The city was alive and bustling with people of all walks of life. The southern sun was bright, beaming down on the marketplace, undeterred by any clouds and illuminating a jewel blue sky.
The buildings were a sight, painted a vibrant turquoise trimmed with silvers and golds. Everywhere, the wealthy and poor alike roamed, buying and selling, loud voices shouting that their product, their prices, were the best around.
The wealthy shined in robes of satin and gems, intricate patches of beading and embroidery. The poor, while simply dressed, crafted things that shone twice a bright; fabrics and jewelry and the freshest foods.
They were from all across the land, many passing through on their way to port, where the ocean stretched wide.
It was vibrant, beautiful.
Ae hated it.
He kept his head down and his cloak wrapped tight, despite the glaring sun, hiding himself from any prying eyes. His shoulders were constantly brushing against those he passed as he walked without path or purpose.
Everything around him was too intense, too blinding. Places like this made Ae feel the years weigh on him. He was not old, at least in body, though his spirit was heavy and worn.
During Ae’s time serving in the armies of the Fae, he’d seen more than his share of bloodshed and death, and it showed in the way his shoulders hunched, or the way his eyes looked but didn’t see.
It always left him bitter, seeing Fae years older than himself, laughing and joking with friends. They had not seen war, and the horrors the world had to offer.
It made Ae burn with envy. Nevertheless, envy was better than numbness.
After the most recent war, involving a northern valley kingdom ruled by man, Ae had been excused from service after an injury he’d taken to the shoulder protecting his prince. It was one of many injuries from over the years, but it was a good excuse; Prince Saifah had long seen how his warrior was fading, every battle taking a piece of his soul with it. If anyone deserved freedom from such a life, it was Ae.
This is what led Ae to where he was now; a Fae warrior, wandering the world with no cause, hands soaked in legions of blood, numb.
“Ladies, gentlemen, good people! Gather ‘round, please, gather ‘round!”
The barker was loud and toward the center of a square. He was getting the attention he wanted, whispers rising from the crowd forming.
“Come, see a creature thought to be a legend! Nay, a myth! Right before your very eyes!”
Ae’s step stuttered a bit, before redirecting himself toward the crowd. He stepped onto some crates, making his way higher as to see over the heads of the crowd. He spotted the barker, a thin man with thinner eyes, lips pulled in a sneering grin. He was standing atop a wagon, halted in the center of town.
“Yes, good people, your eyes to not deceive you! Right here in this fine city, I, Trump the collector, have captured and brought to you a Siren of the deep sea!”
Ae’s eyes widened. A Siren, as in a mer? Impossible. They were myths, and even if not, they’d remained very, very well hidden the past dozen generations. Yet, as the man leapt down from his stand and pulled the cloth from the wagon, the most stunning creature Ae had ever seen was revealed, trapped in a water tank of glass and wood.
He shone in the sun, brighter than any jewel or cloth, skin white as snow and a tail made of pale turquoise scales that glittered like treasure. Fins of the same color ran down his forearms and spine, webbing connecting his fingers that ended in sharp claws. His dark hair was beaded and braided with all sorts of shells and tokens, framing a pair of stunning silver eyes.
He looked so, so afraid.
The crowd was in awe, gasping and exclaiming among themselves as the Siren squirmed around the small tank, his tail thudding against the glass, water leaking from the top. The man—Trump, he called himself—seemed pleased with the response.
“Yes, good people, isn’t it just stunning? And come midday tomorrow, an auction will begin for this magnificent creature! A lovely sight, and an even lovelier gift for anyone of high status!” Ae had had quite enough.
“Last I’d heard,” Ae’s voice rang clear, the crowd turning to him, “slavery was illegal in these lands.” A hushed silence fell, and Trump’s face turned sour. He forced back on a smile.
“My good man, noble Fae! Do you call the horse you ride a slave? Or, perhaps, your dog? This creature is not like you or I, it is an animal! And would make for nothing more than a dazzling exotic pet. Wouldn’t you say?”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Ae rebutted, arms crossing. “He looks quite scared, if you ask me.” This time, Trump did not try to hide his scowl. The two locked eyes from over the crowd for a moment, neither backing down, before Trump turned with a flourish and waved over one of his men.
“Good people, tomorrow at midday the auction will begin! I hope to see each and every one of you present!” With that, the horses pulling the wagon were urged on and the caravan rolled away.
Just before they were out of sight, Ae caught the eye of the Siren, staring at him with the softest, pleading look. His hand was pressed to the glass, looking lost and alone.
It was then the Fae felt a stir in his heart, gazing back into the eyes of the creature until they were gone. A spark, perhaps? A warmth he’d not felt in years? It didn’t matter, truly.
Ae’s mind was already made up.
Leaping down from the crates, cloak wound tight, Ae disappeared once again into the crowd.
His steps were quick and near silent. Subtlety had never been Ae’s strongest trait as a warrior, but luck was on his side.
An earlier scouting trip had revealed Trump’s men were all resting, and those hired to watch the Siren were locals, locals who happened to break for a drink or two around this time. The night was warm, and they would be eager for something cool to keep the heat at bay.
The tank was easy enough to find, still atop the wagon and lit by a single oil lamp. The Siren seemed restless, shifting back and forth best he could in the cramped space. Ae leapt from the beam he’d been running, landing lightly on top, appearing to scare the Siren half to death.
Ae made short work of the pad lock, opting for speed over secrecy, drawing his sword and bringing down hard on the metal. Breaking away the mangled remains, he hefted the top off the tank with a grunt, the Siren suddenly popping his head from the water and staring in to Ae’s eyes, mere inches from his face.
Ae stopped, leaning back, the Siren staring at him unmoving. The Siren tilted his head, looking unsure but insanely curious, his wet skin gleaming in the light. Ae’s breath unfroze from his lungs.
“It’s ok,” Ae whispered, sheathing his sword and holding up his empty hands. “I’m going to help you. I’m going to get you out of here. Just trust me.”
Ae hadn’t the slightest idea if the creature could understand, or if he’d attack him first chance he got, but he also didn’t have time to find out. Throwing off his cloak, he gently took one of the creature’s hands and turned, pulling his arm over Ae’s shoulder.
“Hold on tight,” Ae said, gripping the Siren’s arm and sticking it to his chest in an attempt to get him to understand. “Tight,” Ae repeated, patting the arm. The Siren seemed to get it, winding his other arm around Ae’s neck and gripping firm.
With a deep breath, Ae stood, heaving the creature out of the water and onto his back. The Siren tried to help, keeping himself up with his arms and wrapping his tail tight around the Fae’s waist. It did help, and Ae was able to grab his cloak and throw it over the both of them, hiding the from the light.
It wasn’t terrible inconspicuous; if anything, they looked life some kind of hunchback troll in a dress, but the black fabric hid the Siren’s brilliant tail from any light it may catch.
It took some effort, but Ae got them both down from the wagon and off into the maze of buildings the city became in the dark of night. They hadn’t gotten far when shouts rang out, lanterns being lit as the men realized their prize was gone.
“Go! Find it! Kill anyone who tries to stop you!”
Ae’s pace quickened. The creature was heavy, but Ae was strong; he’d make it.
Ae began to run. Pain shot through his right leg, but the Fae didn’t even bother to look down and check. He’d had worse. The Siren had buried his face in Ae’s neck, holding on for dear life as Ae skid to a stop, rounding a corner and ducking behind an empty stand.
He held the Siren close, crouching low as footsteps rushed past. They stayed, not moving, barely breathing, until the men were long gone.
Ae stood, ready to make their way out of the town and into the cover of the forest, when a pair of legs were suddenly wrapped around his waist, the fins and webs on the Siren’s arms vanishing as if they never were. Ae gasped.
“You can do that? You can transform?” Ae received no answer. “Can you walk?” The limbs squeezed tighter, and the Fae took that as a no. He shook his head, wrapped his forearms under the Siren’s new legs, and began moving toward the edge of town.
It took a couple of hours before Ae found them a place to settle, well covered by thick woods to keep them hidden. Ae sparked a small fire, just enough to give them light, wrapping the Siren in the cloak given he was very naked.
Finally checking out his leg, he found an arrow protruding from his calf.
“Shit,” he murmured, breaking the arrowhead off, gritting his teeth, and pulling the shaft out of the muscle. The pain was sharp, but Ae barely blinked. He was inspecting the arrowhead when a soft voice broke through.
Ae furrowed his brows, looking up at the Siren.
“What did you say?” Ae asked, leaning forward, peering at the creature through the firelight. He seemed almost sheepish.
“Hurt,” he repeated, pointing to the Fae’s leg. His voice was gentle and sweet, like honey running across Ae’s tongue. Ae scoffed.
“You can speak,” Ae stated the obvious. The Siren’s gaze dropped, giving the smallest of nods.
“Lander words…hard,” he said, plump lips in a slight pout.
“Lander, huh?” Ae said. He laughed again, trying to digest the fact that he was sitting in the woods, having a conversation with a Siren. A merman. Ae peered curiously at him.
“My name is Ae,” he said clearly, pointing to himself. “Ae.” For the first time, the Siren smiled, revealing round cheeks that glowed a bit pink.
“Pete,” he replied, pointing at himself, and Ae felt his heart grow warm.
“Pete,” Ae repeated, smiling back.
“Ae hurt?” Pete asked, motioning to his leg again. Oh, right. Ae was injured.
“I’ll be ok,” Ae said, holding up the arrowhead, examining it before tossing it over his shoulder. The wound on his leg had not bled much, but was beginning to turn an angry red. “The arrow was poisoned. It won’t kill me, though, it’s made to slow me down. Too bad for them.”
Pete nodded but clearly didn’t understand most of what was said.
“Pete,” Ae said. “How exactly were you captured? It has been so long since a Siren was seen, your kind has long faded into myth…yet, here you are.” Pete seemed to contemplate for a moment, perhaps finding the correct words.
“Siren eat lander,” Pete eventually came up with. Ae’s eyebrows shot up, and Pete immediately looked horrified. “Not Pete! No, Pete no eat lander. Others, like Pete, no eat lander. But, um…Siren have…place? Big home?”
“A castle?” Pete shook his head. “A city?” Silver eyes lit up.
“Yes! Siren have city. Very old, very…no find. Hide! Very, very hide. Siren like Pete, no can go city. So, um…hard to hide.”
“I think I get it,” Ae said, running a hand through his hair. “You don’t follow their ways, so you’re banished from your hidden city. And it is harder to find places to hide. That is how you were taken.” Pete looked away, gazing into the fire with a sad stare. Ae sighed. “Well, I for one appreciate that you will not be eating me.” Pete perked up at once.
“Yes! No eat, no eat Ae!” He looked down shyly. “Ae save Pete.”
Pete looked up and locked eyes with Ae, freezing everything around them. The Fae did not know what to make of that soft expression, the fondness in Pete’s gaze, nor the feeling they caused to spread through Ae’s chest. He could not remember the last time he felt so many things, so…alive.
“We should rest,” Ae said, breaking the stare. “It’s a three-day trek to port, and you will need to learn how to use those.” He pointed to Pete’s legs, which the Siren wiggled experimentally. “Sleep. We leave at dawn.”
He dug around in his rug sack, throwing Pete a pair of linen pants and tunic, Pete looking at them with confusion, trying to figure them out. With that, Ae laid back against a nearby tree, letting his eyes slip shut and his ear remain open. He would keep watch until the morning.
And whatever emotions were taking root in Ae’s heart, they would have to wait.
They both rose before the sun the next morning, Ae surprised to see Pete was awake first. It seemed he had listened well to Ae and was stumbling around in circles, walking on his own two feet.
Pete was holding a long branch horizontally and any time he stumbled, he’d flip the branch up and down to catch himself. Then, he would push off the branch and continued to stumble. He would have moments of grace, Ae observed, where he almost seemed to float, fluid over the ground, but a stray root or stone always brought him back to tripping around.
Nevertheless, they ate some dried berries and nuts Ae had prepared and set out south. The road was long and, frankly, boring, especially since Pete was far too concentrated on his walking to hold conversation. The Siren seemed to alternate between staring at the road with a furrowed brow and gazing at the world around him in wonder.
As the sun crossed the sky and began to sink, Ae could tell Pete’s new legs were getting tired and slowing down. They would not be very well off to travel at night, so it was best to stop at the nearest inn and find a room.
Once Ae was able to track one down, he turned to Pete, who was leaning heavily on his walking stick.
“Pete,” he said, reaching around him to pull up his hood, hiding his braids and beading. “Keep the hood up and your head down. Understand?” Pete nodded slowly.
“Pete head down,” the Siren repeated. Ae nodded before motioning him inside.
The inn was an old, wooden building, warm and hazy, lit by lanterns hanging from the beams. It smelled of smoke and incense and ale, many of the patrons minding themselves and keeping their noses down in their dinners. Ae dealt with the innkeeper, making sure Pete stayed close, before strutting to the bar.
“Two dinners and an ale,” Ae ordered, slapping down a silver piece. “We’ll be in the back.” The bartender nodded, the mug of ale hitting the bar with a thud. Ae scooped it up and dragged Pete to the back table, sitting side by side.
Before long, two worn bowls of fish stew were slapped down in front of them, Ae giving the maid a nod and tossing her a bronze piece. Ae dug in, his tongue burning, while Pete went in slow, picking out each bit and tasting it individually.
“Mm! Warm, so much! Lander, um…food! Food!” Pete went on babbling about his stew, even more than he had about the berries and nuts they had had that morning. His fascination with “lander” things was only growing.
They had only been sitting for a little while, patrons milling about, when several men dressed dark stormed in, instantly spreading out and checking tables. They were quiet, attempting to be inconspicuous, but Ae spotted them the second they entered. He recognized the heavy knives strapped to their belts.
“—so nice, very, very nice—”
“Pete!” The Siren jumped, the spoon he had been playing with clattering into the empty bowl. “Put your head down.” He reached over, pulling Pete’s hood further forward.
“There are bad men here, Pete. Stay quiet. Ok?” Ae wrapped his arm around Pete’s shoulders, pulling him close, making them look more like a couple having a private conversation. Pete kept his head tucked near Ae’s neck, Ae’s lips almost brushing against his hood as his eyes followed the men. He could feel Pete trembling in his arms.
Eventually, their luck ran out and one of the men made his way to their table. Ae kept his head low, swaying slightly in hopes of fooling the man that he was drunk. The man’s eyes narrowed.
“Hey, you, take off that hood.”
Ae squeezed Pete’s shoulders tighter, pretending not to hear him.
“Hey, I’m talking to you.”
The Fae closed his eyes, trying to visualize an escape route, when Pete began to sing softly.
“Take the hood off, now!”
Pete continued to sing, not moving, Ae not understanding or even recognizing the language.
“Are you singing?! I said take that—”
The man wrestled the hood back, Ae grabbing his arm, Pete’s head immediately snapping up and locking eyes with the mercenary. His voice raised in volume, his eyes glowing like little moons in the low lighting.
The man seemed to go lax, staring back into Pete’s eyes as the Siren entranced him, pulling him further and further into his spell. Ae watched, wide-eyed.
As he listened to Pete’s song, he felt himself start to drift as well. It was a glorious, euphoric feeling, like all the worldly woes he carried lifted away. Everything was growing foggy, the room started to move.
Suddenly, Pete stopped, and the mercenary bolted around.
“I’ve got something! Two towns over! Let’s move!” The others followed, and soon, the inn was once again left in peace.
Pete looked to Ae, who was still floating through Pete’s spell.
The half-lidded Fae was limp, lost in his own mind. He could barely hear Pete’s call.
There is a hand on him, shaking him. Why? He is already awake.
Finally, Ae snapped back to himself, the sounds of the inn rushing back to him.
He met Pete’s concerned gaze for a moment, the Siren looking like a puppy ready to be scolded. Instead, Ae looked Pete up and down once, twice, before throwing back the rest of his ale and standing.
“Come.” Pete followed, his walking stick thudding against wood floors as he scurried after Ae to their room.
Their room was simple; a fireplace blazed opposite an armchair, lighting the single bed, a table with a water jug sat in the far corner. While Pete circled the room, examining everything in his path, Ae sat in front of the fire to address his leg wound.
He had wrapped it well enough, but the poison was doing its work and was going to take more than a few days to leave his blood. Until then, he would have to live with the constant throbbing pain. However, it did seem the herbs he had managed to find had warded off any infection.
As he rewrapped his leg, his mind wandered. The power Pete had exhibited was…something. Ae had never experienced anything quite like it; the fog that had descended on his mind. He felt, in that moment, he would have done anything Pete asked, though he supposed that was the purpose.
After all, that was how his kind lured men to their deaths; with beautiful songs telling beautiful lies.
Though, now that Ae had experienced it, he felt it would be easy to resist the spell a second time.
“Ae?” Ae looked up from his thoughts. Pete had taken a seat across of him. “Ae is…war-or?”
Pete pointed at the sword, still strapped to Ae’s hip.
“A warrior?” Ae touched the hilt of his sword, fingertips brushing the leather. He gave a bitter smirk. “I am a Fae. All my kind are warriors. Whether we wish to be or not.”
“Fae?” Pete inquired.
“Yes, Fae live north of here. I used to serve the Fae armies under Prince Saifah,” Ae told him. “And I fought many battles by his side. I was a part of the prince’s personal legion, reserved only for the most skilled of warriors. They called him the Golden Reaper, and us, his Angels of Death.”
“Death,” Pete repeated, sounding oddly solemn. “Pete know word.”
“I am sorry that you do,” Ae bowed his head. “I was…never like the others. I fought and killed for my lands and people, and I regret none of it. It was my duty. But with every war, I grew…tired. Weary. It was as if the blood I spilled, I was wading through it with each step I took, as if each kill took a piece of my soul with it. People used to say I took so many lives that I had in turn forgotten how to live…perhaps, they were right.”
Pete inched closer, shaking his head.
“No, Ae, no,” he said, pressing his hand flat to Ae’s chest. The Fae felt his heart jump a bit at the touch. “Ae save Pete. Ae live.”
Ae was not sure if Pete knew just how deeply such a statement struck him. Ae wondered if Pete knew what he made Ae feel. Ae wondered if Pete knew just how beautiful he looked in that moment, pale skin glowing in the firelight, thick lips like the petals of a rose.
Instead, Ae smiled gently, taking Pete’s wrist with a barely-there grip, pushing his hand away.
“Thank you, Pete. Maybe you’re right.” He left it at that. “Get some rest, alright?”
He hesitated, looking at Ae with an emotion the Fae couldn’t quite place. Though, the Siren relented, crawling into the bed and curling up under the heavy quilt.
Ae stared into the fire, seeing shapes forming then disappearing into smoke. Many of the shapes were of his past.
Ae leaned back. He would not be sleeping tonight.
Ae rose early the next morning, gathering what provisions they would need come the next few days. He had managed to haggle with a local farmer and purchased a donkey for Pete to ride. He had done well learning to walk, but the donkey would help speed their journey along.
Pete was positively enamored with the beast, which Ae had affectionately and slyly named Pond, after an old friend. Given that the Siren could ride Pond and did not have to focus as much on walking, he chattered nonstop to Ae, learning words and asking questions.
The next few days were some of the most pleasant Ae could remember. Pete’s childlike fascination with the land always made him smile. Pete usually listened when to Ae talk about this and that, but every now and then, he would attempt to regale his own tales to the Fae, taking care to try out new words he learned.
They had had to stop once, halfway through their journey, for Pete to transform. They had found a lovely little spring, well hidden and clear, and Pete had swum through the night; his turquoise tail would flick water toward Ae, shimmering in the moonlight like a jewel, a gem of the gods.
The more time Ae spent with Pete, the more he felt his heart stir with life as it had not in years, a new fire being forged in his soul. Soon, it became painfully obvious what was happening.
Ae was falling in love with Pete.
Love was new to him, as his youth had only known battle and death. Pete was the opposite; he was warm light and tender touches, he was hope and curiosity and passion.
Ae knew he did not deserve Pete, and Pete did not deserve for his pure light to be tainted by the likes of him. So, he would do nothing but smile as Pete rambled from the back of the donkey, and bury the heartache of knowing Pete would soon be back in the sea, never to see Ae again.
By the time they reached the port city, Ae was not sure if he was relieved or miserable. His answer found him when Pete laid eyes on the city.
Ae thought he’d see Pete light up, but it was nothing like this. He seemed to glow, reflecting the sun as if to blind Ae and everyone around them.
While the buildings at port were nothing special, the people came from across different lands and were all different shapes and colors, the likes of which they had never seen before. The marketplace as well was famous across the world for extravagant vendors and merchandise. Art, food, clothing, and new technologies from all over the world, all gathered to one place.
Pete wanted to see everything, dragging Ae to each stall while the Fae sternly reminded him that they were in a rush, quickly selling Pond to a nearby stable. His words fell upon deaf ears and he found himself without the heart to deny the Siren. His smile was too bright, too pure.
“Sea! Ae, sea!” He made a few steps toward the docks before Ae caught his arm.
“Pete, no,” he tugged Pete to face him. The Siren looked confused. “There are too many people. You can’t just jump off the docks and reveal yourself to everyone in the market.”
“Ah, yes,” Pete agreed. “Bad…idea.” Ae smiled, ushering him the next stall, making sure they were still moving toward the edge of town.
A jewelry stand seemed to catch Pete’s eye, reaching out to stroke a gleaming string of tiny pearls, shining pink in the high light. Pete seemed mesmerized, his fingertips barely brushing the jewels, barely hearing the vendor as she attempted to talk him up.
“Do you like it?” As asked him, lips almost brushing against his ear. Pete flushed and looked down, a hand coming up to stroke his hair, trinkets clinking against each other. “For your hair?”
“Pete hair…special,” Pete spoke softly, eyes still trained on the pearls. “All special.” Ae reached for his pouch, pulling out a gold piece before offering it.
“Three pieces!” the lady haggled. “Very rare, from the far northern seas!”
“You’ll take two or you’ll find another buyer,” Ae offered the second piece, placing them both on the table. The jeweler pretended to think before taking both with a smile. Ae took the string of pearls, offering it to Pete.
“To remember your time on the land,” he said, smirking. Pete’s eyes glittered as he took it gently, running a thumb over it.
“And Ae,” Pete added. “Remember Ae.” The Fae’s heart dropped as quickly as his smile, looking at Pete with a somber expression. He looked away and nodded. Pete offered the pearls back to Ae. “Ae help Pete?”
The Fae took the pearls, watching as Pete hesitated before carefully selecting the longest braid that fell to his shoulder from behind his right ear. Gently, fingers brushing the pale skin of his neck, Ae wove the pearls into the braid until they were firmly in place.
As his hand fell back to his side, his eyes lingered on Pete’s before falling to those plush, rose lips. The sounds of the market fell away, people brushing past them hardly a concern as Ae saw nothing but Pete.
Pete leaned in a fraction, breath hanging in the air, and Ae snapped from his trance, looking away before he did something foolish. He released the air in his lungs with a huff, eyes catching sight of something as he looked behind Pete.
“Pete,” he said in a low voice. “Put your hood up. Head down.”
“Ae?” Pete looked concerned, but raised the hood of his cloak.
“Walk with me.” They began to move toward the edge of town again, fighting the urge to glance behind them. “They are following us, Pete. Listen carefully, alright? You are going to keep walking, follow this road. If the road forks, keep left toward the sea. Before long, you will reach the beaches. Do you understand?”
“Follow road. Go left to sea.” Pete paused. “Ae? Ae come?”
“No, Pete. I’m going to lead them away.”
“Trust me, Pete. I will be fine, I will keep you safe.”
“…Pete will wait Ae. At sea.”
“Pete, that won’t work.”
“Pete will wait. Understand?”
Ae startled, taken aback by the firm tone he had never heard from Pete, but snorted and shook his head. They did not have time to sit there and fight.
“Very well. I’ll be there as quickly as I can. Now, go.”
Finally, Pete nodded and walked forward, a bit shaky but confident enough not to draw attention. Ae hung back, glancing to make sure the three men he spotted initially were still trailing behind them. They were. He watched Pete until he had effectively vanished into the crowd, then stopped and waited.
He turned, making eye contact with the man leading before ducking into an alley. Ae knew they’d be right behind him. He jumped his way up several crates, drawing his long sword just in time for the first mercenary to round the corner.
He leapt from his perch, landing blade first on the man’s head, striking him down and staining the steel red. As the first man fell, the remaining two drew their knives and rushed him. Ae kicked a crate under the first’s feet, tripping him, before taking the second head on.
They were skilled men, and Ae’s leg was slowing him down more than he cared to admit. He disposed of one of the mercenaries, sweeping his feet and plunging his blade tip first into his heart, but the final man was on him before he could pull his sword.
He dodged the attacks, one swipe cutting the skin of his chin when he moved a hair too slow. Sliding to the ground and rolling away, he managed to remove his belt, springing up and catching the man’s arm with the leather, twisting and throwing his body to the ground.
The arm gave a sickening pop and Ae sprung for the knife as it fell, swiping it up and plunging it into the man’s neck, slicing it and letting him bleed out.
As the man choked on his blood, Ae stumbled back and fell hard against the wall, his leg screaming in protest at being overworked. Ae was breathing hard—perhaps he’d gotten rusty—wiping sweat that dripped from his brow.
Ae forced himself to his feet, leaning heavily on the wall as he managed to stumble to his sword, drawing it from the dead man’s chest and cleaning it against him, then sheathing it. He made his way out of the alley, leaving the bloodbath behind him and blending in seamlessly with the common folk.
He had to get to Pete.
It didn’t take him long to reach Pete, but he was too late. As he spotted Pete’s form, standing just on the edge where the stone met the sea, a group of men were directly behind the Fae.
“Pete!” Ae was running. He had to beat them to him. “Pete!”
The Siren turned, and Ae could just make out a smile spreading across his face.
“Pete, go! Go now!” The smile vanished, Pete stumbling away. “They’re here, Pete! You have to go—” His words were cut off as he was struck hard in the shoulder, stumbling with the force. He looked down and saw an arrowhead protruding chest, having struck him from behind and cleared straight through his body.
“Go, Pete! Go!”
Another arrow struck further down his back, just above his hip, and suddenly, it was hard to breathe. Ae’s knees could no longer carry him, falling to the stone as Pete looked on in horror. Their eyes met, tears trailing down Pete’s pale cheeks.
Pete listened, granting the final wish of a dying man, turning and leaping into the waves, disappearing beneath the crashing foam.
Ae smiled, his heart lifting when Pete did not resurface. The cloak and linens he had worn floated to the surface and Ae knew Pete was safe.
Gritting his teeth, Ae hauled himself to his feet and drew his sword, turning to face the onslaught. The hoard of men rushed him. With a final cry of pain and fury, he attacked and cut down man after man. The agony was nothing but noise in Ae’s ears as his vision went red, no adversary standing a chance when caught in his path.
One last time, Ae was an Angel of Death.
Only this time, he gave his life, not for his lands or his prince, but for his love.
He had struck down the final mercenary when a third arrow struck him in the chest, right below his collar bone. Ae stumbled, falling to his knees again, the fire in him burnt out. He looked up with hazy eyes, spotting the bowman.
Trump waltzed up to him, slinging his bow to his back as he gave a vile grin.
“Good Fae, you have cost me quite a lot!” Trump said with a flourish, not loosing the dramatics even under Ae’s glare. “Who knew a simple man such as yourself could do so much harm! Only…you’re not a simple man, are you, Angel of Death?”
Ae refused to speak, glaring up at Trump as he fought against the pain, forcing his lungs to take air.
“You, good sir,” Trump circled him, gripping the arrow in his shoulder, “cost me my men,” he yanked the arrow out harshly, Ae choking out a pained noise, “my crown jewel Siren,” he ripped out the arrow at his hip, “and worst of all, my reputation.” Finally, he ripped the arrow from his chest, leaning down to look Ae in the eye as the Fae heaved.
Ae managed a smirk, and Trump’s eyes darkened with rage.
“But looked where that lead you,” Trump growled, drawing the knife at his hip. “Here, kneeling before me, at death’s door.” He took a knee, nose to nose with Ae.
Trump plunged the knife into Ae’s stomach, a cruel smile on his face. Ae gasped, blood making its way up the back of his throat as the steel cut through him. Ae sneered.
He reached his hand and gripped Trump’s arm with all the strength he had left, keeping him in place as he pulled a hidden blade from his boot.
Ae did not hesitate, sinking the blade into Trump’s chest, right between his ribs and into his heart. The collector’s eyes grew wide with shock and panic, but he could not fight back. Ae twisted the knife deeper.
“Pathetic,” Ae whispered as Trump fell limp, life drained from his eyes.
Ae grimaced, crying out as he pulled the blade from his stomach and fell to his side. He was dying; the life was leaking out of him like the blood from his wounds. Ae wondered if he could make it to the sea. If not, he would die trying.
He worked to drag himself to the edge of the water, one hand crawling while the other held the wound on his stomach. A trail of red marked his short journey, relaxing once he finally felt he spray of the waves against his face and the smell of salt in his nose. His head hung from the rocks.
His half-lidded eyes were still clear enough to see a face appear from the foam, silver eyes shining with sea water or tears, Ae wasn’t sure.
“Pete,” he breathed, smiling.
“Ae,” Pete sobbed, reaching up to touch the Fae’s cheek with care, fingers trembling. “Ae hurt. Ae death.” Ae kept smiling, managing a nod. Pete wailed, tears falling into the sea.
“Pete,” Ae rasped again. “Thank you…you mean…everything to me. Taught me to…live…again…to love…”
“You are beautiful…never told you…should have…”
Pete only wept harder.
“Ae…save Pete. Now, Pete save Ae? Please, Ae, Pete save Ae?”
“Pete try! Ae want? Please, Ae want?”
“I want…to be with Pete.”
Pete calmed for a moment, looking at Ae with those big, watery eyes. He swallowed.
“Pete want to be with Ae,” he said earnestly, and Ae smiled again. He could feel himself fading.
Pete paused, then pulled himself up, gently pressing his lips to Ae’s. It was wet with tears and felt like a heartbreaking goodbye, but Ae was happy. Pete’s lips were sweet and soft, and he wished he had the strength to kiss him harder, with passion, with love.
Pete pulled away slowly, reaching to grip Ae by the shoulders and pull. Ae was grateful he had long since gone numb as Pete heaved him further from the rocks until he was plunging into the salty water.
The world, now blue and blurry, was going dark. He was numb and light, but warm with Pete’s arms wrapped around him as he swam them further and further down.
As his world went dark and he felt his heart slow, he thanked the gods he was allowed to see Pete once more, and to finally find peace.
Ae was stirring. He could feel. He was alive?
Everything was dark, weightless, but he could move, if only a little.
He tried shifting, but something was wrong.
Everything felt wrong. This was wrong!
Ae began to thrash, but something was holding him down. He was pinned, there was no balance, no weight. But he was bound.
And this body wasn’t his, it couldn’t be! Everything felt wrong!
Ae torn at whatever was holding his limbs down, ripping it between his fingers. He was breathing hard but not, that all felt wrong, too. He was panicking, his heart was racing, blood rushing in his ears.
He kept tearing until there was light, blinding light. Ae cried out and his voice felt wrong.
“Ae! Ae, it is alright. Ae, I have you, you are alright!” That voice, that was not wrong.
“Pete?” Ae looked around wildly but it was still too bright to see. He squinted before a face swam into focus, Pete’s wide silver eyes being the first thing he saw. “Pete…I’m alive.”
“Yes, yes, Ae! You are here, it is alright!”
Ae’s heart calmed, his mind finally able to catch up to everything around him. He was…underwater. All around him was blue, sunlight shining from above, water distorting the light from where he sat on the ocean floor.
Looking down, he was stunned to see a long, powerful, glimmering tail much like Pete’s where his legs had once been.
The scales were dark but shined blue in the light, trailing up his body like armor. Fins sat on his arms and claws tipped his webbed fingers. He looked just like Pete, who was watching Ae observe his new form with an anxious look.
“I’m…like you,” Ae looked at him. “You saved me…by making me one of you? A Siren?”
“Not me, Ae, the sea! She saved you,” Pete’s voice broke off as he covered his mouth with a hand. “By the gods, you are alive!” He began to cry, lips and limbs trembling.
“It is…” Pete took a deep breath, collecting himself. “It is old magic, a legend, really! I…did not know it would work. But tales tell of those the sea deems worthy being granted new life as one of her children. She is our god, Ae. I begged the sea to save you, for you to be reborn. I wrapped your…body…and waited.”
“Reborn…” Ae murmured. “Wait, Pete, you’re speaking common tongue!” Pete giggled through his tears.
“No, you are speaking my tongue,” Pete corrected. “The tongue of the sea is one given, not one learned.” He paused, drifting a bit closer to where Ae still sat in the sand, mind in a frenzy. “Ae…I am sorry, if this is not what you wanted. I only wished to save you, you were dying and—and I—”
“Pete, no,” Ae reached out, taking Pete’s hand in his and pulling him down next to him. “This is…unbelievable. I’m something completely new, and it will take time for me to…adjust. But I told you my only wish was to be with you. That was the truth.” Pete looked at him with shining eyes.
“Pete, surely you know what you’ve done to me,” Ae’s voice lowered. “I was a broken, tired soul, content to wander until death found me, but you sparked something in me. You gave me life, even before this. Surely you know, I live for you.” Ae reached up, stroking those pale cheeks he loved so. “And only you.”
“Ae,” Pete whispered. He reached up, pulling forward the long braid from behind his ear where the string of pearls Ae bought him still sat. He looked down shyly. “This braid is sacred, to my kind. Anything woven into it is meant to come from our mates, those we spend our life with. I did not think I would see you again, and I knew I would never love another.” Pete met Ae’s eyes through his long lashes. “I choose you, Ae. I have from the start. If it is your wish…perhaps the pearls can remain there?”
Ae’s smiled, his eyes softening.
“Twice you’ve saved me, my Siren,” Ae said, teasing a bit. “It is only fair that my life is yours for the taking.” Pete pouted at the jest. “I love you, Pete. I choose you, as well.”
Pete’s face crumpled into tears, throwing himself into Ae’s arms with a cry. Ae laughed, squeezing Pete tight and pressing his lips against fair skin.
“I love you, too, I love Ae,” Pete said quietly, voice cracking with emotion.
Ae pulled back, removing Pete’s face from his neck, taking it in his hands. Slowly, too slow, he leaned in and kiss Pete with all the love in his heart.
Despite the cool water, the kiss shot heat through Ae’s body as he could no longer control himself. He grabbed Pete’s waist, pulling him closer and kissing him hard, little sounds escaping Pete’s throat. Ae continued his quest, dominating Pete’s mouth with his own, tongue pushing its way past his lips to explore.
Ae forced himself to pull away, Pete looking redder than he’d ever seen him. He smirked, his new tail swishing through the sand and water, brushing against Pete's.
“You have much to teach me, my love,” he growled, hands roaming. Pete flushed further, shuddering under his touch.
“Pete will…happily teach Ae.”
“Talking like that…it is purposely, isn’t it?” Pete looked down, smiling that smile that made his cheeks look rounder and his lips plush. Ae played with the trinkets in Pete’s hair tenderly. “Are you happy?”
Pete nodded furiously.
“Good. Well, you’ve seen my world. Ready to show me yours, my love?”
“Yes, my Ae. I am ready.”