Authors: S A Archer,S Ravynheart
|Defender of Magic|
|Champion of the Sidhe |
|S A Archer S Ravynheart|
|Ravynheart Publishing (2012)|
Raiders have attacked Danu’s temple, slaughtering its defenders. The artifacts that are the last hope for the survival of the fey are in danger. With Changelings out to kill him, and goblins determined to abduct him, Lugh’s on a quest to find a stronghold for those treasures. Perhaps he should have thought twice before seeking a safe haven in the territory of shape-changing, fire-breathing dragon.
Defender of Magic
S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart
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Defender of Magic
Copyright 2012 by S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart
Cover Art Copyrighted 2012 by Ravynheart Publishing
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form without permission, except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Quick Lay of the Land
The Sidhe series takes place in the modern world, where most humans are unaware of the magical and paranormal beings living among them. ‘The fey’ are all the races of beings that come from the fey realm, known as ‘the Mounds’, and we base them loosely on Celtic mythology. These include elves, fairies, dwarves, Brownies, Changelings, goblins and many other races. Among the fey, the most magical, and therefore the ruling class, are the noble elves. They are also called ‘the Sidhe’, pronounced ‘shee’. Because the Sidhe are so powerful, all other fey are known as ‘lesser fey’ by comparison.
To some degree, all fey have the ability to teleport and use Glamour, which is a magical illusion usually used to disguise oneself or to hide something. In addition to this, the Sidhe as a race possess a common magic known as ‘the Touch’, which is a form of sharing magic. The Touch is a bonding and beautiful experience for the Sidhe, and is a gift when presented to lesser fey. However, the Touch is dangerous to humans, who become forever addicted to the magic. Touched humans will need to have that magic replenished every few weeks, or they suffer the same withdrawal symptoms as drug addicts, and they will eventually be driven insane by the need. Besides teleportation, Glamour, and the Touch, each Sidhe possesses a single ‘aspect of magic’ which dictates how their personal magic will manifest. For example, Lugh’s aspect of magic is the sun, so he can produce light and heat, encourage the growth of plants, manipulate fire, and so forth.
The Sidhe have always been divided into two philosophically opposed courts. The Seelie Court, also known as the Light Court, values civilization, pageantry, beauty, and subtle intrigues. They are all about the presentation of chivalry and gallant performances, regardless of what truth may lie beneath the lovely facade. The Unseelie Court, also known as the Dark Court, doesn’t waste effort on pretending to be anything other than what they are. They are blunt and to the point. They embrace freedom, individuality, and are headstrong in their dislike of all that is ‘fake’ about the Seelie.
The predators hunting the fey include vampires and werewolves, who find the magic-laced blood and flesh intoxicating. There is also a sect of humans known as wizards who have discovered ways to strip captive fey of magic, usually killing them in the process, to power their own enchantments.
In the very back of the book is a
for the more unusual fey names.
We hope that this little introduction gives you a framework for understanding, as we begin our tale…
With fingers hesitant with longing, Lugh stroked the porcelain cheek of the Sidhe who was once worshipped as the moon goddess. Such a precise likeness, this statue of Rhiannon captured her features in frozen perfection. Crafted with such careful attention to detail, Lugh almost expected the statue to move. More than once he thought it actually breathed. A trick of the light made the statue’s chest seem to lift with shallow breaths. He gazed into the white eyes and felt himself beholding Rhiannon herself.
So painfully beautiful, Lugh fought the sting that blurred his vision. His palm caressed the statue as if he might lift her face toward his. He could not resist the temptation to place a light kiss to the chilled mouth that did not yield to his affection. Drawing back only enough to speak, he murmured, “Return to me.” The statue refused him even the least of encouragements, and that, more than any other evidence of his senses, proved that this sculpture was not his Rhiannon.
His Rhiannon always succumbed to him, just as the moon reflected the light of the sun. She could no more deny him than the fey of the Mounds could resist the dominion of the All-Mother. Although Unseelie by nature, Rhiannon transformed when Lugh’s magic infused her with his influence. When he Touched her, she glowed like the hunter’s moon, full of light and gilded glory. With him as her escort, she thrilled to the dance of the Seelie Court. With her onyx tresses and night-ocean blue eyes set off by her milk-cream skin, she was a rare, dark jewel among the fair Seelie. Alas, she could not sustain his persuasion perpetually. Her phases required Lugh to relinquish his sway over her and surrender her to Crom. As Lugh was the lover who lured her to wax with the purity of the light, Crom was the paramour who seduced her back into the waning depths of the dark.
The sound of Willem clearing his throat parted the veil of fantasy in which Lugh indulged himself. He backed away from the porcelain figure, the daydream broken and fading. The hollowness of longing remained. In all their travels they’d discovered not one Sidhe.
In all the temples throughout all of Ireland, not even the slightest evidence that any Sidhe, save Lugh, yet lived. Never in his many millennia had Lugh endured such a span of time deprived of the Touch of another of his kind. The bonding of magic was essential. It refreshed and renewed. The Touch was a basic requirement for health, as much as nourishment, sleep, and copulation. The depletion of his magic in the wake of the Collapse certainly heightened this perception of yearning.
Lugh pivoted toward the Scribe, only peripherally aware of his hands wiping down his chest, as if closing the window to the pain within, shrouding it once more from himself and others. Lugh loved his people above and beyond all things. His compassion knew no measure, even for the Unseelie with whom he found so little common ground. Above all else, he was Sidhe. There was nothing he would fail to do, no service he would fail to perform for his people. The very notion that all others, with the exception of himself, may have perished pained him beyond the telling of it.
Embracing both denial and pride as his armor, Lugh fixed his expression into a calm composure. If even one other Sidhe yet lived, they deserved Lugh’s full focus and dedication. What emotions lay buried in the treasure chest of his heart, he’d effectively secured and suppressed. When he regarded the Scribe, nothing but confidence showed. Of this Lugh felt certain, for in that moment it was true. Such self-deception was a Seelie talent that required centuries of practice to master.
The diminutive Scribe angled his neck to address Lugh, who was nearly twice his height. His irrepressible grin blossomed as he presented Lugh with a pair of hair combs of polished ivory. Lugh recognized them. The cameo figures carved into the handles would settle into the flowing waves of Rhiannon’s midnight hair as if they were sprites dancing in the night sky. Lugh reached out to collect the delicately crafted combs, which hardly showed any evidence of wear. “These are from the first realm of fey?”
“Most assuredly.” Willem passed the vial of magicraft over the combs as Lugh inspected them. The vial blazed with magic as the gold flecks within spun in a tight vortex. The Scribe blinked up at Lugh, innocent excitement in his bright, fey eyes.
“But no indication that anyone has dwelled here since the Collapse?” Lugh’s fingers worried over the smooth teeth of one of the combs. Rhiannon left her temple furnished. She’d not abandoned the remnants of her past as a deity to the humans, as most of the Sidhe had done.
Willem nibbled on his lower lip, cast down his gaze and shook his head.
Lugh relinquished the combs to Willem, who stashed them in the satchel with the other artifacts from the first realm. He indicated that the Scribe should precede him from the room with a graceful wave of his hand. The gesture, though polite, served a greater purpose. Lugh tarried at the threshold. Upon the wall to the east of the door, Lugh traced a Celtic knotwork symbol for the sun. His signature. He infused the tracing with Glamour and sunlight, so that it would glow upon the wall for months to come, unless someone dispelled it. One last time, he glanced back at the statue, which passively watched him depart.
As Lugh watched the coming night shadows paint the landscape that streamed past, he only partially gathered what Willem was chattering about. The chill of the air whipped through the opened window of the auto, carrying with it the twilight scents of the countryside. These lengthy drives were cumbersome, especially for his long torso and legs folded into a compact vehicle. Willem, on the other hand, relished the dubious amusement of human magicraft. For Lugh, it was nothing but a temporary concession to conserve their depleted magic.
As they neared the temple of the All-Mother, Willem departed from the paved thoroughfare. The lanterns affixed to the front of the auto illuminated the pathless ground before them. At least it was normally undetectably marred by their occasional passages. This evening the underbrush appeared more damaged than usual. Lugh straightened in the seat to better spy what lay before them. In the lea of the temple hill, a pack of unattended autos crowded the clearing.
“Halt,” Lugh instructed, already jerking the handle to release the door. The auto bounced to a stop even as Lugh climbed out. From the aft seat, he flicked away the blanket that cloaked his short sword, bow and quiver of arrows. “Conceal the auto and yourself.”
The Scribe didn’t question his order. Lugh bypassed the clearing with the trespassing autos, making for the temple in a wide arc that avoided the path. On silent feet that crunched no leaf and snapped no twig, he slipped through the sentinel trees that guarded the hills beneath which the Mounds once thrived. Even in a crouch, he darted swiftly up the incline. The Glamour that once hid the white marble hung in tatters. Wisps of the illusion of ivy fluttered to the whims of the breeze. The flickering of firelight glowed inside the temple’s entrance.
A duo of Changelings loitered on the portico, fearless and laughing. Though they were in the guise of humans, Lugh recognized their manner of movement. The sway to their stance and the twist to their bearing would have unbalanced a true human.
Lugh nocked an arrow. The bowstring whispered a creak as he drew it back. He leveled his aim. The first arrow he loosed struck a Changeling in the eye, killing him before his head snapped back. Even as his companion reacted to the unexpected movement, Lugh’s second arrow impaled the soft hollow of his throat, muting his outcry before it found voice.
For the span of several breaths, Lugh observed the temple. No other creatures scurried in the shelter of the moon shade. With the cunning of a proficient huntsman, Lugh advanced at a silent sprint.
Even as he burst through the temple entrance Lugh fired an arrow at a Changeling dragging a human corpse toward the bonfire, knocking the fey into the pyre with the other bodies. Thickening blood glistened in smears and splatters that marred the stark white stones. Oily soot from the smoke blackened the ceiling before billowing out of the terrace entryway that overlooked the cratered remnants of the Mounds. Despite the height of the burning pile, more human and fey carcasses yet remained scattered about the Great Hall. The fallen fey, Lugh knew. The humans, though dead, were as much intruders as the Changelings looting the temple and its fallen guardians. Those Changelings swarmed toward Lugh with malice.
With the proximity of the ensuing combat, Lugh abandoned his bow for the short sword. Lacking armor or shield to provide defense, Lugh depended on elegant footwork and countercutting blows that both blocked and attacked with uniting movements that resembled a dance more than battle. With precision in distance and timing, each of his cutting blows and thrusts were delivered with full force.
Lugh spun, bringing the sword up in an artistic arc that severed the arm of a Changeling, sending it tumbling end over end away from him. He twisted aside as the fey crumpled. The elegance of Lugh’s wrath was pure Sidhe as his sword traced a figure eight in the air, which decapitated the body plummeting past him even as he parried the incoming blade of a second Changeling.
As his blow deflected the second attacker’s arm wide, Lugh wrapped his hand behind the fey’s neck. Lugh jerked him forward as he plunged his blade through the Changeling’s abdomen. The sword pierced through his back, pointing like a bloody finger at the three remaining foes. Lugh kicked the fatally wounded Changeling off of his sword, casting him unceremoniously to the marble floor.
With his stance angled, making himself a narrower target, Lugh flicked his sword to cast the blood from the blade. The remaining Changelings, more opportunistic scavengers than true warriors, abandoned their spoils and teleported away, leaving the temple eerily still in the wake of their violence.
Lugh knelt over the Changeling he’d impaled. He seized the fey by the neck. His thumb and forefinger angled into the soft underside of his jaw just beneath his ears. Lugh hauled the man’s face toward him, inflicting as much suffering as he could ensure with such a grasp. “You dared to desecrate the All-Mother’s sanctuary?”
The Changeling pried at Lugh’s grip, but the Sidhe refused to grant him escape from the torment. His voice hissed past the constriction on his trachea. “The reign… of the Sidhe… is over.”
Lugh bashed the Changeling’s head on the stone floor and then he jerked him back up by the neck. “Why have you come? To advance what scheme?”
The Changeling spat at him. “Die like the rest of the bloody Sidhe.”
Lugh heard his anger resonate through the temple, though he scarcely realized that he’d screamed his fury. He slammed the Changeling’s head down again with all the force he could muster. The skull didn’t rebound this time, but crushed instead. The fragile bone shielding the Changeling’s windpipe snapped within the curve of Lugh’s grip. Even in death, those wicked black eyes mocked him.
With revulsion, Lugh propelled himself to his feet. Fueled by his wrath, he stalked through the temple, surveying the totality of the slaughter and verifying that no foe yet lurked. What fey dwelled in the temple when Lugh departed that morning either perished in the assault or fled. The All-Mother’s temple, once a sanctuary to those devoted to her, was now nothing but a tomb for her fallen defenders.
He dashed down to the trail where he’d left Willem, locating the Scribe still flinging brush over the auto he meant to conceal. Even in the faint glow of twilight Willem spied the gore befouling Lugh’s clothing. He caught Willem’s arm before his healer’s instincts sent him rushing off in a vain search for survivors. “We require a vehicle sufficient to transport all that is essential. Quickly now!” Lugh urged the smaller man to his task and then returned to the necessary duties.
Lugh labored swiftly. The Changelings failed to discover the secret passage to the undercroft. Utilizing a handcart, Lugh loaded all the journals of magicraft written in the All-Mother’s own hand, what artifacts from the first realm of fey they’d recovered since the Collapse, and finally, the glass casket of the All-Mother, Danu, herself. By the time he emerged from the temple with his burden Willem had already positioned a delivery truck near the temple steps. They transferred their treasures to the vehicle with silent efficiency.
Shock-laden curiosity troubled Willem’s expression as he stole glances toward the temple and the smoke billowing from the back of it, nearly disguised by the pitch of night. He’d yet to witness for himself the carnage, and Lugh loathed to speak of it. The Scribe served in the All-Mother’s temple for centuries, to be certain. The torment of the grisly images grieved Lugh even after living with these fey for mere weeks, though he schooled his expression not to show it overly much. Willem tore his focus back to Lugh. “Nothing remains to be done?”
“One last service. I shan’t tarry but a few moments. Be ready to depart.” Lugh returned to the undercroft and resealed the passage. Within Danu’s magicraft workshop he located all that he required. He tied a strip of fabric about his head to cover his nose and mouth. To shield his flesh up to his elbows, he donned heavy leather gauntlets with cuffs that ensconced his forearms. Finally, he slipped a robe over himself and drew the hood down as far as he could and still see where he was going. From under the workbench he removed a ceramic jar of silver powder. Lugh used the scoop to scatter a liberal layer of silver over each fey body. Had there been time and resources, he’d have summoned the tribes of each type of fey to retrieve their dead and minister unto them according to their traditions. In dire circumstances such as what besought them, he could do no more than ensure that no predator desecrated the dead for whatever foul purposed might suit them. He scattered silver even over the Changelings. Only the humans, whose bodies would not rapidly disintegrate beneath the silver, did he leave to char in the pyre or to be dispatched by the woodland scavengers.
Lugh discarded the jar of silver by the last corpse. His eyes burned from the dust that floated like motes upon the whims of the air when he left. Once outside, he shrugged off the protective gear, abandoning it with all that remained in the temple. He climbed into the passenger side of the truck that already idled, lingering only for him. “Make for the Ring of Kerry.”
Though the concern was evident in Willem’s demeanor, he spoke not. Keeping his thoughts private, he began to drive.