, she thinks she catches a glimpse of crashing waves on the seashore, out of the corner of her eye.
Alec's there when she gets home. She kind of wonders sometimes why they bother having two apartments between them when collectively they only ever use one. But it would probably be weird to have her fiancé and his best friend officially move in after the wedding, so she doesn't point out. It's a formality, really. They stop talking when she comes in the room, but that's not that unusual either. They've been trying to hammer out the details of the bachelor party for weeks when they think she can't hear them. Why exactly she's not supposed to know about it is anybody's guess, since it's just the usual bunch going camping at B.A. Beach anyway. Reliving their glory days, or trying to catch a glimpse of Faerie, or both. It's pretty much the same thing, anyway.
“We're going to order a pizza,” David says, and Liz is so tired of making decisions for the day she lets them get mushrooms, which she hates, and doesn't even put up a fight.
The cliff has nearly all crumbled away, the foundations of the tower all that still stand on the jut of earth above the sea. But in the moonlight casting a pale light over black waves and grey stone, she can see the afterimage of the whole fortress, complete, unbroken. It's transparent, and ripples like a reflection on water, and there is music cascading from the doorways and filling up the air.
“There are plenty of towers like that in Faerie.” David sprawls, taking up more of the couch than any single man should need, a mostly-full cup of coffee going cold on the floor next to him. “The Welsh have some stories about them overlapping with other worlds, too. I don't know, Liz. It could be that you're seeing something that happened because of all the stuff that went down last summer, but it could just be seeing....something. Any old thing.”
“Or nothing at all,” Liz reminds him. “Recurring dreams when you're stressed out is pretty textbook.”
David's smile is grim. “Yeah, but it isn't ever with us, is it? Not where the Sidhe are concerned. Whenever it looks like somethin', it usually is somethin'.”
He's right, of course, and if it weren't for that, she wouldn't have told him about the dreams of the tower in the first place. But she's worried, just like the guys are. The Sidhe of Tir-Nan-Og have been a part of her life as long as they've been a part of David's and Alec's.
“Maybe Alec would--” David starts, but Liz cuts him off.
“Hard as that is on him, and the world walls, and the universe in general, I don't think you can ask him.” She sighs. “Just—let it go, Davy. If it turns into something we're needed for, we'll know.”
“Guess you're right,” he agrees, but doesn't sound convinced.
The oars dip into the water with a noise like a rhythmic giggle. The rowers, dark man-shaped shadows silhouetted against a murky sky, lean forward and back in time with the motion; even in the moonlight she can make out no features to distinguish one from another. Except for the oars they make no noise—no breathing, speaking, no song to mark the rhythm. There is water, and silence. In the far distance, a hulk of land stands darker than the sky, with a tall tower atop it, reaching toward the clouds.
“Where are we going?” Liz asks, and the words echo empty in the salty air, but none of the shadows answer.
David's pissy all day, and Alec has a drawn, tense look up until he leaves right after lunch. Liz thinks Davy must have been talking to him about doing magic after all. She hasn't actually tried scrying on purpose, and maybe it's the first thing she should have done. She just kind of figured she'd see the same things she's seeing now.
She suggests it to David, mostly to get him out of his mood. He jumps at the idea, and it's a little unnerving how much she can tell he really wants to get back to it all. He'd always wanted it, though. David Sullivan seeks out adventures, and everyone around him follows along because they love him, and it's better than being left behind. She catches him every now and again, squinting at an empty place in the air and then rubbing his eyes. She hasn't asked yet if it's because he's seeing Straight Tracks, or just the empty places they're supposed to be.
He watches her set up so intently that she snaps at him for making her nervous and breaking her concentration. “Sorry,” he mumbles, and she sees a flash of longing in his face. She wonders if it's in hers, too. She stares into a bowl of water like it's got the secrets of the universe in it, reciting Cherokee chants in her head and reaching, reaching--
The water in the bowl swirls, cloudy with mist that refuses to coalesce into any image more solid. She catches a whisper, at the edge of her hearing--oeth ac anoeth, it says, and she scrambles to remember the words before they fade from her mind. “What?”
The water doesn't change, thick and grey. Fíodóir brionglóid. A ripple disturbs the surface of the water, shaking it and then the mist fades and she's left staring at the little blue flowers that line the edge of the bowl.
David is gripping the table, looking like he's about to burst out of his skin. “What did you see?”
“Nothing. Heard it.” She tells him, and he doesn't recognise any of the words, but she knows he's not going to be useful for anything till he figures it out. They try to figure out how to spell the things, then she leaves him to it and goes to take a good long bath.
“Oeth ac anoeth,” David tells her, pleased but tired, like it's physically worn out his brain remembering this stuff, “is from the Spoils of Annwyn. I thought I'd heard it before. And get this—it's a poem about Arthur leading a band of warriors on a ship to a Faerie tower. They're looking for a cauldron, and the tower's supposed to be glass, not stone, but it still sounds close, doesn't it?”
“There are a lot of towers in Faerie,” Liz reminds him, but the rhythmic lap of oars hitting the water haunts her.
“And the other part,” David just goes on, “is Irish. It means 'weaver of dreams'.”
It sounds promising, but they're tired and out of practice, and JoAnn calls to talk about flower arrangements. Liz really doesn't care. There are things she wants in her wedding, and is going to battle her mama and David's and a whole army of relatives if she has to, but that's mostly about words, not flowers. (“None of that 'obey' stuff,” she'd sworn threateningly, and David said of course not.) They're writing their own vows, which caused a bit of a stir, but Liz figures the important part is that at the end of the day they're married. It's taken long enough to get to this point already.
The reception is going to be a barn dance-slash-ceilidh, with their friends playing and their families cooking, and—Liz hopes fervently, despite missing their adventures—no interference from faeries, Cherokee gods, shapechangers, or any other supernatural elements. Just her and her guy, their friends, their families, and a release of all the tension that's been building up during the planning stages.
And then a honeymoon where they don't have to see anybody. Which after the last couple of weeks she's starting to look forward to even more than she was.
Her friends have planned a bachelorette party for her at the Forty Watt while the guys are back in MacTyrie camping. At the beginning of the night she's not really in the mood to go—she hasn't been sleeping well, and the place is quiet, and she's still in the middle of the first book she's had time to read for fun since graduation. But by the time she's got all dressed up and the girls have come to get her, and Myra's ordered her some bizarre neon pink cocktail, she's getting into the mood. The band is the usual Athens indie fare, fronted by a girl with arms full of bangles and a boy with blue tips to his spiky hair. They're singing a road trip song with a ridiculously catchy chorus about a car running out of gas, LaWanda's jewellery is clacking as she dances, and the atmosphere and alcohol are buzzing through Liz' veins and making her nice and relaxed.
At the end of the night, she's getting her purse and sees Myra's been doodling all over the napkins. A fox in a wedding veil, cartoon gorilla in a bowler hat smoking a pipe, and a tall, crumbling stone tower.
The walls are crumbling around her, crashing in a great roar to the ground. Dust and debris litter the floor, covering everything. The wind's howl sounds one moment like crying, and the next like a dying violin. The sea smashes violently against the rocks, and this time, she thinks, will not be a slow erosion but an attack. A piece of the turret above her breaks off and falls toward her—she scrambles out of the way, but not fast enough. It looks like it's going to crush her arm—and then passes right through her, incorporeal.
Liz stands in the center of the crumbling tower. Thunder sounds from above, and the rain that comes with it is more real than the falling stones. “What is it?” she shouts toward the sky. “I don't know what I'm supposed to see!”
The answer comes like a whisper, beneath the screech of the wind. Dear child, this is the end.
“The end of what?” Having received an answer at last, she clings to it. The landscape is desolate and empty; there is no one to be speaking. Liz has learned by now that doesn't necessarily mean much.
Oeth ac anoeth. The wonders of Caer Sidi, the glass isle. It is over now and will not come again. There is so much heartbreak in the words as they seep into her skin, Liz feels her eyes stinging with salt that doesn't only come from the sea.
“What can I do?” she pleads. “How do I help you?”
You do not. The answer comes with bleak finality. Not all that happens in the lands of Faerie can be undone by mortals.
Tears are stinging Liz' face, the wind blowing her hair in her eyes and the rain plastering it to her head. “Then why am I here? Why are you showing me this, if I can't do anything?”
Because,, the land says as the ground shakes, your dreams I can still reach, and much like mortals and Fay alike, when the end comes, I do not want to be alone.
Of everything Liz has seen of other worlds, this is the thing that makes the most sense.
She wakes up still tired, sticky with sweat and tangled up in the sheets. Her pillow is damp, like she's been crying on it. She's about to mumble an apology to David when she realises he's still off camping and won't be back for hours. Which sucks, because she'd really like to have him here, right now. She drags herself out of bed, pulls her robe on and shuffles off to the kitchen to put on the coffee.
She's still measuring out the grounds when the phone rings. She jumps about a foot, but answers it.
“Liz?” The connection's bad and crackles a lot, but it's David's voice, and that's the one she most wants to hear. “Hey, we're heading home, but I just wanted to check up—there was a crazy storm here last night. Thunder, lightning, the works. Made me worry a little, you know?”
Which is sweet, she thinks—that neither of them have to go into explanations about why changes in the weather over Fairyland freak them both out.
“Yeah,” she says, “I'm not surprised. Got some stuff to tell you when you get home. But it's okay.”
“You sure?” The bad connection does nothing to conceal the concern. “You sound a bit shook up.”
Which she is, and it's going to be a long day, but with daylight and human contact she's already feeling a little better. “Yeah, I'm sure. Just get on home. Driving carefully!” she adds, because this is really not the time for a car crash, and David hasn't exactly calmed down since he was sixteen. “And David?”
“Right here,” he says.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.” And Liz will probably never get tired of hearing that. She's sure she won't. “See you later.”
She finishes measuring the coffee, turns on the radio, and lets the lightening Georgia sky remind her that even if part of Faerie is ending, a new stage of her life is just getting started.