Friday, December 30, 2011

Aftershock 11/16

Vampires moved far faster than any fey could on foot. Herding Kieran into the alley by cutting off all other routes of escape hardly taxed their skill set. Donovan did not need to see this to know where they’d gone. Following the vibration of footfalls against the earth served as a sixth sense. Without even breaking into a run, Donovan strode into the alleyway as two vampires toyed with Kieran. Every time he moved to try and bolt past them, they blocked. They’d played this game with the boy before. They enjoyed it. Kieran knew he was as good as drained. Probably got drained on a regular basis. The vampires would never kill him, their addiction to the Sidhe blood too strong to risk losing such an easy source.

“This is what my people are coming to? The noble elves of legend and fact... pinnacle of magic to ever take form… the Sidhe who were once worshipped by the Celts as deities… Reduced to little more than livestock for bloodsuckers?”

Donovan had not raised his voice. His commanding presence rarely required him to shout to garner attention. His glare alone, one that had seen far more enemies laid to waste before him than these vampires could begin to imagine, backed them away. Novice vampires at most, the both of them barely older than Kieran. Sensing their peril, the night creatures scrambled up the alley walls to escape the mere threat of Donovan’s presence. Little more than black blurs in their haste, they fled like shadows from the light.

Only Donovan hardly thought of himself as a light. No Unseelie, and member of the dark court, would ever think such a thing of themselves.

With the vampires gone, Donovan leveled his penetrating focus on Kieran. The youth had sense enough to tremble beneath the threat of it. He shouted at Donovan, “What do you want?”

Donovan reached out a hand, open and unarmed. “I want the Sidhe to thrive.”

“The Sidhe?” Kieran whispered it. Probably warned since he was a small lad to never speak of what he was. As if he should be ashamed of his glorious heritage rather than ennobled by it. The wonderment and surprise in Kieran’s expression said it all, an abandoned orphan waking to a dream of home. “You are Sidhe?”

“And I have come for you, Kieran.” As the youth drew up beside him, Donovan clapped a hand on his shoulder. When they vanished it was with the promise that Kieran would never be alone again.

Part 12/16 of "Aftershock" coming on 1/3/12!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Aftershock 10/16

Chapter Seven

Donovan idly tapped a finger on the side of the glass of Guinness as he appeared to relax in the window booth. The pub had a clear view of the corner on the opposite side of the street. Five “corner boys,” as Tiernan called them, loitered there with the casual brashness of youths in the first blush of freedom. Stronger in body than any time before in their miniscule lifetime and left to their own devices, they’d reverted to the pack mentality of dogs. Not even wolves, but the formerly domesticated dogs now roaming the streets with a small number that gives confidence in the ability to take down any single prey, regardless of size or strength. Street toughs. Believing they could conquer anything, because they’d faced almost nothing.

Kieran stood out among his companions. Tall and lean. The body of an archer, broad shoulders and toned musculature. Probably into boxing, given the stances he took as he horsed around with the other lads. Close shorn hair didn’t disguise his ears, which had the rounded appearance of a human’s. So this earthborn at least knew enough Glamour to manage that simple disguise.

With Donovan’s practiced eye, this initial assessment only require a minute at most. If instinct served, a further evaluation of Kieran’s abilities would roll up in just a few more moments. The street lights had already come on with the approach of dusk. During the daylight hours, perhaps Kieran hadn’t the sense to fear anything. Come night, though… in a town this size…

Ah… Yes… There they were…

The long black Town Car prowled up the street like a panther. The occupants likely knew of the Sidhe in their territory.

And then there… One of Kieran’s fellows bumped the Sidhe in the shoulder. So his friends knew Kieran had the unnatural attention of a predator. Perhaps they even suspected the nature of the threat, depending on how frequently this played out. Kieran stepped back from the curb, clearly knowing immediately what danger stalked him.

Donovan left cash and his untouched drink on the table. In no particular rush, he left the pub. By the time his pace carried him near the corner, the black-clad vampires had already flowed from the Town Car, scattering the youths who tried, and failed, to stand up to them. Kieran bolted from the scuffle, his friends buying him time, seconds at most.

Part 11/16 of "Aftershock" coming on 12/30/11!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Aftershock 9/16

Chapter Six

The building the humans constructed as their jailhouse possessed no magical wards whatsoever. Of course the majority of humans, with the exception of the various orders of wizards and druids, forgot the power of magic. The concrete and metal sufficed to barricade human miscreants, Donovan supposed, but it possessed no power to control the comings and goings of the fey.

Which meant that either the young firebrand called Bryce was content to stay there or was so woefully untrained as to not know how to simply walk away from it. These young Unseelie assimilated far too closely with the humans. Understanding humans enough to pass among them unnoticed was a must. There were simply far too many of them to avoid that. But never subject yourself to their laws or their expectations. Certainly not the Sidhe at any rate. Fey sometimes contented themselves with passing off as human, taking humans as friends and working amongst them. It stained them.

The security cameras outside the jail could not penetrate Donovan’s Glamour. Invisible to eyes physical and electronic, the Sidhe strolled along the wall of barred windows, glancing in. Most of the cells stood empty. Humans of various bedraggled states occupied a few. Picking out a Sidhe among humans was no more challenging than selecting a polishing and ornately faceted gem from mud-caked river stones.

Like most fire wielders, Bryce possessed crimson hair, one of those quirks of magic that affected appearance. Just as most Seelie were fair in complexion and coloring and the Unseelie tended to be dark.

The young Unseelie slept on the cot, a thin woolen blanket tossed over him. No other occupants in the cell. Donovan didn’t concern himself with the possibility of the humans in the adjacent cells stirring from their slumber. In a blink, he teleported from outside the cell to stand just next to the head of the cot. Dropping his Glamour, Donovan descended on the youth. His hand clamped hard over Bryce’s mouth, muting his startled cry and keeping him pinned against the pillow. In a panic, the boy swung a fist. Donovan caught the boy’s wrist before he could connect. He easily held him fast in the moment of testing strengths. A test that proved how soft this new generation of earthborns was. They lacked not only magical training but physical training as well.

Donovan leaned close, his expression stone serious. In a low voice for Bryce’s ears only, he said, “You want to stay here?”

Donovan allowed Bryce just enough movement to shake his head.

“Then you will come with me, Unseelie. Learn your true nature. Learn to control your fire. And follow me.” Each a mere statement of fact. Not a question.

His impossibly green eyes widened in fear. Even still, Bryce nodded as vigorously as he could.

And just like that, they were gone. Teleported away.

Part 10/16 of "Aftershock" coming on 12/27/11!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Aftershock 8/16

Jhaer grit his teeth as he plunged into the crossing paths of magic. Didn’t make a difference, though. A scream ripped from him as the magic tore through his element and into his unprotected body. The ley lines, the very arteries of the planet, penetrated his flesh, his mind, and his magic. Unlike anything he’d ever experienced, the massive power boost expanded his consciousness until it shredded his endurance. The earth. His element. The total of the entire planet. All of it. Alive inside him. Around him. Part of him. Saturating him. His essence and the planet, becoming one in totality.

His eyes opened to all that the earth knew. All its secrets. All its history. All its potential. All its violence.

And all of it wholly within him for this frozen moment of time.

Strands of magic laced around Jhaer, binding him. Penetrating him. Lancing into the very heart of his existence.

Like the wildly chaotic force of a landslide, the ley lines tumbled Jhaer and knocked him free of their path, tossing him through the intervening layers of soil. He burst from the ground and rolled onto the grass. Claiming deep a lungful of air, he struggled to process all he’d experienced.

The Mounds, created by and bound to the magic of Danu, a Seelie, had never felt like this. The magic of the Mounds had been pure fey, recycling and renewing like the flow of rain from the sky, to the river, and through mist back into storm clouds. And yet flavored with Danu’s essences. Tainted by her Seelie nature. Now he drank in magic of the ley lines, flowing through his element of earth, like the purest of waters. This magic was not filtered through any fey before him. This was pure in the wildest sense. Uncorrupted. Making him beholden unto none for his access to it. No wonder the exiles thrived. They were free as no Unseelie of the Mounds had known freedom.

Jhaer, head of the Unseelie Elite, may have been the man who sank into the earth. But the man who rose from it was Donovan. Dark chieftain. The one who would gather the scattered Sidhe and unite them. Not just for mutual protection. He’d create for the Sidhe, and the lesser fey loyal to them, a new beginning. One here on the surface. He’d teach the earthborns what it meant to be Sidhe and Unseelie.

Part 9/16 of "Aftershock" coming on 12/23/11!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Aftershock 7/16

Chapter Five

During the daylight hours the streets around the castle in Kilkenny swarmed with busloads of visitors. Jhaer bided his time until the dark of night grew long and the city as still as it was going to be. A modern city had grown up around the castle. As Jhaer strode past the art museum, the castle came into view just across the paved street, as if nothing more special than just another building in a sea of buildings. A high stone wall around the property blocked not only the back access to the castle but the long enclosed courtyard as well. Even as Jhaer approached the wall, he knew exactly where each footfall nearby struck the ground. Tracking movement through the vibrations in the earth came second nature. He had no worry about being seen as he teleported from outside the courtyard wall into the property.

With the three remaining wings of what had once been a square-shaped castle to his left, Jhaer veered right. A paved walking path stretched into the distance before curving back around the other side of the courtyard that served as a public park. The flat, center expanse of grass during the day hosted picnics and leisure games involving ball tossing or kicking. At night the open field provided no cover, so Jhaer traveled amongst the trees along the courtyard wall.

All the while his focus flowed through the ground beneath him. Searching. Seeking. Catching a hint of movement. A surge. A flow.

Not underground water. He’d feel the saturation of the mud if that had been the case. This had a throb to it. A pulse. Of course he’d encountered ley lines before; the earth was crisscrossed with them. For the most part he’d avoided them. Like lightning, the ley lines moved immense power. Just like the airborne equivalent, getting in the path of such a force had potentially deadly consequences.

Jhaer positioned himself above the crossing ley lines that had guided the druids, secretly consulted by the builders of the castle, to select this place of power. Jhaer raised his arms before him, simultaneously closing his fists. As he did this, the earth beneath him sank. Like a liquid, it gathered him inside the cool element until the ground closed over his head, leaving no sign of disturbance on the surface.

The residual power from the ley lines vibrated through the ground around Jhaer like a warning. There was nothing for it now. Turn back and Fade? Or go forward and risk instant death? Even as Jhaer thought it, he knew there truly was no choice. He moved through the layers of sediment to within a foot of the nexus of power. The rush of magic roiled through the ground like the wild flood of energy in a pyroclastic flow. Massive even at this distance.

Pain postponed was just pain prolonged. Same could be said of death, if that’s what came of it.

Part 8/16 of "Aftershock" coming on 12/20/11!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Aftershock 6/16

Chapter Four

At his desk, slumped back in the chair, the words of the younger Unseelie replayed in his mind. In the past century or so, many Unseelie had migrated from the Mounds to the surface world. With the expanding power and control of the Seelie Court, the freedom-loving Unseelie found exile more palatable than persecution. The growing number of Unseelie outside the Mounds had made this safe house a necessity, when the Elite’s mission involved reaching out to one of the exiles. Other fey, of course, never fully left the surface to concentrate their numbers in the Mounds. Entire communities of lesser fey lived in secret and seclusion on the surface. But the noble elves, the Sidhe, has always lived in the Mounds before the All-Mother’s Seelie tendencies finally manifested in her growing favor of one Court over the other. Had she stood fast in her neutrality and commitment to balance, none of this would have happened. A pointless regret now. Nursing the pain accomplished nothing.

Jhaer knew Tiernan’s parents. Remembered when he was just a lad less than a decade old and they left the Mounds. He probably didn’t even have a memory of what it had been like there. Tiernan’s family had been one of the first to leave. More soon followed.
Lifting the paper, Tiernan left and Jhaer read the names. Bryce and Kieran. Both just in their early twenties. Living for thousands of years, the Sidhe bred extremely slowly, a fertile couple only producing a few offspring in their lifetime. To all appearances, though, the exiles bred as rapidly as the lesser fey and humans. For the most part, Jhaer dismissed the outcast youths as no threat to the Unseelie Court, and not even worth keeping an eye on. Especially when matters in the Mounds with the Seelie deteriorated day by day.

But these youths were Sidhe, and by definition the personification of magic. Untrained, perhaps. Undisciplined, to be sure. But wild and free and the very essence of Unseelie. And the earthborn Sidhe almost assuredly outnumbered any surviving Sidhe from the Mounds. They were an untapped power, a resource that practically begged predators to hunt them. Jhaer had not missed the rumors about the wizards, long ago driven out of Ireland, beginning to weasel their way back in. Though by far the worst, wizards were hardly the only threat to the Sidhe. Vampires, and even opportunistic lesser fey like the retched changelings, would pick off a Sidhe if they could manage it.

If the earthborns and exiles were all that remained of the Sidhe, the race would be extinct inside a year. Word of the Mounds collapse would already be whispering its way into the wrong ears. Though his people may not have been completely destroyed with the decimation of the Mounds, the end was only postponed until the scavengers descended upon the weak and wounded. Any Sidhe from the Mounds who did not link to the earth realm would Fade, and die from it or from an attack as soon as they grew too weak to fend it off. The earthborns, untrained and scattered, would be as easy to pick off as cubs once the pride that protected them was gone. More merciful if they all would have just died in the collapse than to Fade or die at the enemy’s merciless whim.

Tiernan was right. The Mounds were gone. The fey realm was never coming back. It was Earth or death. And Jhaer never for a moment considered bowing to death. Not for him. Not for the Unseelie. Not for the Sidhe.

Part 7/16 of "Aftershock" coming on 12/16/11!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Aftershock 5/16

Jhaer held the device to his ear. Each hollow chirp like a knock on an empty house. A summons to someone who was not there and could not hear.

“Hey, Jhaer. What’re you doin’ up here? On another mission?” Tiernan’s Irish accent lilted with informal familiarity uncommon among the Sidhe of the Mounds. “Where are you? Your office? I’ll pop over.”

Without waiting for the invitation, the young Unseelie appeared sitting on the corner of Jhaer’s desk. Though only a century or so old, Tiernan’s cocky attitude didn’t soften for even the head of the Unseelie Elite. Then again, most exiles “didn’t give a shite” about customs in the Mounds. Tiernan swept Jhaer with his light, nearly colorless eyes.

“Been in a scrap? You look wrecked. Did the other bloke survive?”

“I doubt it,” Jhaer said seriously. “They’re gone. Everyone. The Mounds. Just gone.”

Tiernan lifted a brow, the grin disappearing. “Gone? What do you mean gone?”

“The Mounds collapsed. Nothing but a crater left. The Seelie crushed our home to pieces!” Jhaer pounded his fist on his desk, wishing it had connected with Lugh’s proud chin instead. Why couldn’t those arrogant Seelie have just listened to him? Not even just him, but all the Sidhe whose warnings and predictions fell on deaf ears?

“Ain’t that a kick in the bollocks?” Tiernan’s attention slid around the office, taking mental inventory of the equipment on the open shelves, his composure not even mildly ruffled by the devastating news. “Surprised it took this long, really.”

Jhaer glared at his fellow Sidhe. “How can you be so casual? We’re all going to Fade! The Mounds are gone! We have no source of magic to keep us alive!”

Tiernan actually chuckled. “No, you have no source. I never was bound to the Mounds.” He shrugged. “It’s not pure Fey, but hey, I don’t have to worry about Fading.”

Jhaer’s eyes widened as he stared at Tiernan. “You’re connected to this realm? But how? This place isn’t magical. I mean, look at them. Humans have no magical abilities.” His hand swept out in front of him, indicating the general populace.

Tiernan grinned crookedly. “Humans can’t link to the magic, but that doesn’t mean the earth realm doesn’t have any magic. You need to get yourself connected to this realm’s ley lines, that’s what you really need to do.” He hopped off the desk. “Mounds are gone, my friend. Let ’em go. Get yourself a crew and establish yourself. Earth realm’s your home now. Better to embrace it than die fighting it.”

Tiernan ripped a sheet from a note pad on the desk and started jotting on it. “I’ll give you a start. Couple of earthborns. Early twenties. One’s got himself locked up by humans, of all things. Bonehead, I kid you not. Other one’s a corner boy, bashing around the streets. Trouble both of them, but you know how to straighten ’em up. Mostly untrained, but you’re good at that, too.” He left the note. “If they work out, you can owe me one.”

Tiernan clicked closed the ink pen with finality. “And while you’re reinventing yourself, you ought to think about a name change. Something Irish that’ll blend in.”

Part 6/16 of "Aftershock" coming on 12/13/11!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Aftershock 4/16

Chapter Three

Any other day he would have teleported. Not this day. Jhaer’s feet knew the path, fortunate for that since his senses barely registered the surroundings through the deafening layer of shock. Pastureland yielded to civilization as the early morning light glinted on east-facing windows in Kilkenny. Humans milled about, as humans are wont to do. Jhaer paid them no heed and they returned the courtesy.

From the outside the safe house appeared to be an unremarkable brick building in an unremarkable neighborhood of light industry and inexpensive apartments. The kind of place, if someone noticed it at all, one would assume was probably unoccupied and unworthy of interest, much less renovation. No mundane human eyes would notice the man in the dirt-smudged clothing turn down the alley and then slip through the Glamour that hid the only unbarred entrance.

Inside the long, two-story building, remnants of the former occupants remained by way of dusty and discarded industrial equipment and random cardboard boxes of broken junk and packing material. Through a grimy window, not a bit of this rubbish appeared worth the effort to steal. An intentional ploy.

Glamour again disguised the back hallway to the office space beyond with the illusion of a wall. Behind these multiple layers of protection, Jhaer opened an office door.

The Unseelie slumped at last in the leather chair behind the desk. Just bonelessly surrendering to the postponed fatigue, staring at nothing in particular. After an unmeasured amount of time, Jhaer opened one of the deep desk drawers. Nudging aside fake IDs and papers of random variety and usefulness in the paper-obsessed culture of the earth realm, he selected one of a handful of cell phone devices he’d procured.

He found the compatible cord and linked the phone to it and then to the power outlet in the wall until the device lit up, announcing it was charging. Not waiting for it to satisfy its hunger for the power it required to function while disconnected, Jhaer slid his finger across the touch screen.

The contacts symbol appeared on the first screen. He tapped it, then selected the first name of a Sidhe he scrolled to. The device chirped several times before the fake voice asked him to leave a message. Probably this particular Sidhe had been in the Mounds.

Jhaer rubbed at his face with his hand, as if this might wipe away the memories. Might prevent the thought of her as the crushing weight of failed magic snuffed out the light of her spirit without even the echo of her scream surviving to mark her passing.
They could not all be dead. They couldn’t be. Even though at the moment he felt utterly alone and disconnected from all he’d known and held dear. Jhaer slid his finger over the device to scroll the list again. Hunting… Searching for a name… Any name… Of someone who would not have been in the Mounds that day.

And found one.

Tiernan Kilgrave.

Part 5/16 of "Aftershock" coming on 12/9/11!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Aftershock 3/16

Chapter Two

Inhale… stale, dusty, moist. Blink… Pitch black. Try to move… Pinned.

Magic flowing.

Jhaer flexed his awareness. The disturbed earth overhead shifted with a groan, threatening to settle into the pocket that entombed him. Jhaer touched the unstable rubble with his magic, calming it.

Alone in the dark silence. The foul air, stale with use, choked him.

Reaching with his magic, Jhaer ignored the useless senses of his body. The earth… his element… embraced him. Merging with it, his will taking form, the ground became as yielding as liquid. The bed of rock beneath him rose as the arch of dirt above receded. Higher and higher. Faster as the surface drew nearer. Until, at last, Jhaer rolled onto the open ground beneath a sky full of stars. Not the fa├žade that had been cast overhead for so many centuries, but the real night sky.

Deep breaths of the fresh air cleared his lungs. Exhausted in body and in magic, Jhaer rested on the bed of earth miles above what used to be the courtyard of the Seelie palace. Slowly, Jhaer rose to his knees. What his eyes beheld wrenched his heart. Where the Mounds once formed great hills above the majestic home of the Sidhe now lay only an enormous crater. A few bits of magic still flickered. The ground rumbled now and then as large chunks fell into their final resting places far below. His home, the home of all Sidhe… gone. Destroyed. He’d warned them of this and the end had indeed come. It had come crashing down hard.

And for what? The Seelie’s insatiable lust for power? His body numb. His heart, his very soul, defeated. Jhaer surveyed the crater around him and found what he expected. No one. No survivors. If not for his mastery over the element of earth, he too would be buried in this mass grave. Turning from the devastating sight, he limped away.

Part 4/16 of "Aftershock" coming on 12/6/11!