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Authors: Katherine Perkins,Jeffrey Cook

All's Fair (Fair Folk Chronicles Book 4)

BOOK: All's Fair (Fair Folk Chronicles Book 4)
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All’s Fair

 

           

 

 

 

Book Four of the Fair Folk Chronicles

by Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover by Clarissa Yeo of Yocla Designs

Text Copyright © 2016 Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, and events are either imaginary or used in a fictitious manner.

All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

This ending is dedicated to the beginning:

C.S. Lewis, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and J.R.R. Tolkien,

where our paths to this first started and where they met.

Table of Contents

 

Chapter 1: Frozen

Chapter 2: Frustration and Cups of Sugar

Chapter 3: A Moment

Chapter 4: Moving Pictures

Chapter 5: Perfect Sense

Chapter 6: Unstoppable

Chapter 7: Close-Knit Family

Chapter 8: Unraveling

Chapter 9: On the Way

Chapter 10: Unplottable

Chapter 11: The Gray Lady

Chapter 12: From Gray into the Black

Chapter 13: Caution and the Wind

Chapter 14: Barrow

Chapter 15: Scale

Chapter 16: Ah, But Underneath

Chapter 17: Tarnished Silver

Chapter 18: To Arms

Chapter 19: Escape from Gorias

Chapter 20: Backlash

Chapter 21: Fishing Camp

Chapter 22: The Sound After Silence

Chapter 23: What We Are

Chapter 24: Unstable

Chapter 25: To Run with Wolves

Chapter 26: This One Time at War Camp

Chapter 27: Ex

Chapter 28: Allegiance

Chapter 29: They Also Serve

Chapter 30: Before the Lady of Song

Chapter 31: The Secret Chord

Chapter 32: The Menehune Way

Chapter 33: Last Minute Plans

Chapter 34: Ragnarok Eve

Chapter 35: Dea Ex Musica

Chapter 36: Battle for the Ballroom

Chapter 37: Confrontation

Chapter 38: Every New Beginning

Chapter 39: Blank Pages

Chapter 40: The Winter Dance

 

Chapter 1: Frozen

 

Even the snow took on a platinum sheen, piled high against the pale stone walls of Gorias. Thick layers of ice clung to everything else, giving the walls a crystalline sheen over the white stone and barring the windows with icicles. The silvery gates were taller still than the twenty-foot giants that stood sentry. High above them, patrols moved atop the walls, while small crews of slaves kept alive long past their time labored behind them to keep the walkways free of ice.

Inwar of the Ljosalfar watched the images of the city within the crystal that the platinum-haired sidhe lady had presented. It was one of many scrying resources lining one half of the War Room, into which the General had converted the front of his suite. The other half was dominated by a table, lined with maps, and occupied by his best advisers and tacticians. “The forces are still there, certainly,” Inwar said. “What of their efforts to dispel the firewall?”

The crystal's gaze withdrew from the city itself, retreating past the point where more and more snow-covered ground crumbled and tumbled into the strangely-bubbling lake. Finally, it shifted to the flickering-but-unbroken line of blue and white flames—and to the lines of Fomoire sorcerers, blurred figures moving at the edges of the fire, trying to continuously dampen it with rituals of their own.

"The flames continue to weaken. The theories that their efforts would grow more effective with the shorter days are proving sound. And the Solstice is coming soon," the sidhe seer said.

“And within the city?” Inwar asked.

A tiny woman with long, lavender braids passed a hand over a bowl of water. Inwar stepped near her to watch the images that appeared.

Since the founding of Gorias, the throne room and war room had been one and the same, the city's martial nature reflected in all of its architecture. The centerpiece of the room had always been Esras's throne, but ever since the Fomoire had determined they'd be trapped there for a time, the great chair had been torn out, sacrificed to the forges, and replaced by a monstrosity of black iron, hammered and shaped cold, and sized for Indech's massive form.

Indech occupied the throne, mostly still, shark-like eyes shifting from one to the other of the pair in the room, ignoring the gaunt slaves, marked with distinct black lines that seemed to shift and writhe under their pale flesh, that were chained to the walls, or occasionally moved about the room doing menial tasks while the Fomoire spoke.

Bres was the second, nearly as large as Indech, but as perfect in form as Indech was monstrous. Indeed, he almost seemed to be carved of marble, idealized in form and proportion—and just as cold.

The final figure, Cethlenn, Balor's widow, knelt before a patch of polished ice on the floor—a scrying pool of her own. The misshapen witch watched their progress, the images shifting, some clear, others blurred as she sought answers of her own.

In the war room of An Teach Deiridh, the third oracle, tall and veiled in dark cloaks, spoke from under the hood. "They speak of blood—the shedding, the ties of family, and blood oaths sworn between untrusted allies.”

“They have cause to,” Inwar said. “Between the three, they have mother, wife, children, and grandson among the gods. Blood calls to blood. They might all return to drive them back—or better.” He paused. “What do they say of allies?”

“They have friends in the dark places, who even now obscure them from eyes on high. They do not trust these allies, and they do not trust each other. They fear the Gods' return... but do not believe it will happen. Too many shadows pass between the Godshome and this world.”

“Of course they do.” Inwar sighed, setting a hand on the shoulder of the troll woman maintaining the scrying water. “And yet the dokkalfar have not obscured them from us. Well done.” He looked back to the veiled woman. “What of Cethlenn? Does she see what she wishes?”

“One,” replied the oracle.

Inwar managed to glimpse the image within the image, to see the pale, dark-eyed face, the white hair with a red streak. “Tiernan. Of course,” he said. “Cethlenn cares about the Dance. For her power, and for their allies, faithless or not.”

The scrying within the scrying shifted. For a moment, there was another face, as human as it was fae, framed by red hair, but it quickly vanished in flames.

The term the veiled oracle used next made Inwar force himself not to flinch. “The new Queen,” the seeress said, “moves from realm to realm, and the Sword of Light is often near her.”

As the oracle spoke, the images in the Fomoire witch's ice continued to blur. Cethlenn gestured, and the chained slaves on the wall writhed in pain, as she drew upon their life-forces for more power.

Inwar had seen it before. Divine forces could be empowered by many things, and the Fomoire were a people of water, iron, and blood. Cethlenn's magics had often drawn on the lives of others, when they last walked the worlds above. And she'd be seeking more such vessels soon. The pool shifted away from trying to focus on Megan and instead settled on an image of Inwar's war room. This brought on a few startled movements, but the General remained just as he was.

“The witch is not as neglected as she was before Mag Tuired,” Inwar said calmly. “But the Fomoire that the Gods drove under the ice were not the force they had at the battle.”

Again Cethlenn gestured. Again the chain figures writhed. Inwar almost thought, under the black lines, he recognized a face.

“She speaks of her souvenirs,” the veiled oracle said, her voice strained.

There was a sudden quiet sound from the lavender-haired troll as her scrying water twisted itself, no longer showing a full view of the room. Instead, she and Inwar looked into the water and up into one crooked face, one sculpted one, one like a shark's. Indech's flat, lifeless eyes were not the only ones staring blankly. Inwar stared right back.

“...And they speak of rats in the larder,” the veiled oracle said.

The troll's bowl of water suddenly froze, then cracked from side to side.

The sidhe seeress's breath hitched as her crystal viewing the firewall crumbled into ash in her hands.

“When the flames die,” she said. “They will come here in force." The other women nodded.

Inwar smiled. "They will. And they will try to destroy the Ballroom, to stop the turn of seasons while Winter is still in power.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2: Frustration and Cups of Sugar

 

"What the hell is he doing?" Megan paced her room in An Teach Deiridh some more, fuming. She had to be careful not to knock over the bundle of papers she'd been reviewing—scraps from sprites didn't stack well, and scraps were mostly what she had.

“Well, from your reports, it sounds like he's just trying to plan.” Lani was sitting on Megan's bed. Megan had spent a lot more time at the castle than on Earth since graduating, with Lani joining her where she could—more often now that Winter break had begun. Megan would mostly go to Earth to visit her mother and, occasionally, to refill her low-dose ADHD medicine. Then she'd return to her castle room and her magic practice—and her frustration.

Lani continued. "Inwar knows he's outgunned. Sure, the people in the alliance are sending more people, but they're not going to win very many fights in the open once the Fomoire get loose."

"Right, right,” Megan said. “But it still doesn't make sense. They're not out in force yet. The paths are all vulnerable. They could at least be watching them or something, right? Or hunting the Fomoire who didn't get caught behind the wall?"

"You and Tiernan shut down as many of the paths as possible. They'll at least have a hard time finding them. And Inwar has killed some of the Fomoire scouts."

"The ones who got too close to the castle, sure. But there's more out there, and they are the Fomoire that we could deal with right now, while most are behind the wall. These are the immediate threat. But Tiernan and I had to sort out that path-closing stuff mostly by ourselves. The General treated it like he was glad we had a hobby.”

Lani nodded. "It's really tough. But, well, you remember when this started? Orlaith, with her 'We Must Control This' and 'Earth Will Manage Until We Get Around To It,' was General Inwar’s BFF.”

“BQF?”

“Heh. Sure. Anyway, did you really think protecting Earth from a few Fomoire who might try to come through was going to be his highest priority?"

Megan sighed and shook her head. "I guess not. But it's probably still better than Tiernan leading. I guess he's technically the King and stuff, but..."

"But he'd break up the alliance."

"He's a lot better than he was," Megan said.

"And it took killing most of his men for him to get better. He's the King, but not very many of our allies would follow him."

"True. So maybe best he's still letting Inwar lead the war movement."

"You could try taking over more of it, you know," Lani said.

"Me? I'm not..."

"You're the Unseelie Queen. It's your season. You could."

"I was going to say, I'm not a tactician. I don't know what I'm doing. And I'm half human. No one will listen."

"The ogres will. The tengu will. Xurde will. Cassia will. Even the Dullahan might, and he carries some weight. A bunch of your father's people would probably join."

Megan thought about that, then shook her head. "I don't think it's a good idea to start making it look like there's multiple factions. The Fomoire are just the Fomoire. I don't think we can afford to be my people and Inwar's people. And if I start having people, Tiernan will start trying to do his own thing again. It's just... it's not a good idea."

"You're just saying that because you're afraid."

"Of messing something up when this could be the end of the world? Yeah, a little."

"You've done all right so far."

"Okay, so maybe I can get together a scouting group or something. If I say it right, it can just sound like all part of the plan. Inwar has certainly been sending out enough scouting parties."

"My dad mentioned something about those,” Lani said. “But they're not hunting the Fomoire?"

Megan shook her head. "He's got them doing stuff like, well, our first quest for the Claiomh Solais, or the cauldron. Looking for weapons and artifacts, and stuff left over from the Gods. He's pretty sure those will help. Or at least will keep stuff like that from any dokkalfar sneaking out of the underworld one by one. We know how much they want to cheat.”

“Yeah, if they don't have any loopholes, they might not be much happier about the end of worlds than we are. So there's your in. Lead a scouting group.”

Megan thought for a moment, then sighed. “It won't work. General Inwar's been much keener about my safety since...you know. Princess Megan could run off on adventures. Queen Megan can go from Earth to the castle, and her champion gets horror-story lectures, and the guards all watch closer.”

“Well, that's not completely out of place, admittedly. Heavy the head that wears the crown and all.”

“Heavy the dancing boots, more like it. It's all about the season regulation, since he knows how much the dokkalfar care about it. And now maybe they'll finally get their cheating supplies, and I can't do anything about it.”

“Hey.” Lani put a hand on Megan's shoulder. “Don't let that be what gets you worked up again. The gods probably took all their magic hammers and stuff with them, which would at least keep them from the dokkalfar. But I understand why people've been looking anyway. Most of the groups the General has treasure-hunting will have to be recalled once the Fomoire are out, so now's as good a time as any."

"So, why weren't they looking for them before the war started?"

Lani shrugged. "You remember what was said about the Claiomh Solais? How it tends to kind of disappear between users, and every person who finds it has to go through some test. Some of the magic is just like that. Not that there's any guarantee, but there's at least the chance they'll show up when you need them. But kind of pointless hunting otherwise."

"Needing your heroes to go questing in the middle of every crisis seems kind of self-defeating. Mythology is weird."

"Magic is weird. Besides, if that weren't the case, the same rich families would have everything locked away in their private museums or something."

"Okay, maybe true. And I guess it might add some legitimacy to someone showing up claiming to be the hero when they have a flaming sword."

Lani grinned. "So what does that mean when the guy with the flaming sword shows up and very politely insists that he isn't the hero; he's just her boyfriend?"

Megan blushed. "Okay, so time for a topic change. Last time you came to Faerie for one of the diplomatic things with the other menehune, you and Kerr were holding hands."

"Yeah."

"Like, is there some official thing...?"

"We're going to be partners."

"Oh. Okay, 'cause I always got the impression that Kerr wasn't into ... I mean, on top of not having a gender, I thought Kerr didn't have—"

"—there's more to love than hormones, Megan," Lani said, smiling. Then, after a pause, "Though of course, the complexities of oxytocin do play a role—"

"Okay, I'm officially happy for you, you total nerd.” Megan smiled warmly, then snatched up one of the inordinately fluffy pillows on her bed and clutched it. “So... Tell Me More,” she half-sang.

“I told you, there's no—”

“I'm not asking for gory details. I'm asking for cute details. Call it revenge.”

“There's revenge?” asked a small alto-tenor voice, tense with concern. “Why is there revenge?” With all of Kerr's typical perfect timing, the brownie was peeking in through the open door. Megan had long since given up any hope of talking in confidence around An Teach Deiridh, between magic and all the smallfolk flying about, and the cool Winter breezes through the castle always made it feel, to Megan anyway, like it helped her seasonal magics work better. She'd certainly done little these past few months but study them and see what worked.

Megan smiled. "There's best-friend-asking-about-dating-stories revenge because, well, because."

Lani smiled and held a hand out towards Kerr. "Because I helped set her and Justin up, and it's not like I've dated much. She just wants to know how this all started."

Kerr beamed. "It was really romantic. She wanted help with her English homework..."

Megan gave Lani a dubious glance. "You wanted help with homework?"

"Hey, hey, English. Not like it was something fun like introductory topology. Kerr was just listening from the kitchen while I read stuff anyway."

"Right, so anyway. Help with English homework," Megan said, urging Kerr to continue.

"And she got to the sonnets, and just started reading these wonderful love poems," Kerr said. The brownie paused and clarified. “Well, sort of reading, sort of translating.”

"Shakespeare is just plain better in the original Klingon," Lani said.

Kerr nodded. "And I remembered something from that show where when someone starts reciting Klingon poetry, you throw things."

"Flour," Lani said. "You were baking, and you threw flour at me."

"Flour counts," Kerr said. "And she came running in before I threw more flour. And we just kind of ended up snuggling in the kitchen."

"Wait, so you're saying that your first not-date was all about flours and poetry?" Megan asked, with a grin.

Lani nodded. "Pretty stereotypical, huh?"

"Oh yeah. Textbook," Megan said, before looking back to Kerr. "You came in for something?"

Kerr blushed, shuffling foot to foot a little. "Oh, sorry about that, Majesty. Yes."

"Kerr, we're friends first. Just Megan is okay in here, really." She'd done the reminder a dozen times, but never really minded.

"Okay, Megan. Lunch is ready."

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK: All's Fair (Fair Folk Chronicles Book 4)
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