Jhaer dodged through the local fey crowding the market street of the village built up around the Seelie castle, thankful that his plain, loose-fitting clothing disguised him. Brightly colored streamers from the celebration draped from tree limbs and windows to flutter festively about the revelry. The ale flowed and the music played. Seelie fey of every race danced and sang ancient victory songs, obliviously ignorant that in conquering the Unseelie, they ensured the downfall of all fey.
Stealth carried Jhaer as far as the courtyard wall and then he unsheathed his fury and magic. With a rage that rent a boulder from the ground, Jhaer’s magic burst forth. His power over the element of earth belonged to him alone, so the boulder that splintered the teak courtyard gate with the explosion of cannon fire announced with certainty the Unseelie Elite who wielded it.
Anticipating a final assault while the captive Unseelie monarchs imprisoned within succumbed to the pressure to surrender their authority, the Seelie forces lined the top of the inner castle wall beyond the courtyard. Archers drew back at the sight of him, even as the Seelie Champion on the parapet called out to Jhaer. The corona of sun magic flared around Lugh, as if determined to prove his nickname as the Shining One. The golden boy of the Seelie Court in his sculpted armor vaulted down into the courtyard with a dramatic flair. If the demonstration of grace and courage aimed to impress, it missed the mark with Jhaer.
“Lugh! Have you been staring at your own magic so long you've blinded yourself?” Jhaer rushed into the courtyard. As the archers launched their first volley, Jhaer summoned a shield of stone from the very ground before him. The rock wall preceded him, the last couple feet at the top tilted back over his head, in case any clever archers aimed with a high trajectory. After the arrows in the initial strike splintered on his shield, Jhaer jerked up his hands, his magic heaving skyward the ground in front of the castle wall to block off the archers. His personal rock shield fragmented into dust that defused to the ground he’d drawn it from. He snarled at Lugh, the sole obstacle between Jhaer and the castle proper. “This must stop! Before it’s too late!”
“One Court, Sidhe!” Lugh proclaimed. “We can be brothers, you know. This feud can end. It should end!” Yet the Seelie ignited a barrier of fire, disproving his claim of brotherly love.
Jhaer shielded his face against the fire between them, an all too familiar tactic from the Sidhe with the magical aspect of the sun. “Light and dark cannot merge. One will always consume the other. You know this! Yet the arrogant Seelie’s hunger for power would rather destroy everything than have balance!” With that, Jhaer sank into the ground, closing it up over him.
Moving swiftly through the earth in a self-contained cavern like an air bubble rising through a viscous liquid that parted the ground before him and resealed it behind him, Jhaer detoured beneath the flames. He felt the vibration from the footsteps of the Seelie above, rushing to pursue him.
An unexpected tremor charged though the earth and slammed into him, lancing a dread dead into his heart. The Unseelie warrior gripped his chest, breath stolen from him by a horrendous shift in the magic surrounding him. Stunned to the point of panic, Jhaer surfaced once more, the Seelie not but a few quick strides from him. Before a cry of dismay could escape his lips, a shockwave of magic knocked him off balance. A crack climbed up the outer wall like a growing vine, reaching ever higher.
“Trying to bring down the entire castle?” The Seelie snarled. “Danu is in there!”
Jhaer stumbled backward before catching himself, his eyes wide as he stared at the fractures creeping up the courtyard walls. “Would I knock myself off balance? Open your eyes, Lugh! Something is wrong!”
Thunder rumbled like a landslide and then the sky flickered. Or rather the magic that gave the ceiling of the Mounds the appearance of a sky. Both Sidhe warriors relinquished their aggression to witness the cascade of destruction rupturing the fabric of their world. Cracks like a spider’s web shattered the illusion until the great bowl of rock overhead became visible for the first time in as long as any Sidhe could remember.
Jhaer kept his balance better the next time the ground shifted, although the horror that stabbed through him threatened to drive him to his knees. The thunderous sounds of earth ripping from earth filled the cavern that housed the magical realm of the Mounds. As the ground above them shifted ominously, Jhaer’s hands snapped upward, fingers curled as if gripping something heavy. Trembling from the strain, his mastery over the earth alone supported the bowl of rock overhead.
“Lugh!” Jhaer growled through clenched teeth, “Help Danu! NOW! I can't… hold it up… much longer!” All his concentration, his strength, focused solely on preventing the Mounds, home to hundreds of thousands of fey, from catastrophic collapse, for as long as he could.
Differences postponed in the face of imminent demise, the Seelie raced toward the castle as Jhaer bore the weight of the world. With muscles trembling from the effort, Jhaer waited for the dread to dissipate, anticipating the Creatrix to reach out and fortify the Mounds. But what he felt was life, the connection to Danu, fading away. The All-Mother, she who bound the Mounds together for centuries, was disappearing. She was dying.
All hope shattered, leaving only fatalistic determination. Through raw force of will, Jhaer held aloft the vast cavern ceiling, allowing as many fey as possible the chance to escape, the stronger ones via teleportation, the lesser fey certainly crowding the portals that might whisk them to the surface. Alone, Jhaer balanced each rock, each clump of dirt. For miles. Sweat ran in rivulets down the strained muscles of his body. Holding. Binding. Unyielding. And yet fissures snaked through the cavern under the oppression of tons upon tons of earth overhead. Fissures Jhaer could not mend. Fissures that sheared as chunks broke free and rained from the sky. Chunks that slipped through his shattering strength. Jhaer dropped to his knees, giving all his power to the failing magic. The edges of the cavern crumbled, creating a cascade as each lost rock freed those above it. Rockslides like waterfalls poured down in a roaring that could not completely annihilate the screams of terror. Down the ceiling fell in ever greater pieces until the entire cavern plummeted down like a mountain to entomb everything beneath, burying alive everyone who had not already escaped. Including Jhaer.
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Find out more about the Rise of the Unseelie urban fantasy series.