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The Ring and the Bridle

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Kelly was sitting before a window. It looked out onto Los Olivos from her bedroom on the second story. With her hands folded in her lap she perched upon a velvet backed chair and looked out onto the pine forest. A small turn of her head to the left would have her looking where she dreaded, west, towards the lake and where Matthew had lived. She would also be looking towards the ocean, as Rhona had often done. The woman had sat for hours in a stolid silence, looking towards the waterway as if it was a gateway to a different world.

She had become so angry when Matthew had decided to take his sister from this cursed place. She knew why she had reacted so in her loathsome depths, because he had chosen to save Eddie and not her. She could never express such a selfish desire and was ashamed to her core by it. Distressingly Matthew had not answered his phone in the hours after their fight and as the sun flooded the basin floor Kelly was uncertain if she had the strength to try again. He could already be on the freeway. He could also be so disgusted with her he had decided to abruptly cut off all ties. She would deserve such a thing.

Had Eddie been nothing but kind to her? The young woman was very attached to her older brother and could have easily chosen to be jealous and resentful. Yet she had instead been welcoming and supportive. Did she not also know about Eddie's history with depression and alcoholism? The young woman had suffered a terrible shock. She should have only been supportive of Matthew removing his younger sister from a bad situation. And yet Kelly felt jealous in response! Something had cried out within her; why is there no one who will do this for me? It was such a terrible thing to think! Eddie had even given her the bracelet Kelly still wore on her wrist. The woman's fingers slid down to the beads.

The bracelet had inspired an engulfing dream the night before.

In this dream she had been walking to the cavern that existed beneath the home. As a child she had always been forbidden to go down there by her mother. The woman had warned about a spring little girls may drown in, and monsters that would eat them. Later it had been Regan that had warned her away, citing that he didn't think the walls were stable enough and he feared an eventual collapse. She could not recall why in her dream she had felt an urge to descend into the darkness. She remembered vaguely that she had felt like something was crying out to her. She had looked down and had had the distinct thought of; something is calling for me. Had she perhaps hoped it would be Matthew, the only person the bracelet turned purple for?

Yet the beads had retained their dull, glassy surfaces as she had walked down into the damp interior of the cavern. She had had some light source, a flashlight or even perhaps a candlestick. The light had not been enough to fill the monumental darkness, only pierce it slightly and it refilled the void behind instantly. She came to the edge of a spring with gently swirling waters. The air was pungent with the smell of mineral; it almost suffocated. She raised her light up and caught a glimpse of something monstrous by the wall across. She gasped and flinched but when her hand had steadied to lift up the light again to get a better look at the beast, she found a man instead.

It was a younger man, bound in iron and laying on the cavern floor. He looked weak and somehow frustrated in the resentful curl of his body. As Kelly slowly moved towards him she realized by his dark hair and long slender body this was Naoise Burne, Eddie's former boyfriend. His dark eyes were open and watching her warily, rather like a cautious horse did with his wide and unblinking eyes. Yet as she stood before him he suddenly let out an amused sigh. She fell to her knees as she realized he had a prominent cut on his cheek and bruises where the iron touched his skin.

"Don't touch me," he warned. She drew her hand back. "You cannot heal me, only water would."

He looked towards the spring and Kelly could follow his line of thought from some forgotten place within herself. She set down her light and scooped water into her hands. Carrying the liquid in her palms she kneeled before him and let him drink from her hands. He did so greedily and when he was done let himself fall back onto the floor. To her amazement the wound healed and the bruises faded. She knew however if he remained chained his skin would bruise again and after not too long they would open into sores.

"You have to get out of here," she breathed. Naoise gave her a look of bitter and incredulous amusement.

"I do indeed, but you cannot be the one to free me." He shook his head. "Och, but you are a kind one aren't you? Like her."

"Eddie?" Kelly asked and Naoise closed his eyes.

"Aye."

"Can she free you?" Naoise paused but kept his face turned away, as if he wished to hide his expression for a few seconds. He looked up with a blank face however.

"It matters not; I think that lass is already gone."

"They've gone home, they've both gone home," Kelly agreed. Naoise didn't answer and only looked up at her for a few seconds. He narrowed his eyes in recognition.

"You're Regan's younger sister, Lorna’s daughter."

"My name is Kelly."

"Aye. Kelly, if you come down here every day and give me a bit of water like you did, I will grant you a wish." The man informed her. Kelly blinked at the possibility.

"What do you mean?"

"I will show you. I will start by telling you how to regain yourself. Pull out the pendant around your neck." Kelly did so and revealed the small crystal Regan had given her to comfort her after their mother's death. "Shatter it."

"What?"

"Shatter it, if you wish to regain yourself," he told her stalwartly. He gave her a sly grin. "All the answers you seek will be found if you shatter that pendant."

Kelly sat back, her finger tips tracing the oblong design of the crystal's setting. "What, what do you mean?"

Naoise didn't answer however as they both raised their heads at the sound of hurried footfall approaching and a distant light.

"Shatter it! Shatter it!" Naoise hissed as he tried to urge her. He struggled to raise a hand, grunting in his exertion. She reached for it only to have his grasping hand suddenly kicked away.

"Kelly!" Regan bellowed from above. He was suddenly dragging her away from Naoise. Naoise raised his head as if to say something but he only gave a hoarse groan. He recoiled like something had just viciously kicked him in the gut. The cavern was empty however save the three of them.

"Stop, wait!" Kelly turned back towards Regan. "We have to save him!"

"He's being punished for a murder! No, two!" Regan informed her harshly. Kelly stood stunned. Regan closed his eyes in pain. "It's his fault our mother died."

"What?" Kelly stumbled but followed Regan when he caught her and began to pull her away again.

“How did he…?” He looked her up and down, his eyes fell to the bracelet, and then back up to the crystal.

“Regan?” Kelly asked. “He said to shatter—“

"Just forget about it! Just forget!" Regan urged, taking a fistful of her hair to force her to look up at him. Kelly screamed in pain and all was suddenly silent and still.

She had awakened in a cold sweat in her bed. She had sat in the darkness and flinched when the clock had struck three in the morning. She had laid back and wept softly for a reason she could not discern. It had been a terrible and upsetting dream. Yet she had replayed it in her head all morning though each time it lost more detail and became fainter. Only that terrible fear haunted her across the great divide between sleep and wakefulness. Even in the secure embrace of reality it made her heart race, the back of her neck prickle, and stole her breath. It made her to afraid to look any way but forward upon a narrow path where she was terrified even the smallest wrong step would cause her to fall.

Had that empty feeling she had so long held within herself actually been this overwhelming fear?

As Kelly struggled internally from behind her bedroom door a cloying strand of music reminded her that she was still awake. She raised her hands in wonder as she looked back, finally forgetting the bleak vista before her. She sighed; her younger sister was practicing for her recital on Monday. They had been joining Kelly and Regan on the weekends since Regan’s indisposition. Glad for the distraction she followed the soft melody of one of Chopin's pieces to the ballroom.

Gwen sat before her mother's dying lilies and irises in elegant Japanese vases painted with cobalt peacocks and turquoise sparrows. The lady of the house had ordered the flowers to adorn the piano as much as her daughter’s playing. The grace of Gwen's playing however needed no help from the lurid floral arrangements.

The girl operated as an avatar for the genius of the composer, giving his music a flawless vehicle to ride upon to the ears of the audience. She was a champion of the art and performed beautifully. It only seemed to be with piano keys beneath her fingers that Gwen truly smiled, that all of her high walls eroded to reveal the vulnerable yet confident and unassailable young woman she could truly be. Her skill had already earned her scholarships, awards, and accolades. Nevertheless the girl ultimately lacked true artistic poise. She was far too practical for the capricious and irrational world of art and had already decided she would follow her mother by studying law. She was a lovely instrument but she was not a muse.

Kelly hoped to sit and listen, especially as she knew she would be unable to attend the concert, like Regan. Gwen stopped however when she heard the door open. She glanced over her shoulder as Kelly sat upon a windowsill self-consciously.

"I thought you had been called out," she told Kelly. "You didn't go to breakfast with us this morning."

"Oh, no, I was just…very tired." Kelly sighed.

"Mom says Matthew Moreno is gone," Gwen informed her. Kelly merely grimaced. "Has he gone back to Orange County with his sister?"

"I think so," was all Kelly could say for sure. She looked down at her engagement ring. An heirloom from the mother he rarely spoke about. Was she really bitter enough to think it had no value to him? Or was it just one last gift?

"Everyone is just leaving aren't they?" Gwen said irritably. Kelly gave her a questioning look. "Well is it not true? He just left without even a good-bye?"

"He said good-bye." Kelly assured her, she just hadn't wished to take it.

"But he still ran away like Mom thought he would eventually!" Gwen insisted. "Everyone runs away."

"Gwen! Why are you saying such a thing?" Kelly cried in surprise more than outright offense. The girl, like most teenagers, could be quite cynical and acidic at times but this was going a bit far. As far as Kelly could tell her stepmother had slowly become more accepting of the Morenos, the snide remarks about mariachis and tacos at the wedding had faded into cessation over the past few weeks. Matthew had proven himself to be polite and dependable and even Eddie had won favor by formally apologizing for her remarks about Katharine's late husband.

It was just as everything had seemed to be coming together that it had been ripped apart.

"Would you believe Sarah McAllister has run off with Stan Ngo?" Kelly blinked in surprise and Gwen nodded sternly. “It was all over facebook last night apparently! They both have missing persons reports out for them but it’s clear to anyone they left together.”

Kelly closed her eyes, very grateful that she had missed the rumor mill going around. "I’m sure there’s some reason…”

"She didn’t even tell me she was leaving!" Gwen snapped and slammed down the key cover for added emphasis. Kelly jumped at the clattering noise. “She just left me! I had to message her brother on facebook to even know!”

"Do you, like her that much?" Kelly asked in breathless surprise. Gwen hesitated, looking towards the open door. Kelly took the hint and softly closed it. She walked back over and sat on the bench.

“I would like to think I didn’t.” Gwen looked at the lilies before her. ”But now I know otherwise.”

She closed her eyes, “Why does it have to be her, after all this time?”

She sighed and opened her eyes. She looked down at her fingers and struck a lonely key.

"I think…I've always hoped I would meet someone extraordinary. Someone who could make the world beautiful. Someone who could make things less drab. Naoise Burne is so beautiful, dark and mysterious, so unlike anything else I'd ever seen; I wanted him to be that person. I felt he must be."

She closed her fists and drew them to her breast in a motion of need and desire. Kelly was amazed such a modest and prim girl had always harbored this inner world of fantasy.

"But I found he was like anyone else; not for me. He was actually quite rude and a terrible dancer I think. Oh! Only Eddie Moreno would be happy to be lead about by him when she dances just as terribly!" Kelly couldn't help but to give a small laugh at the unkind but not untruthful description.

"Gwen, that's not nice." She reproached if only to lessen the guilt for her own reaction.

"The truth is never nice." Gwen countered with a sigh. "I had hoped she was that person, as much as I didn’t want her to be. She doesn’t care about me at all.”

She snorted, “Why should I be more important than a boy?"

"You may find the truth is not as simple as it may seem," Kelly soothed laying a hand on Gwen's wrist. "There may be more going on then there may first appear."

"Hmph. After all, who elopes nowadays anyway? She probably just escaped." Gwen looked down at Kelly's hand and slid it down to hold in her own. She squeezed it gently. "All my life I wished to be saved but now I see I must do it for myself, because you can only depend on yourself. You'll only be disappointed otherwise."

Her hand fell away to the key cover which she pulled up. She paused before starting to play again.

"Please don't tell Mom about any of this. If she knew I was dating Sarah McAllister, or any girl, she would have a fit." Gwen asked softly and Kelly nodded. She was mollified Gwen had decided to open up to her but apparently hanging on to her hurt would have choked her otherwise. Kelly sat in silence as the girl began to play again.

All my life I have wished to be saved. Kelly looked down at her bracelet. It was still firmly clasped around her wrist. She closed her eyes. If I wished to be saved, I must save myself.

She raised her head up as she suddenly felt the beckoning from her dream soak into reality and flow towards her. She stood and drifted away from her younger sister's ecstatic notes to the deafening roar of guile. She walked like a woman traveling in an isolated and singular vision. She heard nothing but that distant call that was like water flowing over rocks or the barriers of reality. She saw nothing, felt nothing. She was only aware of the command; shatter it. Shatter it. SHATTER IT.

I must save myself. She paused as she stood before the heavy wooden door that opened to the cavern below. She swallowed and covered the glass beads with the palm of her right hand. She hesitated on the precarious threshold and paused before taking the step to fall down, down, down.

But is this the self that I wish to save?

She reeled back with a cry as reality shattered the surface of the waters of enchantment. The woman gasped and grasped the crystal firmly into her palm. Her entire body contorted to protect her yoke and treasure.

I cannot! I cannot! I cannot!

As Kelly cowered on the edge of madness there was a knocking on the front door. Gwen cried in some annoyance “I’ll get it!” and raced towards the front door. Kelly raised her head as it opened and Gwen gasped.

“Rhon-Rhona?!”

#

Eddie won the distinction of being the only one to not vomit when the arduous race to the sea on Dougal's back came at last to an end.

Of course she did have an unfair advantage as she had ridden Naoise several times before and even once from the spring in the cavern to the river and then lake. Nevertheless she had had to lay still until the dizziness stopped of so much twisting and turning. When she was finally able to sit up she found they were on a beach. The shore birds screamed over head as they floated down to look hopefully at the sudden visitors.

Dougal's furious charge could not have lasted more than ten minutes total and by pipe and water he had managed to travel far more quickly than any human invention. They had erupted from the network of pipes through a fountain that may have been the one to reside in the park in North Vale but the kelpie had galloped so quickly the landscape had become an indiscernible blur. When they came upon the Santa Ana River Dougal had followed it to the sea itself.

"We'll rest for a few minutes." Nejem was the first one to find her voice however as she leaned against the leg of the gasping Dougal. "Even fae need a rest and I doubt Yusuf will not be in too good of a shape when he arrives."

She pulled herself up and walked a few feet away before she began to call "Hazar."

As Eddie followed Nejem's path from where she lay near the surf she realized they were in an isolated cove. There were homes perched above on the cliffs further back but due to the angle of the cove they would not be visible to anyone looking down from some window. The surf was gentle as it was abated by the rocks that sheltered the shore. She shivered at the cold air alighted by salty spray. It had been years since she had heard the roar of the ocean.

Eddie held Jai's bowl to her chest and found the frog appeared to be none the worse for the wear from where he floated in his few inches of water. Sarah had protested bringing him along but Eddie feared for him when he was so helpless even if just from perhaps a cat. After all Eddie had been the one to make him so defenseless. She pushed herself up as a tall young woman appeared with a cry.

"My! Mom you brought yourself an entourage!" Nejem walked up to apparently explain things to her daughter and Matthew at last appeared by Eddie's side after she had stood. He was wavering in his stance but his expression was determined. She looked over his shoulder to see where Stan was helping Sarah stand. The red head at last discarded her heels with an annoyed huff.

"Are you all right?" Matthew asked and Eddie nodded.

"Do you want to...?" she asked hesitantly.

"We can wait until after we've had a rest before you tell me what in hell is going on," Matthew groaned as he put his hands to his temples, his world was apparently still spinning.

Eddie’s phone began to ring. She went stiff as it lit up her pants pocket. How had it not been drowned in the water? She pulled it out and gasped at the name on the screen.

“It’s Regan.” She glanced at Nejem. “What should I do? Can he track our location with it?”

“He knows where we are. He knows where I live. He knows it’s the only place I can go as it’s the only place I already have protected.” She narrowed her eyes. “A cell phone is a communication device, it exists for that purpose. He is not using electronic signals to contact you through it.”

“So I…” it was her choice to answer it then. She hesitated, but had some mildly delusional hope she could diffuse the entire situation. She swiped the screen to answer. She cleared her throat and tried to give her voice a determination despite its breathlessness.

“Hello?”

“Eddie. This has gone too far as I am sure you already know.” Regan’s voice was as polite as ever but it was tense in its punctuated words.

“Oh, yeah,” Eddie couldn’t help but to snort. “But in what way for you? Because I took off in fear of being mind-wiped or that you tried to manipulate Naoise and instead you killed your great-uncle?”

“In that you’re holding Jai Darzi hostage,” Regan coolly replied. “Only I can give him his human form back, are you going to force him to be a frog for the rest of his life? Something he hates?”

“I…I’ll find some way to make him into a prince again.” Her voice faltered because she knew she had no idea now how she would do so. Regan laughed at her.

“You’re with people who would have exposed him long before. None of you know how to create life, only take it away.”

“We only want an end to the lies!” Eddie cried. She raised her face to look at the placid surf. “Trade me Naoise for Jai.”

“Oh so he is a hostage. How cruel you’ve become Eddie! Don’t you know he was in love with you?”

“I-!” she gasped. She looked down at where Jai lingered in his bowl. She swallowed, but like her Jai had made a choice.

“Yes I am that cruel.” Admitting it would give him no power over her. To her glee Regan paused on the other end of the line, clearly not expecting her to admit it. “If Naoise gave up his freedom for me…he became like me. And to save him, I will become like him.”

“You’ve gone absolutely insane!” Regan hissed.

“But Regan, you can save Jai. All you have to do is tell the truth.”

“I have told you the truth! You became drunk and said something you shouldn’t have! Of all people I expected you to take responsibility for your actions.”

“And I would have believed you…if not for Yusuf also being there that night.” Regan inhaled. Eddie smiled bitterly. “He believes Naoise was trying to save my brother’s life. And….who has cause to kill my brother?”

“It was all a lie by that kelpie! He has wanted to eradicate the MacGregors for centuries and now he will do it! If I return him to you he’ll kill us all!” Regan cried. His sincerity bellowed in his desperation, his fear of the faerie at least gave veracity to his words.

But it was only because of his true belief in knowing he would be punished for his crime, not because it was the truth.

“Perhaps,” Eddie could admit this as well. She may be wrong. She may be exonerating a monster that may tear out her throat the second she did. She closed her eyes and listened to the shore birds screaming overhead.

“Eddie. I would never kill your brother. You have my word. I may be cruel in my own ways, but I would never shed innocent blood. It is against my oath.” Eddie absorbed the words, wishing it could all be true, but she knew she would never know unless she tore that veil for herself.

“Give me a few days to think about it, Regan.” She placated him. He sighed at the other end of the line.

“Very well. I’ll call you again.” He let her go and Eddie replaced the dead phone into her pocket. She turned to her companions.

“I gave us a few days I think….and I also think he has no idea about Rhona,” she comforted them. Matthew only looked down at the sand.

“What did he say?” Sarah asked.

“That I’m holding Jai hostage. And I’m being a bitch,” Sarah snorted in response. Nejem reached down and gathered a handful of sand. She muttered something as she let it disperse upon the wind. In a concentric circle around the group the sand rolled in waves and from underneath that second surf a line of small men and women appeared.

They were small enough to ride upon a cat, and nearly as hairy as one. They were dressed in bright colors over their hair, the women in ankle length skirts and gele and the men in caftans and caps. They smiled at the visitors who gave them startled looks in return. They gathered around Nejem’s ankles.

“These are aziza. People of the forest, but here I have given them the sand of the beach in lieu of anthills. They’re going to help us keep Regan’s spirits away.” Nejem explained. She kneeled down and reached into her bag. She offered a small jar of honey that the oldest male aziza took. Nejem whispered to them and for the first time Eddie realized their voices were so soft that their speaking voices sounded like a murmur to her. She had never felt so tall in her life.

The tiny spirits apparently received their marching orders as they dispersed along the beach diving beneath the sand like a pod of dolphins, save for their chief and apparently his son by the shared shape of their nose and lips. Between them they carried the honey jar by the feet of their wards towards whatever entrance to their home. Eddie dropped down to her knees and palms and whispered a “thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” The son beamed at her in his miniscule tenor. The chief nodded at her before they were swallowed up by the sand. Matthew clapped a hand over his eyes and swayed.

“Keep your wits for a few more minutes lad,” Nejem sniffed at Matthew. She turned towards Eddie. “The aziza are weaving their nets. Let’s summon the selkie.”

She stood and Sarah followed only to be stopped by Nejem.

"Only I and Eddie will speak to the selkie." Sarah was informed.

"And why?"

"Because setting up such a ward as to hide even that many people is a great expenditure of magic." Nejem shrugged. "And also this selkie has good reason to be leery of humans; a large group may scare her off. The rest of you go back towards the cliffs and keep away."

Sarah frowned at this and Eddie squeezed her hand reassuringly.

"It’s no worse than staring down a kelpie,” she reminded her friend and Sarah chuckled.

"I guess Prince Frog can't come either," she pointed out drolly. Eddie handed the fish bowl over to her best friend. Jai croaked softly and looked up as he was transferred. He gave Sarah an almost suspicious glance, and she beamed at him in such a way that surely relieved none of the fears he may have had. Eddie waved to the group as she stepped out and tried to reassure her herself.

She took Nejem upon her back as the woman complained of pain in her joints after so much walking. Eddie found some small comfort at being complimented her back and hands were strong, as if they could hold up anything they wished. She gently set her co-conspirator down on the shore line.

"Do you know how to call a selkie out of the sea lass?" Nejem asked. Eddie shook her head. Hala pointed towards the surf. “You must cry seven tears into the sea.”

Eddie sighed and remembering that Sarah had brought along that bag of clothes she let her dress hem soak in the water as she walked to stand knee deep in the gentle waves. Whatever drying she had done on the shore was reversed by the waves. Unfortunately as easily as she could cry she found it difficult to do so on command, especially with an audience only a few feet away.

"Rhona, Rhona, it's me, Eddie." She said softly so Nejem would hopefully not over hear. She clasped her hands over her breast as if praying and she looked down to where her skirt floated about her knees as a lurid black sail.

"I need you. I…screwed up so badly. I think I helped killed Mr. MacGregor, and I don't know if it's Naoise's or Regan's fault." She told the waves. She raised her head towards the rising moon as the sun was extinguished in the waves. The ocean was so vast; could tears alone really call a being created from its waves? Eddie clasped her hands tighter to fight against the emptiness of the endless expanse and call forth one being.

"That poor man, I can't get his death out of my mind. It was terrible!" She touched her forehead to her folded hands. "I just can't let it go! I can't believe it should happen for no reason like that! And I have…good reason to think it wasn't pointless."

As she expressed her frustrated and intimate feelings she at last felt tears forming. As she recalled her horror at finding a man slaughtered and the look of despair in Naoise's eyes the last time she had seen him. The tears ran down her cheeks as she thought of MacGregor's smile and Naoise's gentle hands.

"I'm not running away anymore, you see, and I want to see what I've truly done!" She called out as the tears spilled to fill the ocean. As the seventh glided into the waves below at last the waters parted.

A woman stood before Eddie, her long blonde hair caught the fading light like it was beaded with diamonds, and her simple white dress was covered by only a seal's pelt tied around her neck. The soaked dress did little to hide her pendulous breasts and the curves of her waist and hips. The ring upon its silver chain was the only other thing she wore upon her glistening body. The selkie was stunning in her unfettered state. She was whole with not even a scar upon the shoulder that had been torn open by Naoise's jaws. This was the fae as she should be, wild and untamed, beyond the reaches of any man or woman.

"…Rhona." Eddie breathed in awed wonder.

"Speak freely,” Nejem prompted. “The aziza have obscured even your voices.”

"Thanks," Eddie replied as Rhona cocked her head.

“Wise Woman Hala Nejem, it’s been a while since I was able to speak to you like this.” The fae woman narrowed her eyes.

“Indeed.” Nejem agreed. She bobbed along the waves as she came in from the shore. “But it was not my idea to summon you, it was the girl’s.”

The faerie blinked and turned towards Eddie. “What do you wish for me to tell you? I would believe either Regan or Naoise engineered that man’s death, but I was not there that night.”

“The truth, and because of what you know of Regan, I think only you could get it.” Eddie sad quietly, her voice barely above the murmur of the surf. Rhona narrowed her eyes and looked at Nejem again.

“You too gain here wise woman. What is it you want?”

“The true murderer of Ulysses MacGregor, my friend.” Nejem raised her chin.

"And what do you gain?" She looked at Eddie. "Freeing your lover?"

"No, I…have no idea if Naoise would want me after all this," Eddie confessed miserably. Rhona raised an eyebrow. Eddie explained about the possible gambit Naoise may have engaged in to save her brother and by extension her. Rhona looked fairly stunned as Eddie continued. "So even if he doesn't love me anymore, I will free him if he's not guilty. I am doing this to make things right and because…"

She hung her head. "All my life, I ran away from things. If I did something bad, I let someone else handle it or tried to find ways to ignore it. These past few days, I started falling back into my old habits. But I won't ever again, I will always, always…"

She looked up. "See what I've really done from now on!"

Rhona stepped back and narrowed her eyes in appraisal. The fae woman raised up a hand and removed the chain from around her neck. She held up the ring and Eddie opened her hands.

"You are no longer afraid,” Rhona informed her gently.

“Thank you,” Eddie breathed.

Rhona smiled, wide and genuine, and dropped the ring into Eddie's palm. The young woman caught it and held it up to the moon light. The etching of a horse flared upon the ring, a fae gift to a favorite, and the gift of a man to the woman he loved.

"I owe you a favor," Rhona informed her as Eddie placed the ring upon her neck. "You freed me."

"You have now given me what I asked for to free you," Eddie reminded her as her fingertips traced the ring above her breasts. "I….don’t you want revenge upon Regan? For what he did to you?"

"If I had desired it, I would have gotten it." Rhona informed her. Her mouth turned down at Eddie’s surprise and she explained. "Regan…is the son of the person I loved most, and at one time, I loved him too. Even now, even after all he did to me, I cannot bring myself to punish him for the loneliness and bitterness his mother inspired in him."

"Rhona…" Eddie was flabbergasted by this confession. When she had known fae as such proud creatures to hear one that had been so abused cry out for mercy was unbelievable. The selkie stepped closer and brought Eddie close to her. What she was about to tell the other woman was meant for her ears alone.

"I am a selkie, a daughter of the ocean, I am immortal and wild. Yet humans have such a frail beauty, the way they love, no fae could do it on their own, they can only imitate. Once, Lorna had a lot of love to give. When she first cried seven tears into the sea as a lonely young girl and I was attracted to her empty heart that was seeking desperately to fill itself. I wished to fill that void with myself, my love, my life, my everything, I gave up my very existence to her with my pelt." Rhona gave a sigh that almost sounded like a small groan at the memory.

"But I wasn't enough. That girl wanted to be loved by everyone. The world would not have been able to fill the hole in her heart. I knew it but didn't wish to. When Lorna wanted to seal that damned lake I refused to help her. Why should she suffer for these people who couldn't understand her? I offered to take her to Tir Na Nog, to the land beneath the sea, to live in eternal youth and beauty with me." Rhona stepped back and cupped Eddie's cheek to tilt her face up. Eddie froze at such touch, but it was not an unwelcome gesture. It was intimate, but not seductive.

"We Selkies have a great tradition of soothing broken hearts. My brothers and sisters often take human lovers who cry out to us in despair. I have had other human lovers. Yet to Lorna alone I offered my eternal love. I could have given her that, but I would not give her my kiss."

She dropped her hand but didn’t move back, a monolith of frustrated despair.

"Laced with my blood." She explained as she pulled away and Eddie nearly fell from her arms. "I would not give such a thing to you either. Fae magic is only corrosive to humans and I refused that kiss to Lorna knowing to give her that much power I would have to bleed myself dry and she would have drowned in it."

She closed her eyes and grimaced at the memory. She raised her face up and looked up at some distant star. The wind gently collected water from the ocean's surface and spread a fine mist across the women's bodies. Eddie shivered and Rhona only spread her fingers to let the drops ride down her hands, as if feeling every small splash on her palm. Rhona was achingly lovely with sea salt upon her lips and her wet hair tangled about her long neck. How could such a creature be resisted when asked to lay upon the shore with her? Had Regan really thought slavery had made her as beguiling as she was now with no master or mistress?

"But all the same she sought that power and found it in someone else who felt the same maddening passion for her. And when she returned to me, I gave her my pelt, to try to heal the wound. But the hole could never be filled, and she used it to betray me." Rhona stepped back to let Eddie stand in the shuddering ocean on her own two feet, not held aloft at all by wonder.

"Regan was born from that time of anger and desperation."

"You feel responsible." Eddie realized.

"I resented him, I hated him, but I pitied him even more than anything else. When Lorna made her intentions clear to have that child, I knew the cycle of agony was not over. I could not stop her and that boy…could only live the existence she gave him." She opened her right hand as her left drew her arms up over her breasts in a gesture of vulnerability.

"I cannot punish him for his mother's sin."

The curse of love. To not even being able to avenge yourself upon those who had so wronged you. Had Rhona really felt as if she had deserved to suffer and be abused? Eddie felt her heart rend with an icy tear. She clenched a fist as she recalled the indifference of fae to the suffering of their people. Was it really so surprising that fae would so often seek out human compassion in such a culture of shame and blame? Naoise had suffered a similar punishment for behaving as a fae should not. Yet like humans they yearned for love. Such an endeavor was even more fraught with peril for a fae however who would find no recourse among their own people if they were misused.

"I won't ask you to confront all the sins of your lover," Eddie began carefully. "Or ask for more than the ring I asked for when I first offered to free you. It is not for me to ask you to include yourself in this struggle when you have already suffered so much."

Eddie inhaled deeply and squared her shoulders. She could not ask this woman to fight her battle for her. Yet she could not leave her to continue wearing a chain of guilt even when she was free. Eddie had wished to free Rhona, but all she had done so far was release her.

But as she had learned from Jai Darzi, the prince who had refused to be rescued and thus had only fallen further, a person must wish to be saved.

"But…can you really just ignore what happened?" Rhona looked at her in trepidation and Eddie smiled gently at her. "And I think I am learning one thing in all of this even if I have sinned, even if you have, even if we all bear some responsibility in tragedy, that doesn't mean others do not."

Eddie exhaled at Rhona's questioning glance.

"Regan's choices are his own. Even if Naoise is the one who is ultimately responsible for MacGregor's death, Regan still carries the sin of abusing you."

"It was his mother who enslaved me and made me nothing but a possession of her family—" Rhona countered.

"But you don't blame her either, do you? You only blame yourself." Eddie interrupted and felt a literal pain in her chest at Rhona's surprised and then anguished expression. She turned away before Eddie could no longer stand to see her in such a way. Eddie exhaled and closed her eyes in an attempt to control the rising bile in her throat.

"I'm sorry; perhaps I shouldn't have come out here at all, asking you to confront those memories and for no reason other than my own desire to know the truth." Eddie swallowed the burning feeling down. "But I want you to know, Rhona, there's nothing evil or selfish about wanting to be loved. It wasn't your fault. None of it was your fault. You loved Lorna but she chose to betray you, Regan chose to abuse you. But you didn't choose any of it."

The selkie woman didn't answer and remained with her head bowed, shuddering in some horror. Eddie raised a hand to soothe the other woman but felt like she had done enough. Had she only managed to torment the selkie? She would stop before she did even more damage. She certainly could not, nor had any interest in, attempting to coax Rhona into a confrontation with Regan. She turned away and shook her head at Nejem's questioning glance. A hand suddenly grasped Eddie's arm however.

"Wait." Rhona cried softly. She straightened her stance and drew Eddie close. "The reason why you want to put Regan on trial, is to only know the truth?"

"I want to know if Naoise acted in love or rage that night. And I want to free him if he's innocent."

"And the wise woman wants him exposed and removed from his position," Rhona narrowed her eyes at Nejem.

"Regan Seele is the keystone in all of this," Eddie pointed out. Rhona let her go and drew her arms around her chest.

"No one knows the extent of it, besides perhaps myself," Rhona said with a shake of her head. "But I didn't care. I didn't care what he did. I didn't care about myself. I could do nothing with my pelt gone. When I was freed I wanted to forget all about all of it. But I have found I cannot, I cannot."

The selkie rubbed her eyes in frustration and Eddie sighed softly at the cruel irony.

"Heh, and I remember you were the one who told me to relieve myself of my burden." Rhona lifted her palm to look on Eddie's smile in bemusement. "But, you just can't forget can you? That burden of knowing what is right and then doing it."

The fae woman's hand fell down so she could stare at Eddie in amazement.

"Rhona, you have power now, to do whatever you so wish. If there is something you wish to do, then do it." Eddie gently put her hands on Rhona's shoulders and beamed at her with hope.

"Let's both relieve ourselves of our burdens."

The selkie stared at the woman for several seconds, her dark eyes wide with hope even with her mouth still quivering in fear and hesitation. At last however Rhona nodded and returned the smile. Eddie stepped back at the radiance of it, fragile in its hope, and its despairing undertone burned brightly. What had she just inspired in Rhona? The vengeance of a wronged woman? No, that smile, it was not vindictive. It was the frail joy of a savior.

The selkie woman raised her hand and called over the wise woman.

#

Eddie returned to the shore with the ring upon her neck and Hala Nejem upon her back. The wise woman explained that she had stood for too long in the cold air and her joints had seized up. Whether she was lying or not, Eddie didn't care, she carried her ally back to the group with an air of singular triumph as much as her heart still thundered in fear and dread. They had sent Rhona ahead alone and Eddie could only pray Regan's unfulfilled heart still sought the selkie woman's touch. And she could only hope Rhona was not causing herself needless suffering.

Eddie shook hands with Hazar as they rejoined the group.

“My god but you’re young.” Hazar pulled on the edges of her hijab in some gesture of anxiety. “At least of age, right?”

“Twenty.” Eddie told her helpfully.

“That poor girl with the encantado was only sixteen, but it seems like the most vulnerable are the most at risk with spirits.”

"Well isn't it well known faeries are great for running off with girls?" Matthew frowned and Eddie could only give him a small and strained smile. She was not necessarily looking forward to telling him how she had nearly become a faerie bride, more than once.

"Any lovely young person," Dougal winked at him and Matthew paused. His eyes grew wide apparently only now realizing that Dougal was a fae, not a man. He stood transfixed for a few more seconds until Eddie pulled him away from Dougal whom he was now staring at like a snake waiting to strike.

“We’ve got a lot to talk about,” she glanced at Nejem in hope she would corral the crowd. The wise woman took her cue and indicated for them to follow her up the cliffs. They were entertained by Hazar telling them that the encantado was a sprit that lived as a river dolphin most of the time after Sarah asked. Like fae they liked a good party and often joined one in human form after covering their blow-hole with a hat. Also like fae they sometimes liked to make off with the party guests.

“They usually aren’t as clever as being able to find prey when they’re a few thousand miles away. Regan had something to do with that I’m sure of it,” Nejem groused as they crossed the street and began making the intricate turns until they came to the right condo a few blocks from the shore. A man walking his Maltese stared at the drenched pilgrimage from across the way. They didn’t make eye contact and his walk became a jog.

The condo was much like any other in the neighborhood, it was a faded beige in color and the small lawn was guarded by a few stray plastic flamingoes. Nejem’s neighbor’s door was only six inches from hers and they surely shared that wall between them. The only true difference from the others was the amount of wind-chimes that were strung along the eaves of the Nejem family’s dwelling. With a good wind the place would no doubt sound like a chorus of silver bells. For, even corroded, silver probably held its power against the spirits.

Though the home was two stories it was made of small rooms with tight turns. It was also full of cats. Eddie counted no less than five skittering across the front room when they entered it. And as cats were clandestine creatures there was likely more luxuriating in the unoccupied rooms and lounging beneath furniture and in hidden cubbyholes. The living room at least was lined by a landing that was only wide enough for cat’s paws. Eddie wondered if perhaps these were Yusuf’s pets and not Nejem’s. Someone at least took remarkable care there was no odor and only a minimal amount of fur on the furniture.

They crowded around the living room with its paisley sofa set. Hazar disappeared to make tea and Eddie tried to not look at the family photographs on the wall. It felt like an invasion of privacy to her as the man in the photos was apparently not here. It made her realize the sacrifice people like Nejem made. Whatever had happened to her apparent partner, though only a few days before a monstrous dolphin-man had disturbed the peace of this community, though she had a daughter, Nejem was carrying on as if there was no storm at all as she walked down the path.

Sarah held her hand for no other reason than resolve.

As Hazar set down the tea and a small collection of cakes and whispered a small grace something suddenly clattered in the cobalt bottle that Nejem had set on an end table.

“Yusuf?” Nejem asked.

“I am not hurt,” the jinn’s voice was tiny and wan. “I am only very tired. The aziza have done their job well. The barrier holds a block from here.”

“Rest then. We found the selkie. We only need to explain a few things.” The wise woman soothed. Yusuf remained silent for quite some time and Eddie wondered if he slept as she had seen Naoise do once.

“Eddie,” Nejem lightly prompted as she handed the girl her tea cup. She found the tea to be thick and very sweet, it alone nearly replaced dinner in its calories content. “Why don’t you tell us how we got here?”

For Matthew’s benefit, and to repay Hazar for her earlier story, she began with her brother dropping their mother's wedding ring into Lake Santos. She explained how this had broken Lorna Seele's seal. She tried to keep her voice level and free of any emotion yet she found it breaking into frustration, rage, and at last despair as she described finding the mutilated body upon the floor. She was helped in her narration by Dougal, Sarah, and even Stan at times.

She outlined the struggle with Regan. His temptation and machinations she had perhaps at last fallen victim to. She described her desperation becoming so great that she even offered her life to the fae she had enslaved. Matthew shook with tangible rage and fear to hear this but after his initial cry of disbelief he let his sister finish. Eddie looked away as she continued the sordid tale in all its vicious wonder.

The only thing she withheld was the most intimate moments she had shared with Naoise; their clandestine kisses in the dark the night of the dance, their yearning embrace at the edge of the lake, and his last "I love you". It was not because she was ashamed of these moments. It was because such things belonged to them alone. Like those sunrises she had promised Naoise their moments in the darkness their entire world had consisted of no one else but each other for however many seconds, minutes, or hours that universe had existed. They were not hers alone to share.

Yet she didn't try to hide the feelings that once had seemed so threatening. She explained how her views on Naoise had slowly changed through arduous inches. She was ashamed to admit her refusal to see the kelpie as anything but a callous monster had blinded her to the possibility that he loved her the same. She spared herself no recourse and kept her voice strong as she laid her sins bare at last.

She raised her eyes up to face her brother's judgment when she had finished her confession. She found him gone however, the door slamming open in his wake. She quickly rose and chased after him.

"Matthew!" She cried at his retreating back. He turned around with wide and wild eyes and shook his hand at her, begging her to not follow him to wherever he was to land; rage, despair, regret, or simple madness.

"Just, just, let me be for a while!" he pleaded. Eddie hesitated in the doorway and Nejem put a hand on her shoulder to get her attention.

"Let him go, after all he only learned of spirits even existing a little more than an hour ago."

"Is it safe for him to be out wandering alone?" she cried.

"Safe enough. My spirits will keep out Regan's sneaky buggers. And if he tries to go across the aziza’s border he’ll get his nose smashed." Nejem told her firmly. She shook her head, "it's often a bitter pill to swallow, knowing spirits exist, for the normal man. It may do him some good to speak to Idehen, the aziza chief."

Eddie numbly nodded but she kept her eyes anxiously turned towards where her brother had gone. She was eventually led back in by Sarah. With the group around them, she and the wise woman explained the plot they had conceived with Rhona.

“It’s so spectacularly vicious!” Dougal cooed in approval. Eddie could only sigh at him. Sarah raised her cup in anticipation and Stan turned away. Eddie motioned for Dougal to join her outside. The kelpie readily acquiesced.

There was an alleyway on the left side of the home and it served as the closest thing to a backyard in the cramped neighborhood. Eddie pulled up two lawn chairs from the front. Dougal stretched out in his, lounging, his bare toes tracing the filthy water had accumulated in the drain. As the run-off drifted past his toes it turned clear and pristine. Eddie remembered her bite wound that had left no scar thanks to Naoise’s touch.

In the alleyway they would be protected from immediate view by a passer-by. The streets lights loomed harshly overhead however, flooding every corner with unnatural light. Dougal’s smug grin because languid and savage in its contorted shadow. Eddie perched on her seat next to him.

"I have something for you," Dougal tilted his head curiously but smiled when she showed him the ring. "She gave it back to me."

"Because you so charmed her I'm sure," he said with a laugh and shook his head in refusal when she tried to give it to him. "Keep it lass; I have no use for it."

His expression became more serious and tinged by regret. His voice lowered even as he still wore what was now a perhaps ironic and even mournful smile.

"The only reason I had it before is because Ulysses told me he could no longer stand to have it in his possession." The next seconds he was brightly beaming again. "Perhaps one day you'll find a lad you like to give it to!"

Eddie sighed a little at the teasing as she put the ring back around her neck. She had become desensitized to Dougal's irreverence by now and could only smile wearily at him.

"Speaking of lads, here is our wayward man," He cried. Eddie looked up and spotted Matthew at one end of the alleyway. Dougal waved at him gleefully and the man seemed to just sigh resignedly at the faerie. Eddie left her seat, and minutes later it was occupied by Stan. Eddie walked towards her brother with small and anxious steps wishing to know if his look was one of resentment, loathing, or worry. As Matthew drew her close in a hug, she knew it was one of acceptance.

"Eddie, you…" he struggled for words as he stepped back. He shook his head, coughed, and suddenly burst out with a speech he had probably been practicing for the past few minutes. She knew this because she had caught him more than once doing this before his bathroom mirror.

"Look. Of all the men in the world you could have chosen, I would have had just about any other than the one that is a lake monster. But if he's done what you said, and changed—"

"He hasn't changed at all." Eddie interrupted him gently. She gave a small quirked smile. "All he did was show me more of himself, and perhaps shown me he could love. If he did however, he had that capacity all along."

Matthew swallowed but nodded and tried to pick up the place where he had left off.

"If he would be kind to you, not kill you, love you, and basically not be the dickhead I'm so familiar with, then, even if I'll likely never bring myself to like him," Matthew rambled as he reached his conclusion his sister was waiting for with baited breath. "Then, I will accept him as your man."

"But only if he really is a good man!" He hurriedly emphasized and Eddie nodded with a choked sob of gratitude. She was grateful Matthew had overcome his shock and that he had proven he could exist in a world of spirits. Regan had never been right about him. If it made his sister happy, he would let her marry a kelpie. If he had a Sighted child he would surely only warn them against dating spirits as after all…did they wish to end up like their aunt with her sullen husband? He would happily exist in whatever world Kelly did.

"Only if he really is a good man," she agreed with a sigh and swallowed her tears. And she was ready to bear whatever the truth was.

"And!" Matthew continued on as if he was afraid his courage would fail. "If Kelly needs me, I'll be there for her. You were right about runnin' off so suddenly. I don’t know, what came over me then."

Eddie drew in her breath, she had a feeling why, but she could of course not confirm or deny it. And Regan’s malice should not become a crux to explain all of their ineptitudes. After all, enchantments only grew if they could find a hold. She merely shook her head at him.

"I'm sorry Matthew; that I lied to you, that I did something that could hurt you so much, and I just got so lucky it didn't go worse. It shouldn't have taken a man dying for me to realize what I'd truly done but," She leaned into her brother and let him hold her again. "I know now that self-sacrifice doesn't solve everything and sparing ourselves is not selfish or bad, because we have people that need us whole and alive."

And that was how Kelly needed him; ready and willing. He held her gently and Eddie explained how Rhona would be their shock troop. How they were to forcibly pull the truth from Regan Seele's lips. They spoke for long hours about their mutual hopes and fears and their opinion of this new terrible and beautiful world. They rested their wings after circling over that open abyss that always yawned below that first leap.

And Eddie could only hope that Rhona had grown her own wings to fly beyond that yawning expanse of regret and guilt.

#

It was dark at the bottom.

One groped along with their face always raised towards the distant sky. One knew light must be there and so they raised their hands towards that distant horizon. Rhona however had lived in darkness long enough to know light did not solely come from above. It can be found in the deepest depths of despair, it may be dim in such a place, but it burned forever. To see that gentle warmth again she had descended into these pernicious depths once again. She would not come to the surface again however without exposing that small flicker of light to the sun above.

She had a miserable and pitying thought that she was the sole light in Regan's bleak existence when he had been forced to shade all the other light. He had been unsurprisingly suspicious when she had appeared on the door step of the home, bare foot, in a white dress, and as demure as he would remember her. She had coaxed his desire forward with a seeking kiss to the neck. He had allowed her in despite the stunned stares of his female family members and he had quickly sequestered her from sight and all judgment in his study. The presentation of the pelt had been enough to silence his doubts. It was a whole seal pelt and enchanted to resemble whatever memory he had of hers.

The wise woman had warned however the piece of trickery would fail if it was examined too closely. Nevertheless in his amazement Regan had accepted it and after a submissive gesture of fellaitio he could see nothing else but love in every motion she made, in every word she said. He had her again in his grasp and she could never flee again. She would only leave. Leave and return upon his chain; again and again. For like him, she had reassured him in a sultry whisper with his seed still bitter upon her lips, she was lonely.

In her subjection he took comfort. Her body was his, inseparable from his own flesh. She was simply a mirror that reflected his desires. Her psyche was subordinate to his, with no thought that was not his own, no opinion that conflicted his.

All of this Rhona knew from her experience before. As she resumed her role as victim, he resumed his role as abuser. As if they could be nothing else. She could only be the whore who had replaced his mother. Her possession that he clung to like a child does a blanket or doll, the relic from childhood. It was the incestuous thrill of dominating an adolescent care giver. It was the cruelty of learned indifference. It was the small world of suffering.

It was the life she had been given in her love for Lorna MacGregor.

Before she had borne this all torment in passive agony. In her anguish she had removed hope from her life. Without hope, there is no despair. There is only meaningless suffering and in that sort of suffering there is only darkness. She had been nothing but a beloved bauble passed from a mother to a son, a decoration of vanity, devoid of identity. It had been the only way to survive.

As Rhona had walked up to the home she had paused in fear of returning to that lightless existence. She had left her true pelt with Eddie, the only human to ever touch it and not claimed it as her own. She however had been tricked by such kindness before. She had not seen cruelty in Lorna until it had been too late.

Was she walking back into another bind?

Rhona's fists had curled as she had paused before the door. She had placed her suitcase down, and considered abandoning the false pelt and plan. She recalled however Eddie's earnest expression and her certainty of Rhona's autonomy. She had not asked the selkie to do a thing for her; she had only showed the way to redemption.

Even if she was betrayed again, she knew now she could save herself, and she would at whatever cost. She was fae, she was immortal, and she existed beyond the reach of all of humanity. A chain didn't change this for she could not be anything else but what she was. She would save who she must.

And only she could fill the hole within her heart; if only Lorna had realized this.

She pulled her burden along on soft and adoring entreaties. She soothed his fears. She chased away his loneliness. She expressed regret. She pleaded for him to forgive her. She was given everything she asked for, as she had been before, save for the one thing she had needed.

Mercy.

He subordinated the doubts and objections of his stepmother. He plied along his two sisters. He made the women as passive as the cows in the field. And Rhona no longer looked on in silent resentment but began to construct an elaborate fantasy of chaining this man to the earth. Of letting him taste the prison he had subjected so many others to; ignorance.

He showed her his war prize, won from Eddie Moreno, the proud Naoise of Lake Santos. He was kept in state in the cavern beneath their feet. The kelpie was subdued but not yet defeated. Regan had been forced to order him to not attempt to enchant or manipulate his beloved sister. Her suspicion was confirmed, he could not see that bracelet Naoise had enchanted. Rhona was not surprised something so vindictive attempt to tear Regan's world apart by attacking its center. The kelpie had proved too dangerous to be allowed even the mediocre freedom of chained instead of imprisoned.

Rhona gave him no word of encouragement that he was still loved, that he had someone who wished to save him, for despite their similar binds, she could not bring herself to see him as a kinsman. If Eddie Moreno wished to rescue him, it would be her task alone. He was still the catalyst for all Lorna had suffered and Rhona would never forgive him. He had always borne that hatred however without complaint or entreaty. For all his arrogance, Naoise of Lake Santos had always known when he deserved retribution.

She gave Regan the kiss she had denied his mother so many years before; the blood soaked kiss of power. It would be the signal of his downfall. Smirking like a pleased child he had entrapped the kelpie with Rhona's magic within a tourmaline ring. It was no small task to imprison a fae in such a confine but with the Rhona's magic and Naoise's weakened state; it had been accomplished with Regan only spitting a little blood. Regan placed the two toned stone of emerald and citrine upon his finger.

Rhona knew then she only had mere hours before he would attempt to hide her pelt again. An enchantment would take months, perhaps years, to reach its maximum efficacy. She could lead him on for a few hours at a time, but not enough time had passed for her to truly ensnare him. Regan would not wait that long to look upon the pelt again and would surely find it false. No, she would wait no longer than she must.

They fucked all that afternoon of the second day. It had been a distraction and an exercise in masochism. Rhona felt the old scars reopening. It ached to hide her anger and hurt. She had seen the sun and could no longer return to numbing darkness.

How long could she stand it? The women were gone but Kelly would return at nightfall. She had kept away the spies and messengers warning that Edith Moreno had returned to the basin for as long as she could in her sumptuous embrace. When the yakshani had whispered in Regan's ear however, when Rhona looked away for only a moment, he had only grinned at the news. Rhona knew she must act now or lose the chance to at last expose Lorna's son for his own sins.

She excused herself to the adjoining bathroom of the suite where hours before she had hidden a certain potion. Decades ago the wise woman had brewed it for a different task but she had given her pupil a bottle of the concoction. It may have been passed down, like Rhona, from mother to son. What she held in her hand may have been exactly what Eddie Moreno may have fallen to that night. She hid the bottle between her breasts, close to her heart. She didn't know how she would get Regan to drink such a thing. She could perhaps enchant it to look like wine, full of a sickening sweetness. Perhaps she could slip it into an innocent drink and hide the taste.

She found herself alone in the suite and felt her heart stop. She told herself to remain calm, Regan didn't have her pelt. He could no longer force her to obey him. She was his superior in strength and cunning. Rhona left the room to look for her despised captor only to have him meet her on the stairs, the false pelt in hand. His green eyes sparked with fury that made her recoil if only for the memory of Lorna's rage.

"Rhona. This is not your pelt." He seethed and in his arrogance had apparently forgotten this meant she was a free fae. She was not his slave or anyone's. No longer compelled to be submissive to him the selkie easily side stepped his lunge. She grabbed his throat and before any of his servants could be summoned, she forced his mouth open with her deft and clawed fingers. She poured the potion down her gaping throat. He fell to her feet in a horrified wonder that he was looking at the selkie in her unbound state, when she was cloyingly dangerous and wildly vicious.

I have power. She stood over him and glowered. How pathetic that he had been tricked by nothing but his own perception. He had lived in illusion so long he had begun to believe his own lies. He began to try to plead with her, as he had that night she had escaped, but his words slurred as the brew coated his stomach and began to swim in his blood. She removed his phone from his pocket and called the number Eddie had given her.

"Now," was all she said as she caught a glimpse of a woman running up the stairs. Rhona braced herself for Lorna's daughter who had always looked at her as if trying to see through a fog.

"Kelly…" Rhona said before a ringing erupted across her skull. She stepped back at the slap and looked down in surprise as Kelly hovered over her older brother. The selkie sighed, no she shouldn't have been caught unaware by this. After all, was Kelly not Regan's princess? For her he had crafted this pernicious world of lies and illusion. The woman however had never asked to be enthroned, and only acted in love as she came to her brother's defense.

"Get out! I'll call the police! What have you done to him?" She demanded fiercely.

"What he did to Eddie Moreno a few nights ago, I imagine," Rhona said dryly and Kelly's eyes widened.

"What are you…?" She glowered and held her unconscious brother closer. "I swear, if you've hurt him-!"

"Shatter it." Rhona replied succinctly.

"What?"

"Shatter it, that chain he has on you." Rhona narrowed her eyes. "You cried, you pleaded with him not to, but all the same—he blinded you."

"Stop it!" Kelly snapped she moved back but would not abandon Regan. "I don't need to hear any more lies out of you! How dare you come back here and hurt him again!"

"And I did nothing. Because it is what your mother wanted." Kelly's mouth snapped shut as tears began to form in her beautiful eyes, eyes so like her mother's, eyes that Rhona had once become lost in. Now however she could only see an opaque and dead landscape of bondage and mutilation. Had all the life that had once lived there truly died?

"But we can no longer run from the truth. Here is the reckoning after so many years of silence." Rhona reached down and gently touched Kelly's cheek. The woman began to cry silently.

"I knew you as a child Kelly. I was there when you were born. I held you close to my breast and told your mother I had never seen a more beautiful child. I nurtured you. I loved you. And I abandoned you." Her thumb gently traced Kelly's cheek as she felt tears form in her own eyes. It was the first time she had wept since that day Regan had handed her Lorna's final letter. "I'm sorry. I should have never let those things be taken from you. But, now, only you can save yourself."

The ringing of a distant iron bell at last ruptured across the home. The vibrations thundered up from her feet and when they reached her heart Rhona fell to the ground in a stunned daze. Kelly cried out in alarm.

"Shatter it!" was all Rhona could plead through her pain. And at last the woman was compelled to do so in order to understand the suffering of the creature before her. The crystal was shattered beneath a heavy vase on the bannister. Kelly groaned and fell to her knees as a flood of memories came back to her. She raised her hands to her temples and shook her head. She gasped as she tried to rise above the tide.

“Rhona…you…” she exhaled in remembrance.

I have thrown you down but I will raise you up. This was all she could promise to the flicker of warmth that hat had not let all love die within her.