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The Ring and the Bridle

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Before Stan had met the kelpie, he had never asked for anything other than the breath in his body. He was a simple person really, content in his small world of family love and meager amusements. He had never asked why his father had refused to attend his own mother’s funereal. Why his mother barely tolerated his uncle An, when the man had never done anything besides offer kind words and gifts. Why they should live amongst chaparral and in isolation when the rest of their family lived in the city and amongst each other. It had all been too much to ask of his father who always seemed to be looking towards the most distant horizon in suffering silence.

Dougal had been like a supernova.

It had been in the kelpie's arms during the dance he had felt like that perhaps there was something special about him. At the time, he had merely had the bemused thought of all the people that shoeless drifter could accost, he would choose him. It was probably the same reason Sarah always went after him.

Still despite his rather wild looking appearance, like he had just risen out of a river, Dougal had proved to be quite amicable and interesting. He was like no one else Stan had ever met. Only Dougal would hand you a glass of merlot and then regale you with a story of a maiden who had once caught the blood of the moon as wine in a glass. That was how he had introduced himself to Stan, as a man who had seen many explosions and had starbursts lingering in his past.

 

Yet he now held the magic Dougal had given him close to his heart. It felt like a ticking time bomb, waiting to burst into its own story. Stan was uncertain still if he wished to see that horizon his father turned away from. He had surely been given the chance to explode but Stan was above all a sensible person, not one to go to pieces. Dougal however had a way of igniting him.

Stan held onto the magic ticking away in his chest, indecision dampening the powder, but fantasy remaining an ever-present ignition source. He was beginning to wonder if Dougal had given him a gift or curse. He would not necessarily put it past the kelpie to be playing with him. Dougal was a scary bastard after all. He was not terrible like how Naoise was with his scowling and snarling but Dougal's eyes held that same specious gaze. Naoise knew what he was and seemed to have no problem showing it but Dougal seemed to prefer games and tricks. Naoise was the faerie as the fearful figure of ancient awe and terror. Dougal was the faerie as gleeful and unsympathetic trickster.

When he had been given the chance to speak to the kelpie alone after a meal and a shower the first night at the Nejem home, he had. He was grateful for the change of clothes Sarah had provided through Matthew Moreno was a far taller and heavier man than him. He had found Dougal lounging in a lawn chair in an alleyway. He was enchanting the water of the between world, with one toe idly in the dirty stream in the divot that collected rainwater down the middle of the alley. He was sprawled with a grin that almost looked knowing.

Stan decided to mince no words as he took his seat.

"I think you're nice and all, Dougal, but, I'm not very interested in letting you fuck me." He told the kelpie succinctly. The fae blinked in surprise and raised his hands slightly. It was a gesture of slight confusion.

"How straight forward and vulgar you are! And also, so flattering. I think most assume I'm the sort who bends over." The kelpie laughed and Stan should have known he would not be offended. For all those stories about these guys liking to bite heads off, this one only seemed to be interested in getting a bite of the other head. Stan shook his head. Dougal's malice laid elsewhere.

"Beg your pardon; I just wanted you to know I'm not looking for romance or…" He groped for the proper word. He shrugged however as he finished, "Well, that, anyway."

"You know, lad, it's not about the fell swoop ravishing in the night." Dougal waved a hand.

"Have you ever watched a rose die?” He asked the young man pointedly. Stan frowned in slight confusion.

“Yeah.”

“And did you ever notice it gives off the greatest scent of its life as it dies?”

Stan pondered this and shoved his hands into his pockets as he realized the answer. “I’ve noticed.”

“Well humans are the same,” Dougal moved his gaze away from Stan’s in a half-lidded look towards the rainwater he was purifying as it ran over his big toe.

“How so?” Stan pressed. Dougal didn’t look back up at him.

“I have all the time in the world to watch you grow, bloom, and eventually, rot.” He at last rolled his eyes back up with an amused gaze. “I won’t ruin you before you’re ready to blossom.”

“Thanks,” Stan answered in a mildly sarcastic tone, mostly because he didn’t know how else to respond and so depended on his usual defense. He swallowed, but the knot in his throat didn’t subside.

"You're really different from your brother, you know?" Dougal raised his eyebrow in question at Stan’s observation. "You're perfectly all right with us dying, but he wanted to take Eddie to Faerie, where she couldn't die."

"Well, Naoise is an idiot, and I am not." Dougal smirked. He shook his head however, "Though I suppose I should be fairer to the wee fool. I learned my lesson the hard way too."

"Did you try to take someone to Faerie?" Stan asked as he remembered how Eddie had told him this kelpie had his heart broken before.

"Hm. Probably for the same reasons as Naoise tried to; well the second time, first time, I suggested he do it in lieu of killing."

"What?" Dougal shrugged at Stan's surprise.

"That he would make her his bride to legally take her to Faerie, where he could dispose of her as he wished, and he chose slavery. MacGregor asked for her life, and that arrangement at least allowed for the chance for her to save herself. And she did." Dougal confessed to this with no shame or defense. His actions simply were; and he seemed to view them without good or evil attached.

"Never mind, you're just like your brother," Stan deadpanned. Dougal just grinned.

"Well, we can both be taught a new trick at least. Namely, to not underestimate you lot."

"And you learned this when you loved a human too." Stan realized. Dougal gave him a look that was almost sardonic.

"Aye."

What would you have done, if Eddie hadn't saved herself? Stan didn't ask his question for he knew the answer, nothing. And this cruel creature is what had given him his spark of magic. He excused himself from the kelpie and returned to the condo. He found the "entourage", as Mrs. Nejem's daughter had called them, spread about the parlor in various state of consciousness. Sarah was drowsily reclined in an arm chair, her chin dreamily in her hand as she listened to Yusuf tell some story about the Garden of Eden from the top of his cobalt bottle. Eddie was completely asleep against her brother's shoulder on the sofa. Matthew was wide awake however but very far away from this tranquil scene. He didn't even look up when Stan shut the door.

He had a faint idea of what Matthew may be thinking. Beyond the collapse of his old world and the overturn of all he had known; how much longer could he hold onto her? Eddie had already once almost left him behind. She had almost left them all behind. She may be leading them towards a new horizon or just a cliff face.

They had all chosen to follow her however.

He nodded at Sarah's information that Mrs. Nejem had set up a few cots in the next room, an unused bedroom. He took the one closest to the window that floated in the middle of the west wall. He shared it with a fluffy Persian who tolerated him laying his head on the pillows. He listened the ponderous stream of cars float by and traced his heart as it softly beat beneath its cage. He imagined the magic that rested there, its wires ensnaring his heart, ready to shatter it to pieces.

Not this way. He decided and it was his last conscious thought before he was embraced by sleep.

#

When Rhona's call came to Matthew's phone Eddie was cradling a 500 pound iron bell in her palms. The jinn who had manipulated the size and weight of the bell put his hand on the woman's shoulder as she turned around. She remained frozen in her half turn as she watched her brother answer his phone. He shook his head briskly and frowned after a scant second.

"All she said was 'now', sounds like trouble." He looked up at the group. Eddie put the miniaturized bell into the breast pocket of her coat, where the pelt of a selkie also rested in wondrous smallness. She was carrying the full weight of her responsibilities. She held the prince she had transformed into a frog close to her like a fetus in a glass womb.

She was leading the charge and thus must be the heaviest burdened. This was her endeavor and while Nejem was guiding her steps, she was the one brooding over the apocalypse. This new world was the one she would create. Like the prince she held it as an egg in her hands, waiting for it to burst forth, either as monstrous and devouring, or gentle and embracing. Like John Chang she would have her own place, but hers could have never been one of joy and fantasy.

So in the end she had become Regan, the enchanter, capable of tearing worlds apart and reforming them into her own designs. Her world however would have the foundation of truth. And even if that truth was a devouring monster, she would hold it close to her heart.

"You don't think Regan…?" Sarah didn't finish her question and everyone else filled it in to their own taste of fear.

"We better hurry along then," Dougal urged before his glamour transformed to his equine form. It was a visceral memory that almost echoed across the vault of the ceiling. A dark stallion standing upon a floor that would always bear a phantom blood stain; where spirits existed fantasy and reality would so often cruelly intertwine and strangle.

It had been at Nejem's suggestion they use the former church as something of a command center and to secure the MacGregors’ church bell as a protective charm. They had arrived only about an hour before. They had known Regan's spirits would see and alert Rhona via her antagonist almost immediately afterwards. A night time attack seemed to be the most effective idea and the sun was rapidly disappearing from the world. Still the call had been sudden and upsetting with its brusqueness.

"Wait," Nejem commanded as they began to walk towards Dougal. She removed an enameled box from her bag. She lifted the lid and revealed four daggers nestled upon a velvet interior. They were plain with bone handles and their similarity to the one Regan had given her made Eddie's hair stand on end.

"You lot take one," she ordered, pushing the box at them.

"Eh? I don't know how to knife fight!" Eddie protested.

"What is there to know? Just stab it in," Nejem deadpanned. "They're silver, they won't kill a spirit, but they'll certainly feel it."

Eddie still hesitated as the others picked their weapons. She took the last one however and let out a long sigh.

"Just stay by me," Matthew said softly, putting his hand on her shoulder.

After Nejem had been helped to her seat in front the rest of them mounted. It only took five minutes to reach Los Olivos, that's all it took. From MacGregor's former domicile upon Dougal's back it may as well been a seamless flight. Yet even suspended above the roaring world below, the moments stretched into endless existences of anxiety and fear. What existed beyond Dougal's sopping mane and his heaving barrel was a yawning abyss of any failure and miscalculation. Every second was miserable in its anticipation, but it was the final blissful moment before the fall.

As Dougal leapt over the ridge and thundered up to the home Eddie braced to leap. The jinn rose into the air as a vibrant burst of blue flames. The halo of his inferno unfurled across the sky like an incandescent veil. Nothing his fire touched burned but instead the flame rolled over the tree tops and home like rushing waves of water. Eddie knew however those flames chased away other spirits and the bell would complete the ward. Dougal paused only long enough to let his passengers off before he galloped away to distance himself from the toll of the bell. Nejem had explained the longer the bell was rung the further the vibrations would carry and the greater number of spirits would be cleared away. In the end it should chase away all but the most faithful.

Eddie looked forward in trepidation where she knew Rhona would be in the line of fire. After she looked up again from setting the bell on the ground she saw a figure running towards them. Like a shade escaping hell with her dark hair streaming Kelly flew into Matthew's arms.

"My love! How terrible it is!" She cried to the stunned man.

"Ring the bell!" The wise woman ordered and Eddie leapt back as the charm regained its original size on the ground. She couldn't look away from Kelly's tears however and felt an indescribable fear grip her heart.

Her body seemed to shimmer in the twilight, as if wearing a shiny veil. Eddie couldn’t discern what was beneath. She touched the ring on her finger and recalled she was protected from spirit tricks.

"No! You'll kill Rhona!" Kelly screamed as she turned towards Eddie, and for the very first time the woman received a good look at the tear stained expression of terror.

This was not Kelly.

Eddie stepped forward, too late. Eddie didn't see the glint of the blade until it was thrust at her brother's gut. As Eddie screamed the man narrowly avoided a fatal blow by turning sharply on his heel. He grunted however and fought to stay upright. He was going to be unable to defend against a counterstrike. The blade was raised again and there it froze in midair as blood poured over Eddie's fingers. The ends of the assailant’s hair turned sticky as they soaked with blood. As she turned to face her attacker the ends flared to throw hundreds of specks across Eddie's face.

"Spirit! It's a trick!" Nejem's voice rushed over the nightmare but Eddie could only watch as the woman futilely clawed at her breast as she fell down in agony from her punctured lung. Only as the body hit the earth did the enchantment fall away to reveal a small black dog, the familiar. The bell began to toll as the blood seeped to Eddie's shoes and stained the soles of her feet the same red as her palms.

Only Matthew's stumbling steps over to her broke her horrified stare. He drew her into his arms and she gasped at the feeling of the warmth of his blood soaking her shirt.

"It's all right, all right. It was just a trick. You didn't kill him." He could have just as easily said this to reassure himself but Eddie returned his embrace. She tried to calm her breathing enough to form words.

"Can you make it lad?" Nejem called over the rancorous tolling of the bell. She came over with irons chains in hand. The demon whined and futilely snapped its jaws as she bound it to the earth.

"Y-yes." Matthew gently pushed Eddie back to look down at his cut. Eddie pulled up his shirt to look at the wound. It was deep, and it would surely need stitches, but it had not punctured an organ, only cut the muscle layer. Nejem had said the bell would need to be rung for at least fifteen minutes to chase away all the spirits. As Stan and Sarah furiously beat against the bell and made the ground tremor with its horrific noise, Nejem and Eddie tore Eddie's coat into a make-shift bandage.

"Stupid, stupid," Matthew groaned in regret. "I should have known!"

"How could you have?" Eddie asked softly. "I thought it was her too at first."

Eddie removed the pelt to her jean pocket and entrusted Jai to Sarah. When they had finished Nejem motioned for the tolling to stop.

"That should be enough to have blasted out their ear drums," Nejem's eyes narrowed and raised her hand. The jinn materialized before her. "Or if not, we’ll keep Yusuf near."

Eddie picked up her knife from where it laid on the shore of the blood pool. The demon was snarling threats at her. She ignored him. She inhaled deeply and at last found her voice.

"Can you walk Matthew?" she asked lowly. The man hesitated to answer.

"I'll stay with him." Sarah volunteered. "Dougal will be along shortly won't he? We'll stay by the bell until then."

Eddie could have kissed the other woman in relief and Sarah happily took Matthew into her arms as they both sat by the bell. The demon that had assumed Kelly's form seemed to no longer be a danger but Sarah still struck the bell every few seconds with a clanging warning. Eddie retrieved Jai and kept him close to her in her vigil. The rotund shape of the bowl gave her something to cling to on the edge.

The home was completely still. Eddie walked slightly abreast of Stan after they had pushed open the front door. Nejem followed behind. Yusuf floated ahead like a small star that would lead them to an epiphany. He suddenly rose at the spiraling staircase that led to the music room and bedrooms. He hovered at the second twist and Eddie froze as she heard Kelly give a soft gasp at the sight of the bright light. It was perhaps only twelve steps to where Yusuf alighted but every step was fraught with the possibility of another demon or phantom suddenly melting out of the wall. The magic of the toll of the bell had permeated the home however as the way remained clear to where Rhona lay unconscious. The selkie lay crumpled with a drying line of blood beneath her nose. Kelly was sitting across with the drugged Regan clutched close to her bosom. She was looking upon Rhona in terror but seemed unable to abandon the selkie or flee.

Eddie fell next to Rhona with a cry and she gently lifted her into her lap. She recalled the warning of the false Kelly, you'll kill Rhona! The real Kelly also gave out a warning.

"Eddie! Careful! She's-! She's-!" The woman reached out a hand and then dropped it in fruitless warning.

"I know what she is," Eddie answered as she tilted Rhona's head back and felt for her pulse. It was there, weak, but there.

"What?" Kelly asked breathlessly. The woman had no idea what was going on of course and Eddie had no idea where to even begin. "Why are you covered in blood?"

"Give her back her pelt Eddie." Nejem said before Eddie could even think of a possible answer. The wise woman was being helped by Stan up the flight of stairs. "It will bring her out of her spell."

"Did you know this was going to happen?" Eddie asked Nejem lowly as she pulled the pelt out of her pocket.

"So did she," Nejem answered. Eddie didn't reply. She laid the pelt upon Rhona's breast. The skin glimmered slightly as it grew to its original size. Rhona's eyes fluttered open and she let out a small sigh. Her arms rose to embrace the pelt, pulling it across her torso. She seemed to draw in some strength from it.

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

"What are you?" Kelly asked with a small cry.

"So she can see." Nejem frowned. She tapped her cane against a shattered crystal that glimmered by Kelly's feet. "I had long suspected Lorna was hiding some secret about her daughter. Or is this some more of Regan's mischief?"

"Her mother," Rhona muttered as she raised her head up. "It was Lorna's desire Kelly never become the Wise Woman of the Santos Basin, and Regan fulfilled that wish."

"Oh, Lorna, she should have known of all people that we can't deny what we are." Nejem shook her head.

"What are you two talking about? My mother? What have you done to Regan?" Kelly demanded. She looked at Eddie wildly. "Are you in on all of this?"

"Kelly," Eddie moved towards the older woman with her hand raised as Rhona moved off of her lap. "Please, just listen. I know you're worried about Regan, but he may have hurt many people, including myself. We want to find out the truth, that's all."

"So you did what— drug him?" Kelly's eyes darted between the looming wise woman and the shrinking selkie. "I should call the police! You think you can just come into someone's home and assault them? What evidence do you have my brother has done anything wrong? And even if he has, that should be handled in a court of law! Not by us!"

"What we're here to judge is beyond the limits of any human court." Nejem said fiercely. She pointed at the unconscious Regan. "He may be responsible for the death of Ulysses MacGregor, and by using magic as a means to manipulate a third party into being his accomplice! He is to be judged by his peers— wise men and women; those that bridge the worlds of spirit and human."

“And as you are a wise person,” Nejem narrowed her eyes. “You can judge your brother.”

"What evidence do you have of any such thing?" Kelly shrieked back holding her brother even closer. “Ulysses MacGregor has been dead for years. It was his son that was killed!”

"We have Edith Moreno's conviction she was manipulated by him," Rhona began by putting her hands on Eddie's shoulders. "The lass knows in her heart something is not right. We could have the testimony of Naoise of Lake Santos once he is freed. But above all else…"

Rhona pointed at Kelly. "You know all is not right. Who put that necklace upon you Kelly? Who didn't allow you to see until now? Who made you forget who I truly am to you? Do you not wish to see the full extent of your brother's lies? And did you not also have that feeling, that your ‘cousin’ was not who he said he was?"

"I…I…" Kelly hesitated. Tears began to fill her eyes and slide down her cheeks as she continued to cradle her brother like a mother does her small child. This was Kelly's shattered eggshell, and her brother the monstrous cuckoo chick that had murdered all of the other chicks in the nest. Like the deceived mother bird she continued to protect and nurture what had brought such tragedy upon her.

"What will you do to him?" She at last asked softly.

"Only ask him a few questions," Nejem answered.

"And if he's guilty?" Kelly's face hardened.

"Once we know the extent of his guilt we can decide his punishment," Nejem leaned down to put a hand on Kelly's shoulder. "But we cannot know until he talks."

"So you had to drug him?" Kelly narrowed her eyes and Nejem shrugged in response.

"It was the only way to pull the truth from his lips." The wise woman raised herself up. "Know this now, spirits don't operate on the level of justice and mercy. If you are to be judged by your actions in their world, it will be by their rules."

"If nothing else you know he abused me," Rhona added bitterly. She looked up at Kelly. "I was your mother's, and he made me his without my consent. Would you look away from this when you can now see?"

Kelly gave a small sob at the accusation. She shook her head and closed her eyes as if she could will away the judges before her. She couldn't look away from whatever memories played on the back of her eyelids however and she at last gave up her brother to judgment. She let him slide from her arms onto the stairwell but her hands remained near, ready to pull him back into her protective embrace.

Nejem acted as prosecutor, kneeling down above Regan's head and placing her hand on his chest. She called his name three times. Regan opened his eyes but he was not awake. His pupils darted about with the frenzied motion of R.E.M. sleep. He was hovering just above a dream. Eddie shuddered to think she had been manipulated in such a state. Was it really possible that a person could be so exposed and vulnerable? That all the walls could be torn down?

"Why is Naoise of Lake Santos imprisoned?" Nejem asked first.

"Because Eddie gave him to me," Regan answered readily.

"Is he a murderer?"

"Yes." Regan vehemently replied.

"Of Ulysses MacGregor?"

"Yes." Eddie felt her throat clench.

"Why?"

"Because he found a loophole in the spell." Regan sneered.

"Spell?" Eddie asked and to her surprise Regan answered her.

"The pull of the bridle. Naoise is compelled to obey it. You knew two men with dead twins, who are near and blight your life.” Regan rolled his head. "Only you could order Naoise to kill someone. Only you could have betrayed him. So I drugged you into saying the magic words."

"Then who was the other man?" Eddie cried. She only asked in disbelieving horror.

"Your brother." Regan looked away and gave out a hoarse cry. Eddie felt the blood ice in her veins at the confirmation. You were going to kill Matthew. You were going to take everything from me. You would have killed him if Naoise hadn't-! Eddie choked back a sob of outrage. It was true! It was really true!

Regan continued his somnolent rant. He gesticulated wildly. The composed and stately gentleman was nothing but a raging child lashing back at the world in his deepest depths.

"He was meant to only kill no one of importance! But like a true monster he finds a way to do even more damage! MacGregor's blood was his appetizer for my flesh!" He howled. "I will fall at his feet like my mother but I will leave one scar upon him forever! He will die knowing that I imprisoned him, owned him, for however briefly, I triumphed! I triumphed over the fae and saved my sister!"

Eddie covered her mouth with her hands and tears ran down her face. She pitied him. Even hating him, she pitied him. Is this how Rhona felt when she looked upon someone so wretched? For she could pity him because within him she saw herself, her desire to protect, her need to be justified, the wish to be proven right in her prejudices. How twisted and bitter she could have become if not for the love Naoise had given her. She looked up at Rhona who was resolutely looking away, a hand covering her face. And even hating him, you loved him once.

"Stop! Stop!" Kelly begged with her hands over her ears. "This isn't true! It's the drugs! Regan would never-!"

"No! No! We need Naoise!" Eddie argued. She raised a hand to keep Kelly away before Regan could make his final confession. "Where is Naoise of Lake Santos? Where are you keeping him?"

"I have trapped Naoise of Lake Santos where sun does not shine. Where he can rot in darkness. Where he can see nor talk to none. Where he is helpless and defenseless." Regan smirked. His gleeful expression collapsed into rage. "For he tried to enchant my sister and ruin her!"

"Where? You bastard, where?" Eddie shrieked as she gave the magician a good shake.

"In my ring," Regan sighed as Kelly pulled him out of Eddie's furious grasp. It was just as well; at this point Eddie's hands ached to wring the life out of Regan's neck. It was a terrible but beguiling feeling and she shuddered at it. She wrenched the ring off of Regan's hand before anyone could dare to attempt to take it from her.

"I want my brother to be able to defend himself!" Kelly cried as she drew him near again. The man collapsed into sleep in her embrace. "I want to hear his side when he's fully awake and no longer drugged!"

Nejem looked like she was going to argue with this when another voice from the bottom of the stairs intervened.

"We know where Naoise of Lake Santos is, and the truth, even if Regan's sister cannot accept it." Dougal opined. He was holding Matthew upright with the man's arm over his shoulders. Sarah was grasping the railing and smiled gently at Eddie. Dougal looked at her as well before looking back at Nejem. "And that's all Eddie wished to know."

Nejem snorted at that but seemed to accept it as Stan helped her stand again.

"Then we shall wait, I imagine Matthew Moreno needs some sort of medical attention at least," Nejem huffed and Matthew seemed to wince as she pointed out his infirmity.

"What happened?" Kelly called down.

"I think I had a run-in with one of your brother's friends," Matthew grimaced.

"Slaves," Stan corrected.

"And Eddie too?" Kelly asked as she looked back at the other woman after frowning at Stan.

"I'm not hurt." Was all Eddie was willing to say about her blood stained face and hands.

"And Eddie needs to free Naoise." Dougal continued as he looked up at the young woman. "So he can tell his side of the story."

Eddie closed her eyes, knowing she had already heard it and had proclaimed it as false as Kelly had Regan's confession. She could not ignore the evidence she had at last been given however and perhaps Kelly would be forced to do the same. Eddie walked up to the top of the stairwell. When she turned around Matthew was embracing Kelly. She looked down at the ring in the palm of her hand; its two tone surface was opaque and mocking. Had she been tricked? How could something so small possibly imprison a kelpie?

"How do I get him out?" She finally asked.

"Why, you go in and get him." Dougal responded readily as he ascended the stairs with the slumbering Regan in his arms.

"Eh? How?" Eddie stepped back to let him by. Dougal glanced at her over his shoulder.

"You just go in." Eddie frowned at that and looked down at the ring, wondering if he meant there was a way to make it bigger or open it.

"I think I need help…" she admitted with a frustrated sigh.

"Och, probably," Dougal agreed as he entered a bedroom. Eddie followed him with a blink.

"What do you mean?" She asked as he laid the enchanter on a bed. Kelly hovered nearby with Matthew. It was apparent she meant to assist with the vigil. Eddie knew she must leave it to Rhona to explain all of this. It was for Matthew to hold Kelly's hand on the rim of the world however.

"My ring may protect you from a trick of sight but it will not allow you to see through such an elaborate enchantment. It would be easier for you to enter the ring with a touch of magic at your disposal," Dougal clarified. Eddie frowned incredulously.

"I have to actually go into it?" She muttered. She looked down at the ring with a blink. Eddie shook her head. Was her head really thick enough to shatter this spell? Was that all there really was to being a magician? She hesitated, turning the ring over her fingers.

"Talk about a puzzle," Sarah breathed as she wrapped her arms around Eddie's shoulders. She looked down at the ring with narrowed eyes. Her hold tightened and she put her forehead on Eddie's neck. "But I know you didn't come all the way here just to stand on the edge."

Eddie clenched her hand and straightened her shoulders. Sarah was right. She hadn't come all the way here to stare at the darkness and hope it would abate. She would give Naoise that sunrise she had promised him, by her own hands.

"Where do I get the magic to enter the ring?" She asked Dougal. The kelpie glanced back at her as Kelly set Matthew down upon the sofa in the room. She softly gave Stan directions where to find her doctor’s bag. Eddie finally let go of the comforting embrace of Jai's bowl. She set the frog upon the end table next to the sofa. He hopped up to the edge of the bowl and blinked his bulbous eyes. He may have been pleading with her. He was suffered a gentle and remorseful pat to the head.

"Well, from one of us. Rhona, I, or perhaps the jinn if he is so inclined." Dougal speculated. The fae held up a finger however. "A kiss tinged by spirit blood. Understand however that it is a gift, and you already know the nature of such gifts, do you not?"

Eddie nodded, she was well aware that gifts that could not be refused could only be paid for in pounds of flesh. Such a kiss had already bound her to Naoise far more tightly than the bridle ever could have.

"I will not give such a gift," Rhona countered from where she radiated in a corner. She drew her pelt to her shoulders. "Wild and reckless princess who gave me my freedom and dignity back; we are even now, and though he is your beast, Naoise of Lake Santos is still my enemy."

"Poison runs from any sweet lips," The jinn warned from where he sat his mistress in a chair. His shinning eyes narrowed to glimmering flints of light. "You would do better to pray, dear girl, and draw your strength from the angels."

"Och, but would your god answer the prayer to free a demon?" Dougal shook his head. He turned towards Eddie. "Well, come near lass. It looks like it has to be me, and may your heart stay true even with our blood running in your veins."

Dougal extended his hand and Eddie reached to take it when another voice interceded.

"Wait, Eddie!" Stan cried out. He stepped forward and gently took her wrist. "Let me give you the magic."

"Stan?" Eddie's eyebrows raised and the young man closed his eyes. He held his other hand to his chest, as if waiting to catch something. From his heart a glow suddenly illuminated the room, and within his hand the light solidified into a radiant crystal. Sarah stepped back with a gasp and Eddie followed her.

"It's Dougal's magic really," Stan explained earnestly. "He gave it to me on the day of MacGregor's funereal, in case I needed to protect you."

"So sure you want to give that away?" Dougal asked. His eyes narrowed as he crossed his arms. "I will not give you such a gift again if you're going to hand them out like party favors."

"I've decided I don't need it," Stan explained. Dougal blinked in surprise. "It's bad for humans to use spirit magic right? I mean, I could end up like this asshole."

He pointed a thumb at the unconscious Regan and shrugged. "So I think I want to have my own magic one day. I want to only rely on myself. And it's better for Eddie isn't it, if she gets it from me over you?"

Dougal looked a little floored by this revelation, as if uncertain whether he should lay flat or if he should lay Stan flat. The kelpie of the Via Verde however was never one for offense when he could laugh instead. He just shook his head mirthfully.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." The fae smirked. "But I will warn you of this lad, not all of your sacrifices will be this easy."

"But I have probably avoided my first mistake," Stan countered and Dougal gave him a flat look. He offered the small taste of magic to Eddie and she opened her palm to receive it. It fluttered like a small bird upon her hand and with a deep sense of gratitude she opened her heart to it. The magic swelled it her breast and encased her heart with its livid pulsing.

"I can do it," she breathed and kissed Stan's hand in relief. He blushed and Sarah laughed softly. She removed the ring from Eddie's hand and placed it upon her finger.

"And I will keep the ring safe, until you return." She promised her friend. "Because as much as I hate Naoise like ol' Rhona over there, I did promise to help you."

"Be warned Eddie, this is no small undertaking," Nejem said from across the bed. "You will be in that ring as long as it takes you to find Naoise. If you are unable to break through Regan's spells, you will be imprisoned as well, and unlike a spirit, you would die from starvation in such a place."

"What?" Matthew started and rose up from the sofa. "And Naoise cannot get out on his own? A faerie? No! Eddie don't go! Let one of these spirits handle it then! It's too dangerous for you!"

"Only Eddie can remove the bridle as she placed it on Naoise's head," Dougal countered.

"Then go with her!" Matthew snapped. Dougal sighed.

“Here’s something you need to learn lad, when it comes to siblings,” the kelpie frowned, “you have to let them make their own mistakes.”

He put his hands on his hips. “Naoise and I aren’t much like the rest of our lot anymore. We have names. We call each other ‘brother’, not because of blood but because of how long we’ve been in each other’s business. Maybe I even love him. I wouldn’t flatter myself to think he feels the same but when I needed help he gave it. I’ll help him by watching over his enemy when he cannot and not let him escape.”

“But it was his choice to bind himself to a human woman. As it was once mine to do so with a human man. Only she can save him, and if she fails to do so, it was his mistake.” He closed his eyes and gave a small sneer. “And do you have no faith in your sister? I have some in my brother.”

Matthew quivered with rage and if not for his wounded side he likely would have broken his fist on the fae's face.

"Matthew," Eddie addressed him pleadingly. "I came all this way for this alone. It was my choice and I will do this without putting anyone else in danger."

"You can at least accept help!" Matthew turned on the jinn next. "Are you going to tell me next your head is too far up your ass to help?"

"Naoise of Lake Santos is a godless demon, but if I am asked to save him I will try, as I must for all of Allah's creation. And He knows I have already thrown my lot into this." The jinn raised a hand at Matthew's cry however. "Nevertheless, I feel as if I would be no great help ultimately. These sorts of enchantments are woven out of illusion and emotion. I am a stranger to Naoise of Lake Santos's psyche. Eddie, who knows him, would be better suited to unbind him."

"Are you saying you be a burden over a help?" Matthew frowned.

"I can help her break the first and last barriers," the jinn answered. "But as for whatever holds Naoise of Lake Santos down, I doubt I could."

"If you would give me that help, I would accept it," Eddie answered hoping that her acquiescence would mollify Matthew into accepting. Her brother did recoil but the pained look in his eyes showed he still wished to protest; his eyes searched the air fruitlessly for a reason that would force her to not go. She went to him and gently wrapped her arms around him, mindful of his injury.

"I'll be careful," She smiled at him for she could really promise nothing else. She stepped back knowing this could very well be a farewell. Yet on the edge of the abyss she felt nothing but the wind rushing up from the darkness below, coaxing her to let everything go and fall into its embrace. She vowed to always remember her brother's face at this moment to carry it within her heart as a counter-weight to the magic that would throw her down into those depths. His look of resigned acceptance, the pain laced along the edges of his eyes, and the bitterness that made his throat clench and his mouth taut, this is what would make the darkness wretched and force her to seek the light. This will not be the look you'll wear when you see me for the last time.

Her brother let her go with a kiss to the forehead and she cut her last ties to the collapsing world. She held her hand out to her companion and guide. Yusuf took her hand and enveloped her as a fine cloud of flickering flames; his fire that didn't burn and gave only gentle heat and light. It was the same fire that could flare as a bright inferno to blind and incinerate spirit but only embraced mankind in a cradling conflagration.

They spiraled down together, like banished falling stars, charging into the yawning maw of the abyss below. Eddie closed her eyes and grimaced at the screaming rush of air that raked over her body. The jinn's hold loosened however as they fell downwards and Eddie slipped away from him when he stopped and she did not.

"I can go no further!" he called down apologetically as she continued her heady fall into the chasm below. She tried to nod, to reassure him she didn't feel abandoned but all words and gestures were lost in the rushing wind from the depths below. She hit water headfirst but her neck was not snapped. She felt no pain at all as she broke the surface though the force of her fall felt like she had fallen from stories above.

She began to struggle for breath however in the cold and dark water. It was like her first dive into Lake Santos when she had broken the seal. Her hands clawed at her throat and there was no surface when she raised her face up. There was nothing but crushing depths above or below.

But this is not ordinary water. She recalled. This was not a lake, but a ring, a dungeon, the cavern that existed in all hearts. She still possessed Stan's magic that must allow her to breathe in this place of illusions. She dropped her hands from her struggling throat and unfurled the magic around her pounding heart. It pulsed into her lungs with a cloying throb. She inhaled deeply, not fatal water but life giving breath. Reassured she began to push herself even farther down into the crevasse.

She found Naoise by feel alone. She couldn't say how long it took her. It may have been hours, days, or years. She had swum beyond the hold of time with its predictable passage. Things held still here or were rushing by too fast to discern. It didn't matter however for in that second, week, century, her fingers were sliding down his face, taking in every nuance and its frigidity. He didn't respond to her warm touches and she realized he was either asleep or dead. Her hands glided down to his chest and embracing him she found his heartbeat. It was torpid but still beat wearily between the chains wrapped around his chest. She reached up to his neck where the bridle manifested. If Regan had ordered him to lay dormant then the bridle should break that spell. She tugged and it followed her fingers easily. She let the cursed object float away. The bonds of slavery could remain imprisoned for eternity.

Naoise awoke with a gasp. His chest heaved but even in his shock he couldn't break the chains around him. He tried to move his arms but though a frenzy of bubbles passed Eddie's face at the motion they too remained ensnared. Regan had bound the fae down with more than just the bridle.

"Eddie?" He asked in surprise. Eddie tried to answer him but at first she could only produce a warped gargle. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. If I wish to speak here, I can, I can! The magic swam to line her throat and mouth with its pulse.

"Naoise! I came to rescue you!" She at last cried out into the chasm that carried no echo and swallowed everything within it.

"How did you get here?" It was dim but she could see from her close proximity he was staring at her like he had that night they had kissed in the dark, as if he was uncertain if she was real or the embodiment of his subconscious desires.

"I fell," she explained, which was more or less true. She wanted to tell him how regretful she was, how this had all been her fault, but they could not linger here. The apologies would have to wait until they broke the surface. She tugged at the chain but they did not break away like the bridle had. Regan had foreseen this then and the iron was his fail safe. Eddie bowed her head in frustration, what cleverness comes out of vindictiveness!

"There must be a way." She mused as she drew her hand to her mouth and bit her finger.

"Why do you wish to free me?" Naoise asked with a tilt of his head. "You have removed the bridle as well. Do you not realize that when I am free I will be able to kill you? That you will be letting a monster back into the world?"

"Yes!" Eddie cried steadfastly. "That is the world I wish for."

Naoise made a noise of surprise as Eddie rested her forehead against his shoulder.

"Because that is the world that should exist. None of these lies or illusions, only the simple fact that you saved my brother's life for no reason other than to spare me suffering." Naoise inhaled sharply and Eddie held onto him more tightly. "So I will free you in gratitude. But you must know this as well."

She moved back and looked into his eyes. "My life no longer belongs to you. After this, we’re even. If you come for my life, and I will not deny you the right, I will protect it. And, Naoise, I will not imprison you again.”

With that would be the ultimatum between them. He looked away first, with no tangible thread of emotion.

"Why would I end a life I protected?" Eddie swallowed at the question. "I don't do needless things."

Eddie felt something break within to hear that, the resounding crack rattled her bones and heart. Saving her life had not been a needless thing. Her life had worth to him. Her happiness had been worth the risk of imprisonment. And betrayed, alone, and in darkness, he only asked "why" she desired to free him.

"You protected my life," Naoise continued as he was apparently confused by her sorrowing reaction. "That night when you didn't stand by and let Rhona of the Ocean free you. When you pleaded with Regan to have mercy for myself. I knew then you cared about me. But even then you didn't ask for anything in return."

Eddie looked up at him in wonder. He was wearing his usual passive expression as if all this emotion was voiced from some distant and incomprehensible place. As if it didn't belong to him but some other self. Yet Eddie knew however the self he was speaking from was the side that only she had ever seen. It was the side of unconditional love.

"You protected my life, so I will protect yours. Because you are of more worth to me alive than dead." He concluded succinctly. Eddie could have burst out laughing at this taciturn confession of devotion but if she had wanted a poet she wouldn't have given her heart to the uncivilized lake monster. Instead she merely sighed and smiled through her tears that were lost in the dark water.

“But I…am not what I was in doing this.” Eddie frowned at his pained look. “I cannot kill you who threatened my waters. I am no longer a guardian if I cannot subdue a threat. I cannot exist in freedom now.”

“Oh, Naoise,” Eddie sighed. She was never going to be able to divorce him from his role. She gently cradled his face. “Listen, it’s going to be a new world. One I’m going to re-make. I’m going to take this place from Regan. You, Jai, and Rhona, all get to start over. I’m breaking the cycle. Do you remember when you courted me at the theme park?”

He nodded, “and you remember John Chang the God of the Place?”

“When I promised to never return he gave me back the rings you refused,” he informed her.

“Yeah, he was a nice guy, wasn’t he?” she smiled. “That’s who I’m gonna be. But as I don’t have a mandate from the Jade Emperor or whatever, I need help. I want you to be my lake guardian Naoise. I want you and Dougal to keep this place safe like you always have. I want Jai to be the prince he always wanted to be, and I want Rhona to be her own person.”

She let his face go, “and I’m no longer a threat am I, if I’m a guardian?”

“Doing such a thing however,” his mouth turned down in a grimace. “You’ll never know peace again.”

“Honestly Naoise, I think that possibility was gone the moment you thundered into my life.” She sighed and he gave her a flat look. She waved her hands indignantly. “My choice, okay? And you can chose to accept it or not. You’re being made an offer.”

“I will resume my function.” He answered succinctly. She kissed his cheek.

“Then, let’s get out of here.” She frowned at his chains.

She withdrew the knife Nejem had given her. In the dark water of the cavern the blood upon the blade was lost but perhaps the residual power remained. The silver blade was stained again as Eddie glided it across the palms of her hands.

"What are you…?" Naoise asked as the blood trail spilled across the water.

"My own spell." She answered as she closed her eyes and wrapped her wounded hands around the chains. Dougal’s magic purified by Stan still beat in her chest but what she called upon now was the residue of the blood Naoise had given her. It was her love for him, the passion of the Earth itself, violate and raw. She willed her blood to become an inferno as potent as the jinn's that burned across all magic. That it would melt the iron in her hands into impotent sludge. She opened all the doors to the truth; that Naoise of Lake Santos would become her own champion!

"Eddie?" Naoise called in alarm as the red haze around them grew larger. She shook her head however and shut out his other protests. Her hands ached from their exertion and her head grew light from the blood loss. Yet as she felt the iron begin to warp and soften she clenched her hands hard enough to shatter every bone in them. The chains fell away with no sound, only to be lost among the depths like the bridle.

Naoise gave a hoarse scream as he slipped away from the iron and he pulled Eddie into his charge to the surface. The woman was barely able to feel satisfaction that she had released the thundering body below her as her breath was stolen by their suffocating ascent. She grasped the wild mane of the freed water horse incognizant of any pain or discomfort. She could only feel her heart beating in her throat as the water and then air rushed over her body. As they neared the final barrier however a pair of warm hands reached for her and the jinn pulled them both through to their landing.

She fell back to the Earth and landed on the floor of the bedroom she had exited from. She rolled a few times before stopping at the foot of the bed. She sat up in a daze and noticed first of all that she was completely soaked.

Naoise was standing over her with the jinn still perched on his back. Eddie coughed, clearing her lungs of excess water and perhaps magic also. As Eddie raised a trembling hand up and stroked Naoise's muzzle she vaguely recalled she had ridden him as a horse out of the ring. Their tender moment lasted only as long as the kelpie apparently needed to see she was all right. The next second he raised his head up and snarled at the occupant of the bed. Kelly screamed as she realized at the same moment Eddie did that Naoise intended to kill Regan.

"Naoise, stop!" she screamed but she knew she couldn't prevent it. He was no longer wearing the bridle. He had warned her that she would be releasing a monster back into the world; a beast that think of revenge before anything else. She closed her eyes and put her hands over her ears.

When she realized that there were no horrific sounds of bones breaking or organs being devoured behind her she lowered her hands. She looked up to see the human Naoise glowering down at her. She put her hands down as she looked at him in total amazement. His upper lip twitched as he bared his fangs between tight jaws as their eyes met.

"You told me to stop, and give me no reason why?" He demanded. His eyes narrowed. "That makes me think there is no reason at all!"

"Don't kill him!" Eddie repeated and swallowed as she tried to find words to put into a somewhat coherent order. "I told him to not kill you when you were weak and helpless, so don't do the same! He's drugged because we had to get the truth out of him! Breaking the cycle remember?!"

Naoise snorted at this. "So I can kill him when he wakes up?"

Eddie hesitated and Nejem answered for her.

"Perhaps, sir, if we decide on capital punishment for this." She explained and cast a disapproving eye at the standing Kelly. "His sister is now the Wise Woman of the Santos Basin; it will be she who decides what we'll do with him."

"I'm not, I'm not," Kelly shook her head and looked away from Naoise.

"Well if it will be me then," Nejem mused, “I’ll let you eat him Naoise of Lake Santos. I believe in capital punishment."

"No!" Kelly turned on Nejem with a hysterical scream. "I won't allow you to do any such thing!"

"He imprisoned me. He used false pretenses to do so. He used Eddie to do so." Naoise coolly responded but his voice rang with a vindictive undertone. "Why should the wise woman judge him when she loves him?"

"Because we are best judged by those that love us," Eddie countered. Naoise gave her a glower and she glared right back at him. "I judged you to be worthy of not being slaughtered when you were helpless and weak. You have judged me worthy of life despite my selfish mistakes. Kelly can judge if her brother deserves to die for she understands his motivations the most!"

Naoise gave Eddie a long look that could as easily been as disgusted as impressed. He stepped back however and looked at Kelly. "Know this then wise woman, if you don't kill him, I one day will."

"Tell her what Regan did the night the last MacGregor heir died," Dougal urged. Naoise obliged and as he related his story to Kelly Eddie drifted over to the sofa. Matthew was lying on his side to expose the injured one. Kelly had just begun to stitch it when they had literally burst out of the ring as Sarah related. She and Stan had apparently been assisting Kelly in her task. Sarah cried out when she noticed the blood stains on Eddie's ears. Eddie raised her bloody palms and realized she had left the marks when she had covered her ears.

"Oh god, what did you to do that required that?" Sarah moaned in disapproval as she bandaged Eddie's hands.

"Broke some chains," Eddie shrugged. Sarah glanced at her and Matthew pushed himself up on his elbow.

"So Naoise is free?" He asked.

"I left the bridle in the ring." Eddie answered as she sat beside him. Her excitement finally caught up with her as a sudden dizziness.

"And you made it," Matthew gently patted her wrist and she smiled at him.

"Yeah. We made it."

"And what now?" Stan asked as he looked at where Kelly was giving Naoise a side long look of suspicion as he spoke to her. Eddie sat back with a sigh.

"We wait for Regan to wake up I suppose."

"Lucky bastard," Stan huffed. "He's the only one who's going to sleep tonight."

Kelly stepped away from Naoise to finish attending to Matthew. Eddie collected the kelpie from where he lingered at the foot of the bed. He surely would have begun to pace at the edge of it like a restless predator if she hadn't. They found a corner to sit in from where Eddie could watch Matthew's operation. Eddie gently refused the offer of dry and clean clothes from Kelly. She watched her brother bite down on a cloth for about ten minutes and then laugh off the pain as "no worse" than a tattoo.

She began to waver and Naoise noticed the paleness of her lips and the dullness of her eyes. He gently took her chin between his fingers and raised them to his lips. It was not a deep kiss but he slipped the tip of his tongue along her lips, smearing them with a small amount of his blood. Eddie felt an urge to refuse the gift but she felt so light-headed and weak she found herself licking it up before she even truly thought about it. She gave a sigh as her body instantly felt relieved, she was still exhausted, but she no longer felt the nausea of blood loss.

“You can’t keep feeding me your blood,” she told him lowly as she looked away from Matthew’s frown. He had not seen the blood however, only the kiss. “I don’t want…I don’t want to be intimate with you like that.”

Naoise nodded, “I know it’s hard for your kind to not get drunk on magic so to speak. But after what you endured….this will help you along. You expended a great amount of magic, mine and your own. You were nearly empty so to speak. I would not see you suffer more for me.”

“Ah,” Eddie laid her head in the crook of his long neck. She fell asleep on Naoise's shoulder after that. She only dozed for perhaps half an hour. Nevertheless it was enough to refresh her to help Sarah and Stan make dinner and take Kelly's offer to find some dry clothes in her bedroom.

Naoise refused to leave his prey and remained sitting in the corner like a stalking predator. The similarity was not lost on Eddie. She sighed softly as she walked to Kelly's bedroom. She chose a simple red dress to borrow. Kelly, while about the same height as Eddie, was a broader woman with a fuller bust. The dress slouched around Eddie more like a blanket than evening wear and that was fine. She preferred comfort to appearance.

She joined Sarah and Stan in making the evening meal. Sarah gave herself a personal tour of the pantry and wine cellar with impressed sounds to express her distaste at the excesses of the wealthy. After the red-head had taken a full inventory of the ingredients available they decided to make grilled cheese sandwiches with all the exotic cheeses they had found. Eddie selected a few raw steaks for the kelpies and hazarded a guess that Rhona would prefer raw salmon to a cheese sandwich.

They brought the plates up and Eddie was struck by how tense the room was. The taut strands of side long looks and rigid body posture could almost cut. It must have always been but she had not noticed in her earlier lethargy. The conversations that flowed around the meal were circumspect and strained. Even Jai retreated to the far end of his bowl. The ruined prince had no desire to play silent witness to the bonds of civility corroding.

Matthew and Sarah tried to drain the currents of discomfort by carrying on a witty exchange. It was apparent however both Rhona and Kelly didn't care to have Naoise in the same room, though Kelly likely desired that everyone save Matthew leave. Naoise however had already announced his intention to execute her brother. It may have been a common unspoken sentiment but only Naoise would be so straightforward. Naoise for his part ignored everyone else save Regan and Eddie.

And Eddie was ready to leave.

The crushing atmosphere of the room pressed down on every inch of Eddie's body the realization of what she had done. Tomorrow a man would face judgment if he deserved to live or die. He would be judged by the person he loved most, and loved him most. Eddie had allowed for Kelly to save herself but now she may face an even worse fate than being the princess of a false kingdom. Tomorrow she may lower the axe on her older brother's neck.

Eddie had not intended to participate in such cruelty but she had always known everything came with a price. Regan's paradise had been the hell of many. He was the last pillar of the old kingdom and the new one may be built upon his bones and flesh. Her world would be no fantasyland with offerings of joy. Eddie had desired a world based on the truth, but the truth is merciless. It heard the cries of none, granted no wish, and was heedless of the suffering it causes. What Eddie had wished for was unyielding.

This night hung suspended between the old and the new, lies and truth, love and hatred. In this night of so much despair and apprehension, she would forge a future from the fate she had chosen. She leaned over and kissed Naoise's neck after the dinner was over.

"Come with me," she whispered into his ear. He glanced back at her in question. She smiled and stood up to leave the room.

"I'll watch your prince for you!" Sarah called with a laugh as Eddie reached the doorway. She blushed which chased away whatever doubts there may have been about her intentions. Sarah smirked and Matthew resolutely looked away. He apparently remembered his promise however and said nothing as Naoise chose to follow.

"What is it?" Naoise asked as they walk away from the door.

"I want to apologize." Eddie lowered her eyes. "For everything."

"Do you believe I have no fault in what happened?" Naoise asked. Eddie shook her head.

"I think we were both too busy being petty and afraid to stand together when we should have," She looked up at him. "I didn't think you loved me the way I loved you. I understand if you no longer do, and we are even now. But I…still want to watch that sunrise with you."

Naoise stepped forward and gently cupped her face. She leaned into his hand. He always felt cold but the touch of death could as easily be one of life.

"We still have a few hours," he pointed out. He glanced back at the room. Eddie's expression fell a little.

"Yeah, but, will you spend those few hours with me, or him?" she challenged. She leaned against him, pushing her hips into his in invitation. Naoise grunted and apparently forgot all about Regan, his prey, his revenge, and his pride. He grasped Eddie by her hips and the next thing she knew she was hanging over his shoulder. She blinked in surprise as she looked at the ground then began to laugh.

"Hey, put me down in a bed, not that damned lake, I've been dunked enough for one day!" she ordered. Naoise raised an eyebrow at her but obeyed, opening the next door they came to. By its elegant design and stark details it was the Seele matriarch's room. The wedding picture on the dresser confirmed it. Eddie made a small noise of fear.

"Not in-" She gasped as she fell on her back onto the bed as she was let down. Naoise pinned her and she gave her last conscious thought about infringing on Katharine's dignity as he started kissing along her neck. Oh, well, she won't be home again until Friday. Plenty of time to wash the sheets before then.

She didn't notice at all he left the door open.

She wrapped her arms around his chest and matched his kisses with her own. She gasped as his teeth grazed her skin. She bit her lower lip knowing it had been inevitable he would be a biter and she twisted her hands into his hair to warn him to not draw blood. She hissed in scolding when he began to tear the dress. She wriggled out of it but by the time she was exposed she was exasperated.

In nothing but her still damp underwear she overthrew the beast. She pushed her weight into his shoulder and flipped their positions. Naoise snorted in surprise but he remained perfectly still as he watched Eddie fiddled with the clasp of her bra. He waited in anticipation with his hands on her hips as she slid the garment slowly away. She sat atop of him in the moonlight exposed and unafraid. His hands followed the contour of her body to her breasts.

"Gently," she warned. He raised an eyebrow but followed his instruction and slowly fondled her with languid movements of his thumbs. They didn't speak again during the entire encounter. Naoise seemed incline to let Eddie do as she pleased to his body, watching her movements with a reserved curiosity that at first almost seemed mocking. When he responded to her touches and prodding however with passionate vulnerability she knew his expressions were genuine and not challenging.

 

He was endowed as any man between the legs. His erection invited her care and touch. It was a monolith of his exposure. He gave a small whine as she leaned down to give that first lick. Vulnerability shuddered through his tense and needing body. His fingers excitedly found her clit as she straddled his thigh. She cringed as she realized no matter how much she suckled and he engorged, his flesh lacked human warmth.

She rocked against his hand, trying to heat herself as much as she could before she took the final plunge. His fingers were frigid however and burned as no man’s could. She shuddered as she orgasmed from the strange sensation alone, the first time she had by fingering.

She looked up at him after she had finished trembling. He gave a small sigh as the head of his penis began to glisten. Eddie was thankfully on the pill, and she could enjoy the feel of that natural lubricant. Even as she tried to not contemplate if human birth control worked on magic sperm. He urgently grasped at her hips to bring her forward to finish their coupling. She gave a breathless laugh, he was as helpless as any man in this second.

She took him slowly as if stepping into his lake inch by inch as the cold water flooded around her. Once she was in the depth of him however she found her body adjusting to the chill. She eased into rocking against him and when he saw she was comfortable, he let himself move against her. Their movements became a violent tide of furiously ebbing and crashing flow.

It was gratifying to feel his hands clenching her waist as he labored below. To see his throat clench and his chest strain as he throbbed between her legs. That she could see all within him that was needy and unreserved. To watch the marks she had left upon his body turn florid in her embrace, and to feel his upon her body sting as she struggled against him. To know in this moment he was thinking of her alone, as she was him, and this was their shared and vibrant world. It lasted only minutes, but its existence was consuming.

Eddie smirked as she gently ran the back of her hand down Naoise's cheek after his final collapse. He caught her hand and kissed the inside of her wrist. She blinked at the tender gesture and smiled. The monster had become a guardian, her other half. He would not kill her, but her life was his all the same, it would be a shared existence of one life. She dismounted with a sigh and stretched out beside her new lover.

"Your hands are bleeding," Naoise muttered. He rolled his head to look at her. She raised her hands and found what he said was true, the blood stains had grown more livid and wider during their love making.

"Ah, so they are." Eddie rolled onto her stomach. She put her chin on the cool pillow. "Probably shouldn't have done that."

"Regretful?" Naoise asked as he rubbed his forehead and glanced at her. Eddie kicked his leg a little.

"Not at all." She smiled and Naoise didn't return it. Instead he drew her into his arms.

"Stay with me then, if you wish, because you love me. And even if you no longer do, I will always guard your place." Naoise said quietly with an almost remorseful undertone. Eddie knew they were both stepping off before a deep chasm. If they flew it was only because of their trust in each other.

"Well, I think I'll hang around until I die. And who knows? Maybe afterwards the Jade Emperor will give me my own mandate," Eddie laughed. Naoise gave her his usual blank look that was then lost in her neck while the kelpie sighed heavily. She ran a hand through his hair and smiled at the waterweed tangled around her fingers. “But even if not, Naoise, I will always be with you. I promise.”

He didn’t look up as he murmured, “we’ll always be bound together, you and I.”

For better or for worse. Eddie laid back. She nervously glanced at him however.

“Um…Naoise, do you know anything about how…well, how half-fae kids are conceived?” she asked with hot cheeks. He blinked at her and frowned. She knew she really should have asked about this beforehand. As usual in these sort of matters however she had become swept up in the moment.

“I am sorry, did you wish to conceive just now?” he asked her.

“Oh no! The opposite!” She cried. She bit her lip when she realized how that sounded. She pushed herself up on her elbow. “I mean-! Just not yet! Not for a few years!”

“I thought so.” Naoise shook his head. “Don’t be concerned about it. Unlike with humans, for you to carry my child, it would take an enchantment. I would need to will it.”

“Oh.” Eddie blinked. She laid back down. “So you’ll wait until I say so?”

“Aye. And even then, it may take a few tries before it takes.” Naoise reassured her. “It is also a matter of your own body’s willingness, especially as you are a full blooded human.”

“But, it can happen?” She asked softly.

“It will if you truly desire it.” He smiled and kissed her cheek. She contemplated his words for a few seconds.

“Then, how did Regan happen?”

“Because Domhnall of the Sidhe, his father, truly desired it, and unfortunately as his mother had fae blood her body was more willing to accept that enchantment.” Naoise sighed. He nuzzled her neck. “I would not like to speak about such things right now. We have some time yet before we need to worry about such things.”

“Yeah.” Eddie sighed in agreement.

Her hands stropped bleeding. They wandered the body of the sentinel besides her in tender affection. She no longer feared leaving stains in her wake but only residual memories that would remain with the kelpie for eternity. She would likely bare scars upon her palms from her act of love. His scars would lay much deeper, unseen, unknown to anyone but himself.

When the dawn finally ignited the horizon Eddie awoke in its rosy haze. Naoise was already awake and took her into his arms. They watched the sun appear and begin its eternal climb into the sky silently. Eddie laid her head onto Naoise's neck and he held her close.

Naoise relaxed against her. He was like the weight of her responsibility now. She had to follow through, whatever the dawn brought. That would be the cost of every sunrise from now on.