Part 7: Alena

As I've said before, Alena is an ice dimension, one of the many city-dimensions grouped together through alliance to create what is known as the Snow Kingdoms.  Normally, I would avoid them like the plague, but I've found that normality had decided to bow out of my life for now.  The only way to describe Alena would be to call it a snowscape.  Even the sun, hanging frozen in the sky, cast a light that was faintly blue.  The buildings had all been carved from ice, the architecture and designs growing more and more intricate the more important the structure.  Now imagine coming from a dimension who's main element is fire, to arrive in the centre of the palace.  I shivered, clenching my teeth to keep them from chattering, pulling my cloak further around my shoulders.  Kaleb stood at my shoulder, towering above me, wearing nothing more than a pair of loose trousers and the scabbard of his enchanted claymore slung across his bare back.  Shaking my head in wonder at how he had yet to turn into a large icicle, I turned to face the group of nervous-looking Alenan guards.  One stepped forwards to salute me.

“Princess Shadow, Prince Melek awaits your arrival with impatience.”  I glanced at Kaleb, who inclined his head slightly.  Nodding once, I let the Alenan guards escort us to the Prince.

 

Prince Melek was sitting on his throne, reading from a pile of paper when a footman announced my arrival.  He got to his feet, bowing low to me and running a critical eye over Kaleb.  I ran a critical eye of my own over him.  Unlike most of the Alenians I had seen, his plumage was darker, a pale brown rather than white.  His eyes were equally darker, his hands and bird feet tipped with talons I would not like to be on the receiving end of.  His muscles were well defined,

“One would have thought that the ruler of such a warrior dimension as Aspheri would have brought an entire battalion of guards, not just one... being.”

“I can assure you that Kaleb is perfectly capable of performing his duty.”

“Hmmm...” Prince Melek mused.  I didn't like the look on his face.  It looked as if he was sizing Kaleb up for a fight.  Taking his eyes off the Would Be king, he gestured to the elevated platform where his throne of ice stood.  I was glad for my heavy cloak that managed to ward off a little of the chill as I spotted what Prince Melek had gestured towards.  Beside his throne, someone had formed a chaise longue and covered the ice with thick pelts.  I gritted my teeth.  As a princess, most humans would imagine that I spend most of my royal life lounging and reclining on such furniture.  Think again.  I spend most of my time sitting on the throne trying to sort out the dimension's problems or in the library trying to catch up on a lifetime's worth of Demonic history and lore.  In any case, I don't like reclining.  No sensible warrior does.  It exposes the stomach to attack and is a difficult position to spring out of in a hurry.  Unfortunately, as a visiting ruler, I wasn't really allowed to stand in order to talk to him, so I compromised, sitting upright on the chaise.  Prince Melek turned a worryingly flirtatious smile to me. 

“Princess Shadow, I believe you have come to deliver your choice.  As I remember, I proposed that you choose between uniting our dimensions or angering Alena, which would, I'm afraid to say, end up in Aspheri's blood being shed." The tone of the Prince's voice suggested that he wasn't actually sorry to say those words. I felt my fists clench.

"Yes, I remember your proposal," I began, but I couldn't bring myself to say anything else. I couldn't phrase it in a way that wouldn't offend the Prince.Curses on this diplomacy,I thought to myself, glad of the mask that hid my expression of disgust. I would love to tell him to get stuffed and leave Aspheri alone, but I can't. In a quiet rustling of feathers, he moved down to sit next to me.  The cold radiating from him froze my breath in my throat, but I denied him the satisfaction of seeing me shiver. 

"Now, I'm sure that you don't wish war on your dimension, so I shall assume that you would prefer the union of our dimensions..." He said softly. A muscle jumped in my jaw as I desperately tried to think of a way out. I cast a desperate glance at Kaleb.  The Would Be King stepped forwards calmly, drawing his sword and using the flat of it to keep the Prince back.

“Do not press the Princess,” he growled.  Melek pushed the sword away coolly.  He stood up, sweeping back to his throne where he used his fingers to comb a few feathers back into place.  He turned his gaze back to me.

“Your decision, Princess Shadow?”

I raised my chin, my defiance fortified by Kaleb's powerful presence behind me.  “I will not consent to marry you.”

 

Melek leapt out of his throne with a growl, tearing his sword from its sheath, slashing at my throat.  I raised my arms in defence, the blade glancing off the metal bracers, leaving a deep dent and a rip in the metal.  He drew his arm back to strike again.  The smell of deep earth assailed my nose.  Metal ripped through flesh.  But not mine.  A young man stood in front of me with Melek's sword buried in his side.  His old suit, torn and muddied, smelt of earth.  He turned to look at me with eyes so pale they were almost white.

“We have eternal life to lay down for you, Princess of darkness,” he said.  Melek growled, pulling the swords from the undead man's side, neatly severing my protector's head from his shoulders.  He crumbled to dust before even hitting the ground.  I sensed a spike of anger from behind me.  Within a heartbeat, Kaleb's sword was resting on Melek's throat.  Melek smirked, turning aside Kaleb's claymore with his own, bloodstained sword.  I used their distraction to scramble off the chaise, drawing my own blade.  Melek snapped his head round to look at me.  Our eyes locked gazes.  Ice spread down my spine, freezing me into place.  I struggled to breathe.  I couldn't look away.  All I could do was defend my mind as Melek tried to break into it.  Sweat began to slide down my forehead from the effort.    The claws of Melek's mind scrabbled for any gap.  It found one.  My defences were ripped down, Melek's talons beginning to tear through my subconscious.  I struggled to push him away as memories clouded my thoughts.  Ruling Aspheri, talking to the Kraferrs, living in the home, Holly and Natalie, Meran and Armen.  And Arellan.  Arellan's death.  With a yell, I broke Melek's spell, panting, doubled over, tears streaming down my face as my demon side begged for a taste of Melek's blood.  The Alenan prince stepped forwards, taking my chin in his hand, lifting my head to look at him.  His touch froze my skin.  He raised a hand in warning to Kaleb.

“Try to interfere,boy, and I will freeze your princess where she stands,” he growled, not turning his gaze away from me.  “You're sich a naughty little girl, aren't you?  You killed your mother.  If it wasn't for you, she'd still be alive now, living a happy life.  Tisk, tisk.  And I thought that the ruler of a dimension such as Aspheri would have been stronger.  Your father certainly was.  Are you still adamant that you will not consent to becoming my wife?”

I couldn't wield my sword at such close quarters.  He was pressed almost intimately against me.  Gritting my teeth, I borrowed a move from the Holly Bristol Manual of Defence Against Overbearing Males and prayed that Alenan anatomy was somewhat close to human.  It was.  Melek doubled over, cupping himself  with a high-pitched howl of pain.  Kaleb's arms wrapped around me, cradling me to his chest as he teleported us away.

 

Kaleb took control as soon as our feet touched the black stone floor of the throne room in Aspheri, setting me on the throne and calling for a healer.  He crouched in front of me, examining the ice burn that had spread out from my cheek down to my neck.  A healer was ushered through the arch into the throne room, where he bowed nervously, stammering a request for permission to treat me.  Kaleb answered before I could, in a voice that could have easily turned an army to jelly in the space of five seconds.  I gingerly pulled my mask off, hearing the ice on it crackle as it started to melt.  Later on, when I looked in the mirror, I would see a pale blue mark that stretched from my ear to the hollow of my throat, covering the entire expanse of skin in between.  Aleth arrived with a pile of blankets, clucking at the healer and forcing a quilt on kaleb, assured that he must have felt the cold.  I hissed, biting back a snarl as the healer prodded the ice burn.  Once he had examined it thoroughly, he began to prepare something with various ingredients from his bag that I didn't recognise, his hands flying as he worked.   Within a few moments, he spread a balm across the burn.  I tried hard not to flinch as the salve stung my skin, starting to thaw the damage that had been done.  After placing strips of cloth over the balm to protect it, he stammered his farewells, escaping from the room and Kaleb's gaze as fast as he could.  I sighed, tying my mask back on as gently as I could.  The burn was going to ache for a good while yet. 

 

Kaleb faded back out of the shadows as I pulled the blankets further around my shoulders, desperate for the warmth after Alena.  Aleth had thoughtfully left a steaming cup of tea waiting for me, which I sipped from gratefully, feeling the heat pool in my stomach.

“My lady, it would be wise to start amassing the troops.  Alena will soon be marching to war in order to soothe their ruler's wounded pride.”

“It's going to take more than a war to repair what I did to him,” I muttered into my tea.  In a louder voice, I avou, “would you please as the council to congregate in this room with whatever captains remain in the army as well as an interdimensional messenger?”

 

Within an hour of my informing the council and captains of the impending battle, the dimension rang with the sound of metal being hammered back into shape.  Shouts of encouragement and rallyment echoed through the streets.  Aleth was helping me to strap on battle armour, still warm from the forge, while I listened to the captains and kaleb discussing tactics.  One of the main problems, however, was that I was missing several captains.  I prayed that the messenger would soon return.

 

My prayer was answered.  The captains looked up in surprise as three more demons appeared in the middle fo the throne room.  Armed to the teeth, armour buffed to a shine, expressions ready to kill, but still one of the most relieving things I have ever seen. The messenger, looking terrified, peeked out from behind the trio.  Amarath strode avoured, wrapping me ni a boa constrictor's hug accompanied by a loud clattering of armour.

“Thank the goddess,” I sad as we broke apart.  “I was terrified that you were going to turn your backs.”

Amarath laughed, pulling her helmet off.  My eyes flickered to the half-healed cut next to her eye, the scar tissue still an angry red.  “You thought I was going to pass up on the chance to march to war alongside my princess of a sister?  Not a chance!”  Another figure appeared in the hall, cutting ogg my response and filling the space with her huge presence.  Her own battle armour gleamed in the torchlight.  Merlas butted my shoulder with her head, as if telling me off for not visiting.

“My lady?” Kaleb asked. “You are planning to march out with us?  Will you not keep yourself away from harm in your safe room?” 

I turned to the Would Be King, raising an eyebrow.  “And what would that do to the moral of my troops?  It would demoralise an already shaky army.  No, I will ride out with merlas at the headof the avoureds.  You can trust her completely to keep me away from harm.”

Kaleb looked ready to argue, but his eyes flickered to merlas, examining her critically for a moment before nodding reluctantly.  I introduced Amarath, Shaeman and Vrael to the captains, and settled down to plan how we were going to do this.

 

I sat with a hand on Merlas' guidance strap, looking out over the army.  My eyes scanned the ranks, spotting my siblings at the head of their assigned units.  Kaleb, despite my protests, stood as captain over a rabble of the undead.  With a dimension rouchly the size of North America and avour put together, I had a population of two or three hundred million.  Compared to modern day earth, that wasn't much, but to me, it looked like the entire dimension had turned up to war alongside several hundred thousand undead.  I just had to hope it was going to be enough.  I checked my belt for the umpteenth time, making sure that i had my longsord as well as two more short swords strapped in a cross on my back, backed up by a further three knives.  I wasn't taking any chances.

 

They announced their arrival with a wave of cold.  Every demon in the regiments shivered, but held their ground.  Merlas danced on the spot, tossing her head.  I kept one hand on the hilt of my sword.  Behind me, on a small hillock, I could hear the nervous plucking of bowstrings.  The Alenans burst out from the air itself as they teleported into Aspheri.   A single winged figure took to the sky.  I couldn't help but feel a small twang of satisfaction as I heard the Prince's voice, a little higher than what had been given to him naturally.

"Come and play, little princess!  Show your people how you fight on your own!"  Without any command from me, Merlas bellowed a wordless reply into the air, a fearsome war cry for anyone not acquainted with the pegusi.  The leapt into the air from a halt, her powerful hindquarters kicking the ground before her great wings took over the labour.  I ripped my sword from its sheath, shoutingmy own wordless war cry.  The Aspherins surged forwards, engaging the enemy in a thirst for their blood.  Melek sneered at me as Merlas drew even with him, hovering out of range of him, her wings beating steadily to maintain height.  I scowled back.  He would expect me to play clean and fair, very much like a girl, like aprincess.  In most cases, I would fight with as much honour as I could.  But I couldn't afford to let him predict my moves.  Amarath had taught me to fight dirty.  It was time to use it.  And the first thing to do was rile up the enemy.  An angry enemy didn't think.  An angry enemy didn't plan.  An angry enemy made mistakes.

"Have they managed to remove your genitals from your head yet?" I asked innocently, "you know, just in case you might actually want to start thinking with your brain instead of your balls for once?"

"Ha!  What kind of effeminate ruler of a warriors' dimension shooses to fight with words?"

"A girl!"  Below me, the sounds of the battle filtered upwards.  The clashing of swords, the denting of armour, the screams of the dying and the silence of the dead.  I heard Kaleb's voice yell up at me.

"My lady!  Behind you!"  Hands grabbed hold of my armour, dragging me from Merlas' back, blades slashing through the ties that kept me bound to the saddle.  Merlas screamed as another sword slashed at her wings, raining blood down onto the battlefield.  For a moment, Melek's guard held me suspended in the air.

"How well do demons fly?"

 

I can't remember if I screamed or not as the hands let me go and I began to plummet towards earth.  I tried to focus my mind enough to use magic to slow my descent.  The whistling sound of the wind past my helmet gave me a distressing, constant reminder of my situation.  Merlas neighed in desperation, trying to get to me, her one good wing labouring, the injured one next to useless.  I tried to grab a hold of her saddle, but my hand slipped, the straps slippery with her blood.  One of her flailing hooves struck my arm.  Agony ripped through me as the bone shattered under her iron shod hoof.  My dented armour pressed against the break.  The ground was approaching fast.  I closed my eyes, waiting for the impact.  Arms encircled me.  My descent flowed rapidly.  From high above, Melek bellowed his rage.

"I've got you, my lady," Kaleb's voice murmured in my ear.  "Fight on the ground a little longer.  I will take kare of Melek, and then I will take you to safety.  You have fought with the troops.  No neeed to take it to extremes."

 

I wasn't about to argue with him at that point.  He left me within a ring of his soldiers, his undead warriors, before regaining the sky on skeletal wings.  I couldn't afford to let myself worry about that now.  I drew my longsword, wielding the hand-and-a-half blade clumsily in one hand.  Its blade sliced through the enemy with ease, splitting skin and severing muscle.  The undead laughed alongside me, revelling in their role, in their usefulness.  Their battered, rusted and chipped blades cut through the swathes of enemy with the same ease as mine.  Several foes manages to wet their blades with my blood before I dispatched them to the next world, the black liquid running freely down my armour, tarnishing the bright metal.  I started to feel light headed.  My movements became jerky. And slow.  Kaleb's soldiers closed in around me, trying to keep me safe, to defend me as I tried not to collapse. From exhaustion.  I planted the tip of my sword in the blood-soaked ground.  The fog of unconsciousness hovered dangerously on the horizon.  An arrow landed close to me.  One of Vrael's.  I recognised the red and black fletching that he used on all of his arrows, feathers taken from both Shaeman and merlas.  I knew what it meant.  He was telling me to get out of there, to get the hell off the battlefield.  No.  I wouldn't.  I couldn’t afford to run.  I had to prove to my dimension, to myself, that I was neither weak nor a coward.  I had to prove that i hwas good enough to rule over them.  Summoning the last dregs of my energy, I raised my sword again, separating an foe's head from his shoulders before the ground rushed up to meet me.

 

"My lady?" A distant voice decided to irritate me.  I didn't deign to answer it.  I was too tired.  Whatever I was lying on was soft and warm.  "My lady?  Why will you not wake?"

"Did she not have her vulnerable period recently?  Did she not rest then?"

"She frets during her three days.  She paces her safe room and will not rest nor sleep enough."  My fingers twitches, sending spasms of pain through my arm, in turn setting off every single ache in my body.  I groaned.  Surely one battle couldn't have made me hurt this much!  I opened my eyes to see the worried faces of Aleth, Kaleb and Vrael.  My muscles complained bitterly as I pushed myself into a sitting position, noting that I was still in my muddied, bloodied leather top and trousers, although I was glad to see that someone had thought to remove the metal armour plates.  Vrael handed me a vial of some sort of painkiller, which I downed without a second thought.  Sighing happily as the comforting numbness soothes all the aches, I leant back against the pillows.  Vrael put on his best you're-not-going-to-like-this-but-you're-going-to-do-it-anyway face.  My heart sank a little.  I hated that face.  It always ended up in an argument and I still had to do whatever it was he was going to tell me to do.

"Shadow, you're going to have to take a break or at least take thing a little more slowly," he warned, sorting through some medical supplies that I guessed a healer had lent him.  I turned a cool glare to my brother.

"Have you evertriedrunning a dimension?  I can guarantee you that it's not something you can drop and pick up on a whim!"

"Calm yourself, Shadow," he replied in that infuriatingly level voice that he always used when the argument was just starting.  "I am merely suggesting that there is perhaps a way of ruling that would be more accommodating to your health.  A menner of delegation, perhaps?"

I sighed heavily.   There was no getting out of this now.  Not by a long shot.  "Ok, once everything with Alena settles down I'll take a break as long as there are no more crises to deal with."

Vrael didn’t look particularly enthused by my answer, but as far as I was concerned, he could stuff it.  It was the only compromise he was going to get.  "I have healed most of your wounds, including the ice burn Kaleb informed me you received from the prince.  However, there were two I was unwilling to touch: a stab wound from an ice dagger and the break to your arm.  Both are wounds I am not confident enough in my abilities to touch.  It will be better for them to heal naturally."

"Merlas' hoof," I explained, "she was trying to catch me after I fell but she didn't..." I sat bolt upright.  I had completely forgotten the doe!  "Merlas!  Is she ok?  Did someone..."

"Peace, Shadow," Vrael reassured me, "Shaeman's with her now.  We considered it best that he take care of her wing as he had more intimate knowledge of how the muscles are put together.  He believes that she will make a full recovery."

"And Amarath?"

"Out with your troops to mop up the stragglers.  It would appear that we halved their army's numbers."  I allowed myself to relax again.  Everyone seemed to be safe and sound.  At least, I relaxed until Vrael cleared his throat.  "A messenger arrived for you during your unconsciousness.  We managed to pass Amarath off as you in order to give the impression that you were unharmed and, please excuse the term, fighting-fit."  He must have read the expression of panic on my face like an open book.   Amarath was not the kind of person that you sit on a throne without having words with her beforehand, and especially not without putting in place a list of words that were forbidden in diplomatic language.  "Worry not, little one, she impersonated you rather well and kept her tongue in check.  With that, the mask and a little illusionary magic to change her hair, it would have been difficult to tell you apart."

"So what was the message?"

"He is reproposing marriage and begs you to consider it seriously."

"My lady, if I may," Kaleb interjected, "Prince Melek seems to be desperate.  He has played all his aces.  He cannot defeat Aspheri by the strength of his arm alone.  Not while you have alliances with the dead dimensions, but his ultimatum has been issued and he is unable to deliver on one of his options."

"Before, you start thinking of ways to wheedle out of that one," Vrael added with a slightly malevolent twinkle in his eye.  Uh oh, that did not bode well.  "A prospective suitor has arrived.   I believe he wished to court you."  I groaned, burrowing under the blankets.  I did not want to have to deal with this right now.  I wasn't ready for it. 

Aleth patted my shoulder a little awkwardly as I resurfaced, running a hand through my hair. "Worry not, my lady, he is quite the gentleman, and a crystal demon!  They are rare now since the wars that raged between their clans."

"It would help your cause, my lady.  If you are being courted by a male, then you cannot accept to be courted by the Alenan Prince, and he has yet to issue an official request.  However, a courting does not obligatorily lead to marriage.  You could, in short, accept the courting of this demon in order to gain more time during which to think about what to do about Alena.  It will delay your decision in a more diplomatic manner."  Kaleb spoke in a careful, measured tone, as if trying to convey how this idea would slow down the proceedings with Alena from their current rapid-fire state.  I had to admit that it was certainly a good idea.

"Aleth, I'm going to need your help to get ready to meet this guy."

 

Aleth did her best.  The dress, cut in the usual style she had picked out for me that clung to my body, leaving only my shoulders bare, was a deep purple, darker than my eyes in order to bring them out.  Touches of silver and a black bodice augmented the look.  She styled my hair in an intricate knot of tiny plaits, weaving a few bloodstones into the design.  A belt held my more ceremonial sword to my hip, and a shimmering cloak swirled around my shoulders.  I looked into the mirror once she had pronounced me ready, barely recognising myself.  My eyes flashed red briefly.  Who was I becoming?

 

Four guards escorted me to the throne room, not only to give the air of a ruler of a warrior dimension, but also because Kaleb had reasoned that Melek wasn't going to give up that easily.  He was likely to try less open methods of trying to get rid of me.  Phantom and Wraith trotted alongside me, claws clicking on the black stone floors.  One or two steps behind me, Kaleb and Captain Nergal strode side by side.

 

I settled on my throne, resisting the urge to run a hand through my hair.  For all the effort put into making me look my best and reassure me, I was still terrified of what was going to come.  All I knew was that this suitor was a demon from a rare sub-species.  For all I knew of him, he could be another Karthragan, or possibly some relation of Teran's.

 

The man who walked through the doorway of at the footman's announcement was certainly a handsome demon, although I had yet to meet a demon who was ugly in his human form.  His silver hair glinted gold and red in the torchlight, my heart skipping a beat as I took him for a Dementius.  But his expression was open and honest.  Definitely not a relation of Teran's.  His face sparked some sort of recognition in my mind, but I couldn't place it.  He bowed low to me, one hand fisted over his heart.

"I thank you for setting aside the time to meet with me, my lady." He spoke in a strange lilting accent alien to this dimension yet he spoke like a native, which was probably not something to go on since every demon instinctively understood demonic.  "My name is Ilrune of the Wingless."

I froze.  Ilrune?  The wingless Careen I had met at the Academy?  He wasn't a demon, I would have sensed it.  "My lord Ilrune," I said respectfully, "your presence here brings back many memories of my time spent on Earth.  However, you were not always a demon, I believe..."

"An accurate observations, my lady, I am a converted demon.  An Unborn.  To save my life, the decision was taken to put the blood of demons in my veins in order to assure my survival."

I took a moment to observe Ilrune.  At the Academy, he had still been very young, still a little wet behind the ears and unsure of the world.  But that child was not the creature that stood in front of me now.  Now, he was a man of impeccable form, a man who could easily have risen through the ranks of my army to become an officer.  From what I knew of the Careen, they would have raised Ilrune to the best of their ideals: kindness, respect, etiquette and honesty.  He would make a good king for the people of Aspheri without trying to usurp me or take my decisions for me.  The people would accept him with ease.  Perhaps this courting would end in a marriage.

"My lord Ilrune, I grant you the right of courting."

 

Aleth squealed in delight when I told her of my decision.  I lay back in the bathing pool, careful not to let the splint on my arm get wet, daydreaming a little as my lady's maid untied the mess of plaits.  I'm still young by demonic standards.  I'm allowed to daydream about love.  Aleth chatted happily about all the positive attributes Ilrune had, from his species to the length of his claws.  I half listened to her, but my mind was elsewhere.  Well, my mind was with a certain crystal demon.

 

Ilrune courted me over the next month the traditional Careen fashion.  At every meeting, he brought me gifts, the meaning in Careen society being to show off your wealth and knowledge of her tastes while attempting to buy your lady's favour by offering things that she would appreciate. The first thing he brought me was a ring, which showed that the female was favouring a male.  And he definitely proved his wealth with it: A band of white gold inlaid with three gems, a bloodstone, the stone favoured by the royal line, flanked by an amethyst and a diamond.  I wore it on a chain around my neck at his suggestion to avoid it getting in the way of my sword play.  Diplomatic courtesy had obliged me to tell Prince Melek of my courtship with Ilrune, and his answer had been only slightly short of furious.  Kaleb and Captain Nergal were increasingly worried about an assassination attempt, especially since I 'insisted on gallivanting off with that Unborn' and leaving my guards behind. 

 

At the end of the month, I strode through the corridors of the palace, eager to get to the courtyard, where Ilrune was apparently waiting for me.  I wasn't just excited to see him though.  The courting law for the Careen states that a courtship must only last a month.  Today was the last day.   One month was perhaps not a long time to have known someone, but over the time I had spent with him, I had started to see that he was, for all the stigma attached to his rank, one of the lads, and treated me as a young woman, not as a princess, not as a ruler of a dimension, but a girl who still dreamed of love.

 

 Ilrune was indeed waiting for me in the courtyard, astride a fiery red pegasus, another one standing beside him.  I stroked the doe's silvery coat, admiring her build.  Ilrune, ever the gentleman, swung himself off his stag in order to help me to mount. 

"A final gift, my lady," he said formally.  "Not as fine as the doe bonded to you, but one of the finest of our herds."

"She is wonderous," I breathed, running my fingers through her silken mane.  From what I knew of the pegusi, she was a carnivore, a heavier build compared to the herbivores, like the Earthern draft horses.  I touched the plate on her collar, reading her name: Moonmaiden.

 

We flew out over the village, leaning low over our mount's necks.  My hair streamed out beside me as I raced Ilrune, not even knowing where we were racing to.  He smiled at me as we flew side by side for a moment before he pulled ahead, starting to angle for a descent.  I straightened up, leaning backwards a little to aid my doe in her landing.  I pulled Moonmaiden up next to Ilrune's stag, looking out over the villages.  Demons moved in the streets, oblivious to us watching them, finishing the repairs from the bloody battle fought against Alena.  The red sun cast its warmth over the black ground, bringing out the red reflects in the palace stone.  Pride swelled my heart as I looked out over it.  There was no way I could let this fall into the hands of Teran or Melek.  These demons, these people needed better than that.  Teran turned his gaze to me, swinging himself off his mount's back.  Standing next to me, he cleared his throat.

"My lady, we have been courting for a month now, and it is traditional in Careen circles to give the other an answer.  What I wish to say, my lady, Shadow, is that I would be honoured if you would consent to allow me your hand in marriage."

In true girly fashion, I flung myself off Moonmaiden, into Ilrune's arms.

"Yes, Goddess, yes!"

 

We set the date for in another month's time, as I was scheduled to visit another dimension in order to secure a trading deal.  Ilrune took to disguising himself as one of my guard, with permission from Captain Nergal, in order to stay close to me as for the moment, he had no need to be at my side, and it was not 'proper' for him to get involved with the affairs of state before the marriage.  The one place Captain Nergal refused to let him accompany me to were other dimensions.   That job mainly fell to Kaleb and a few others.  It was considered that my guard was composed of the finest warriors of my army and the captain didn't want an amateur making a rookie mistake to jeopardise that image.  He knew that the weaker my guards appeared, the more danger I was in.  What they hadn't counted on was how much danger I could put myself in.

 

Spending several days in another dimension to secure a trading deal was not my idea of a riveting activity, not even with the amusement of watching Kaleb trying to hide his boredom.  Although my mask hid a lot of my own boredom with the proceedings, it did nothing for my irritability.  My vulnerable period was fast approaching and the long, roundabout diplomatic language was definitely not helping my headache since I had to be on alert for every single tiny detail that could be taken several ways.  Not to mention that my broken arm had yet to finish healing and it was very much taking its own sweet time about it, much to the healer's annoyance.  I absent-mindedly scratched at the splint discreetly hidden by my sleeve.  I froze.  I was getting better at predicting the exact strikes of my vulnerable period, and this one was imminent.  I tugged on Kaleb's cloak as discreetly as I could.  Sensing the urgency in my actions, he nodded once.  He knew the score and would take care of excuses.  Desperate to get back to Aspheri before losing my magic, I teleported.

 

I vanished not a second too late.  I materialised a little high and fell the remaining few feet to the ground as I felt the change come over me.  I pushed myself to my feet, staggering a little, grabbing onto the wall to steady myself.  I closed my eyes, fighting down the feeling of nausea.

"Oh sh-"  This wasn't Aspheri.  I was back on Earth!  And even worse than that was the all-too familiar figure someone I really didn't want to see leaning against the wall a couple of metres away from me.

"Well, well, well, the little princess is a little lost.  It would seem that you are without your guards as well.  This is not a good situation for you, is it?"

"Teran," I growled, reaching for the sword at my hip.  "Just because I seem to have teleported at the wrong moment doesn't mean I still can't take you down!" Even thought I knew that, in human form, I held no threat against the powerful demon.  A blade already glinted in his hand.  I scrabbled desperately in my mind in an attempt to escape from this situation.  Late night reading came to the rescue.  "Law dictates that in order to fight for leadership, the duellers must be on equal footing.  I'm in human form, so that would invalidate your claim."

Teran growled low in his throat, obviously not pleased that I had found the time to look up the old laws of the dimension, (all seventeen volumes of the damn thing.  Took me near enough a year to get through them).

"Shadow?" Called a voice.  I cursed in my mind.  Now was not the time for Bart to turn up.  As much as I loved the demon/Kraferr hybrid, he had yet to grasp a better sense of timing.  "Is everything ok?"

"Who's that?" Teran snarled, "yet another hybrid that you've added to your clan! How many hybrids are you planning to accept? All you're doing is diluting our blood. I would have thought better of the supposed princess of our kind.  What would your father have said?   Then again, your father sired hybrids left and right.  What an example to give.  But a three-way hybrid?  That's just senseless."

"Don't worry, Bart," I called to him, my gaze not shifting from the demon in front of me.  "Teran was just leaving. He won't attack me until we're on equal grounds."

"What're you doin' here in the first place?!" Bart hissed, his eyes glowing red int he gloom of the alley.

"I had come to confront Shadow," Teran drawled, "But it would seem that she's human. As she cleverly stated, I can't challenge her now."

"And thank the goddess for that." I muttered under my breath before addressing the demon. "So you can shift! Go on! Scoot!"  Teran mockingly bowed to me before vanishing from sight.  "I have never been more glad for that rule," I added to myself.  Bart relaxed a few moments later, the bolts of magic disappearing from his palms before he stood straight, staring at the place where, a few seconds ago, Teran had stood. He sighed, grabbing two silver bracelets from his pockets and clasping them around his wrists. A wave of brown streaked over his fur, transforming it back to his Kraferric pelt, before he twisted his head to look at me.  I leant against the wall again, pulling my mask off and running a hand though my hair.  What a fine mess I had managed to get myself into now.  Human and no guards with Teran on my tail.  Just brilliant.

"What happened, Shad?  Who was that guy?  Why're you here instead of Aspheri?"

"Can you slow down on the questions please?" I asked, rubbing my temples.  Boy did I have one hell of a headache.  "I was visiting another dimension, sensed my human period coming on and tried to teleport back to Aspheri.  Unfortunately, I screwed it up and landed here.

"And human."

"And human, yes."

Bart sighed heavily, rubbing the back of his neck.  "As far as I'm concerned," he said, "you can't go back to Aspheri or Synairn for quite a while now. I think the more wise decision would be to take you to where Dominique and I live. It'll give you shelter while you're... Vulnerable."  He held out a hand to me.  I grasped it gently, bracing myself for the teleportation.

 

Bart's teleportation may have improved in the way that it only took him two attempts to land in the right place, but his method still left you with the unpleasant feeling that you had just been pulled through a cheese grater.  I had to close my eyes and force down the feeling of nausea for the second time that night as we landed.  Goddess, how much trouble was I in now?  There was no way Teran was going to let me get away.  He'd be on my trail for the next three days just waiting for me to get my magic back.  The only way I would be able to fight him now would be to get angry enough to discover my true form.  A demon or part demon had an extra morph known as their 'true form'.  The picture I had seen of Karthragan in the Book of Demons, the flaming wolf, that was his true form.  A full-blooded demon knows their true form from birth.  A part demon only discovers theirs if they get angry enough to approach what is called the 'point of no return', the point where the demonic possession is so strong that it overlaps the other side of a part demon's blood.  It was the only power a part demon had up his or her sleeve during their vulnerable period, but it was a difficult power to control and not one ever taken lightly.  In fact, there were only six documented instances where a part demon had done so, and five of them hadn't come back.  Bart touched my shoulder lightly.  Nodding to him, I dragged a sleeve across my eyes, following him down into the flat.

 

I braced myself for the onslaught of homicidal fur, but the absence of such a phenomenon told me that Dominique was probably out.  I stood in the hallway, unsure of myself or what to do.  This wasn't my land to rule.  This was Bart's territory and I was trespassing once again.  The fingers of my broken arm twitched as the old injury throbbed.  I followed Bart through to the living room, taking up a pot by the window, looking out over the city where rain had just begun to fall.  I watched Bart in the reflection of the glass.  He had changed a lot since I had first met the Kraferr.  He had been younger than me in physical years at that point, aging as a normal human despite being a Kraferr hybrid.  He used to have a kind of naïve optimism with the enthusiasm of a young person embarking on their first adventure in the footsteps of his Kraferr One predecessors.  Now he was several years older, surpassing me in physical years as I had stopped, with a maturity superseding his age.  I was, in no minor part, to blame for that.  I had burdened him with demonic blood.  If I could take it back, I would.  It wasn't fair on him, already one of the last Kraferrs, to have to deal with the rapidly expanding, precarious world of part demons.  As I watched him from my discreet positioning, his face was set in an expression of neutral seriousness that I knew all too well as one favoured by my siblings when sorting through their emotions from an objective point of view.

 

The front door opened again to admit one very wet Kraferrin, who walked into the living room with her head down and, ignoring his protests, hugged Bart tightly.  The Kraferr pushed her away, playfully grumbling about how she was getting him wet.  I stood still, waiting patiently for her to figure out why there was something not quite right with her living room.

"Shadow!" You're back!" She exclaimed.  I smiled at her, unclasping my cloak and draping it around her shoulders as I realised that she was shivering.  Dominique curled her arms around herself under the cloak before speaking again. "We haven't seen you for quite a while now... What brings you here?" she asked, lifting her head, her eyes glinting in interest.

"I'm sorry about dropping in on you like this," I apologised, "I had a little trouble with my magic."

"Basically, she's human right now and pretty much defenceless while also having an insanely evil demon chasing her," Bart added.

"Yeah, that round about sums up why I'm here." I said before sighing. "Teran's father was Karthragan's right hand demon. Had Karthragan died first, then Teran's father would have made sure that Teran got the throne. As you can tell, he's a little sore. The whole Dementius clan now bears a grudge against the Roths and, by extension, the Mercians and the Von Neckrarks. That's a long story short."

 

The door was thrown off its hinges as a blast of nearly white magic blasted it out of the way. Ilrune strode into the flat, sword drawn, confronting the two Kraferr after pushing me to the side. He growled a challenge in demonic, glaring at Bart and Dominique.  The Kraferr swept Dominique behind him, skipping backwards and turning the table onto its side.  He bared his teeth, his eyes flickering red. 

"Stop!" I shouted, grabbing Ilrune's arm, trying to get his attention before he could hurt either of the Kraferrs.  "They're friends, Ilrune!  Friends!"

Ilrune's magic faded slowly as he pushed down on his emotions.  Closing his eyes briefly, he grabbed me in a hug, as if trying to reassure himself that I was ok.  I pressed my face into his chest, breathing in his smell.  I hadn't realised how much I had needed the comfort after my run in with Teran.  The two Kraferrs slowly emerged from behind the table, watching the crystal demon warily.  As Ilrune let me go, I coughed nervously.  I guessed that introductions were up to me.

"Ilrune, this is Dominique and Bart, the last of the Kraferr race.  Bart's also an Unborn of the Roth-Mercian-Von Neckrark clan.  Bart, Dominique, this is Ilrune of the Wingless, part demon and soon to be Prince of Aspheri."

Bart choked one something unknown, spluttering and coughing.  Dominique just stared.  After a few moments, he began to recover a modicum of composure.  "What do you mean 'soon to be Prince of Aspheri'!?"

"In the way that we are engaged to be married."

"You're getting married?!"

"Bart, shut up," Dominique muttered before adding in a louder voice, "congrats Shadow!" 

Ilrune bowed to the two Kraferrs, speaking up in his deep voice.  "I apologise for the sudden attack," He said in a deep voice. "Shadow warned me of the threat posed by Teran, and I was not sure of your intentions."  Bart was glaring at Ilrune, but the part demon was returning the look in none too discreet a fashion.  I stamped on my fiancé's foot as discreetly as I could.  He glanced down at me, taking in my expression.  Sighing, he turned to look at the door, which lay hanging off its hinges from his exuberant entry.  He cast an eye over the damage before holding his hand towards the wood, letting his whitish magic seep into the wood, reconnecting fibres in shattered wood and reshaping bent metal.  Bart looked at me.

"I take it that now that he's here, you'll be going back to Aspheri," he said flatly. 

I shook my head.  "That would throw up a magical signature strong enough for Teran to trace without very much difficulty at all.  Ilrune wouldn't teleport me for fear of messing up and being followed by Teran without any back up on our side."

Bart said nothing, glancing at Ilrune before walking out of the newly repaired door.  Ilrune cast a look at me before following the Kraferr.  I sincerely hoped that Ilrune wasn't about to go and cause any trouble.  That was the last thing we needed at the moment.  Careen were known to be highly protective of their females.  I knew that Ilrune was about as pacifist as a demon could get, unwilling to shed the blood of another if there was any other way, but Bart didn't know that.  Bart was more likely to let his anger get in the way of anything that even sniffed of a challenge.  Dominique ignored the goings on, walking into the kitchen and making a start on the washing up as if there was nothing amiss what so ever.  I grabbed a cloth, standing silently next to Dominique and drying the dishes as she washed them.  We continued in a companiable silence until Dominique gasped.  The glass she had been holding shattered on the floor as she doubled over in pain, tears starting to stream down her face.

"Oh god," she gasped, "Bart's turning demonic!"

I didn't ask how she knew.  Dominique was a Kraferr shaman.  Sometimes they just knew things or set up spells in order to know.  She had probably placed wards or something around the Kraferr.  Instead, I asked, "Where is he?"

"On the roof, with Ilrune!"  I grabbed her arm, pulling it around my shoulders in order to help her remain upright as I ran for the stairs to the roof.  I reached the door, gently propping Dominique against the wall before trying to open it. It was locked, sealed with magic.  I growled in frustration, slamming my shoulder against it.
"Curse this human body!" I snarled at myself, trying once again with brute force.  I hated being human.  I had no strength, no magic, no way of fighting.  Not unless...

"Dominique, can you link to Bart's mind and transfer the link to me?  I need his anger!"  For a moment, she simply stared at me.  I must have looked a sight.  Not many people ever saw me angry.  It was dangerous in demonic form.  Now that I was human, I could cut loose.  She nodded briefly, starting to mutter under her breath, weaving the spells through the air.

 

Bart's anger hit me like a slap to the face.  I struggled with my ingrained training, forcing myself to accept the emotion, to take it as my own.  It flooded through my mind, crushing the dams build around my demonic side.  There was no going back now.

 

Cold air.  Don't like cold air.  Little creature beside me.  Strange smell.  Not a target.  Not a threat.  Ignore it.  Find target.  Find three-way-hybrid.  Three-way-hybrid in Desert Dimension.  Teleport.

 

Badlands warm.  Badlands good.  Magic strong.  Three-way-hybrid here with Crystal hybrid.  Must  take down three-way-hybrid.  Lunge.  Bite.  Scratch.  Pain of magic.  Stinging.  Anger.  Snarl.  Flesh beneath my claws.  Smell of blood.  Good smell.  Falling back.  Crystal demon fighting me.  Magic around my muzzle.  Must get it off.  Must get it off!  Growl.  Snarl.  More magic around my paws.  Can't stand.  Crystal demon next to me.  Warning growl.  Get away.  Magic still binding.  Singing.  Crystal demon singing.  Familiar song.  Soothing.  Growing weaker.  Can't hold on to form.

 

Someone's voice softly crooned to me.  A song I knew from so long ago.  The Awakening of Worlds.  An old Synari lullaby.

"Run through the forest chasing the wolf's tail, Know that in the awakening of the worlds, in the end of dreams, I will forever be here to comfort you."  I let my mind wander back to Synairn, to the last month I spent there.  Of the nightmares that would wake me up at night with screams of terror.  Of Arellan's arms holding me close, her fingers gently combing my hair as she sang to me, as she sang me back to sleep.  For a moment, I lost myself in memory.  The loss of Arellan ached deep in my heart, a pain long ago buried returning  to rip its way through my mind.  I longed to stay in this world of fantasy, where she was still alive, but the singing voice wasn't hers.  The singing voice was quietly begging me to wake up.  My arm was screaming in agony when I finally opened my eyes on reality.  Ilrune looked down at me with concern burning in his eyes.  His hand gently brushed against my cheek.

"Are you all right?" He asked quietly.  I ignored that question as I started to remember what had landed me here, lying on the couch in the Kraferr's flat

"How's Bart?  I didn't hurt him, did I?"

Ilrune scowled at the mention of the Kraferr's name.  "He has yet to awaken.  The fight between you was rather violent.  I do not believe you have caused him any lasting damage."

"I need to see him."  I attempted to stand, grabbing my cloak, but someone seemed to have replaced my legs with wet noodles.  Growling in frustration, I grabbed onto a nearby table, trying to support myself.  Ilrune sighed heavily, wrapping one arm around my waist and helping me to walk over to Bart's room. 

 

Dominique sat alone in the gloomy room, sitting on the edge of the bed, holding Bart's hand as he lay, unconscious.  She glanced up as I pushed open the door, her eyes, wet with tears, gleaming in the light. 

"He's... He's not awake yet," she murmured.  She dragged a sleeve over her eyes, sniffing before looking back at me.  "He will wake up, won't he?"

I looked at the floor, unable to look at the Kraferrin.  I had no idea what I had even done to him, or what had happened during the fight.  Dominique hiccupped a sob, looking back at Bart.  I chewed my lip, trying to think of anything to say.

"Dominique, I'm..."

"Sorry?  Possibly. I know you probably did what you had to do in order to break up the fight.  I just wish I knew he was ok."

"Well, isn't this an interesting situation?" A figure detatched itself from the deep shadows of the room.  Golden hair glinted in what little light there was.  Teran barked out a single burst of harsh laughter.  Dominique shot to her feet, her eyes flashing in anger.  She pulled a knife from her belt, growling.

"Don't you dare come any closer!"

" How… Cute.  The Kraferrin standing up for her friends even though she knows that she has no hope in defeating me.  The Kraferr, the great protector, unconscious and unable to defend his loved ones.  This would simply kill him to know that he could do nothing.  The princess, so weak in her human form, powerless, incapable of protecting her friends.  And the crystal demon who would do anything to protect the princess, but even he knows that he's no match for me."

I reached a hand up my sleeve to draw my dagger but snarled in pain, the blade clattering to the ground as pain shot through my arm.  Ilrune's arms grabbed me, pressing me to his chest in an attempt to protect me.

"Leave here, Dementius," Ilrune growled.

"Come, come, Wingless, the Kraferrs are well known for their hospitality.  "My dear Dominique. How trying this must be for you. The only unblooded demon in this room. I know that you asked your little friend on the bed to blood you, but he refused...Such a selfish thing for him to do, isn't it?" He took a step closer, holding out one hand to the Kraferrin. "I am willing to blood you, if you are willing to accept..."

"No!" Dominique snarled, baring her teeth at the demon. 

"Such a gift as demonic blood could give you what you most desire."

"Shut up," Dominique said quietly, her rage echoing though her voice.

"Are you sure? No one from Shadow's clan will accept to blood you, and your little friend has already denied you. Why remain weak when you could be strong, strong enough to protect your loved ones?"

"Shut up."

"Strong enough to bear a child?"

"Shut up!"  Dominique's claws were millimetres away from Teran's throat.  They trembled slightly.

"I have no qualms about giving you what you want."  Her hand shook, then folded into a fist and dropped back down to her side.  She picked up the knife she had dropped, holding it tightly as if in reassurance.

"Don't!" I shouted in warning.  He couldn't blood her.  He couldn't!  It was against every protocol in the book!  It was not something to be taken lightly.  He would want something in return, that was almost certain, and you couldn't accept gifts from a snake like him!

"Do it," Dominique murmured.  "Give me the blood."

 

Teran smirked at me, defenceless, imprisoned in Ilrune's arms.  He knew exactly how much I treasured my friends, how I wanted to please them, but I had never even considered what he was planning to do to Dominique.  It was barbaric, crude and painful.  Turning his gaze to Dominique, he rolled back his sleeve, using a claw to draw a neat gash down his forearm.  At his prompting, the Kraferrin copied his gesture.  I struggled against Ilrune's hold but, as a human, I had more chance of headbutting my way through a brick wall, and he wasn't about to let me go running into danger.  Curse this half blood status!  All I could do was watch in terror as the demon ad the Kraferrin pressed their wounds together, demonic blood starting to flow into Dominique's veins.   She collapsed to the ground in agony, clutching her arm.  Teran healed his own wound, looking down at the Kraferrin.

"I will return when she has converted," he promised before vanishing.  Ilrune let me go.  I fell to my knew, using my cloak in attempt to stem the blood flow.  The scarlet was turning dark.  Black veins stood out around the wound, starting to travel up her arm.  By the time they reached her heart, she would be in pure, burning agony.  Already, her eyes were wide, staring at the ceiling, her claws starting to gouge grooves into the floor.  I chewed my lip, applying more pressure to the wound.  There was nothing to do but wait for the conversion to finish.

"Ilrune, try to wake Bart up.  He's going to be pissed off enough without delaying things."  Ilrune did nothing, simply glaring at the Kraferrin.  "Ilrune:"  Still, he didn't more.

"They're consorting with Teran, Shadow  They deserve everything they get.  We should get back to Aspheri and get you to safety before Teran returns with no qualms about the law."

I growled low in my throat.  "You're such a pain!"  I snarled, grabbing a scarf from the top of the dressed, binding it tightly around the wound.  Casting a glare at my fiancé, I started shaking Bart's shoulder.  Getting no response, I started to grow desperate.  Tears began to prick the back of my eyes as I begged the Kraferr to wake up.

"Oh, Goddess, Bart, please wake up!  I need you to wake up!  Dominique's in danger!  Teran's given her demonic blood!  Goddess, I don't know what to do!  Please, Bart, please wake up!"

 

 

Something in my plea must have gotten through to the Kraferr's subconscious.  His eyes snapped open as he sat bolt upright.  He snarled at Ilrune and I, dropping down next to Dominique.

"What the hell did  you do to her?!"

"I didn't do anything!" I pleaded with him to understand.  "I couldn't do anything!"

"That's just it, isn't it?" He growled.  "You didn't do anything and now she's going to end up as a part demon as well!  She was the last pure Kraferrin!  You've ruined everything!"

My tears began to run down my face.  I couldn't have done anything to save her.  There was nothing I could have done!  I was only human.  I had no strength, no magic, no way to hold a blade in order to fight.  Bart had been unconscious at the time.  How could he blame me?  I couldn't have done anything to stop Teran.  Nothing. 

"You don't get it, do you?" I screamed at the Kraferr.  "I'm human!  Human!  I have nothing to fight with!"  Dragging my sleeve across my eyes, turning on my heel and leaving the room, I closed the door behind me without waiting for an answer.

 

I sagged against the window, trying to regain some semblance of dignity and composure.  I wiped my eyes again, sniffing hard in an attempt to stop crying.

"Aw, has the little princess had an argument and come out here to cry?" Asked a mocking voice.  I didn't have to think very long to guess who owned it.    And what was it with me being called the 'little princess' by everyone?  Ok, I was short for a demon, but that didn't mean anything!  I rounded on Teran, who was leaning nonchalantly against the wall, intending to yell at him.  It didn't really turn out as I expected it to.  In a single heartbeat, my back was against the wall, standing on my toes with Teran's hand at my throat.  I scrabbled at his hand, trying to relieve the pressure on my windpipe, unable to draw breath, starting to become light-headed.  Teran released his hold a slight degree.  I gulped down air desperately.

"Weak little human," he crooned, "I'm not even close to being finished with you.  I may not be able to challenge you for a while, but I can certainly make your life hell until I do."

 

Ilrune burst out from the bedroom like an enraged bull.  I half expected him to grow horns.  Bart wasn't far behind him, a look of anger personified on his face.  Teran let me go, turning to face the two Unborns. 

"How sweet, it would seem that the Kraferr protector and the crystal demon have formed a rescue party. I didn't think they would be able to work together without ripping their throats out." Teran commented conversationally.  Bart pulled back a fist to punch Teran.  A ball of fur erupted from the bedroom, knocking the Kraferr back.

"Leave him alone," Dominique growled.

"Are you feeling better, my dear Dominique?"  Teran asked. 

"Dominique... What has he done to you?!" he growled.
"The worst is going to come soon, Bart," she answered quietly, "After this... We'll be able to save our race."

"Are you fr-"

"Quiet!" she retorted, frowning slightly at Bart, "Quiet. Please. I want to be able to do this alone for once!"  Teran smirked a little. Ilrune was speechless. Shadow wheezed quietly.  

"I would guess that you are better, Dominique." Teran said, smiling. "We can move on to the next stage. Bart and Ilrune, you will stay here."

"Yes, she murmured under her breath, "let's go.  You can finish whatever you have to do and then get the hell out of my home."

 

Glowering at Bart and Ilrune, Dominique swept back into the bedroom.  Teran smirked at the two Unborns, seizing my arm and following the Kraferrin, but not without a parting threat.

"If you wish no harm to come to your loved ones, I suggest strongly that you stay out here and keep quiet."

 

There was no way I could have fought against Teran with any hope of winning, so I didn't.  It would only have make things worse, for either Dominique or I.  Instead, I curled up quietly where he had left me.  My broken arm ached.  I wanted to go home.  I wanted to get away from Teran.  I wanted my family.  Teran got Dominique to lie down on the bed, telling her to relax before he turned back to me.  I knew what he wanted, and tried not to resist.  He rested his hand on my stomach, careful not to allow his hand to pass through my skin.  He drew out a tiny white orb, carefully suspended over his palm.  A tiny fragment of my essence.  Of who I was.  An orb of magic that could grow into a whole new being.  My coding would be overrun by Dominique's, all it needed to become a child was a piece of Bart's essence.  Teran leant over Dominique for a moment, speaking softly to her in a voice too quiet for my human ears to hear  Whatever it was, she agreed to it, and Teran pressed the tiny orb of magic into her belly.  Dominique gasped in pain, her hands fisting in the sheets beneath her.  Teran straightened up,  staring to search the room.  From a small, journal –like book, he drew a second orb of magic, which he carried to Dominique.  Bart much have kept a diary or something.  That's all I would think of that would give Teran enough of his essence to satisfy his needs.  Physical form wasn't the only things that could be used to house a person's essence.  It was anything and everything personal and unique to a single person, and handwriting was one of the most personal and unique non physical things a person had.

"Congratulations, my dear Dominique, you will bear twins in approximately five months."  Bowing low to the Kraferrin, he took hold of my arm once more, teleporting out of the flat.

 

Wherever he were, at least it was warm.  I knew that it was still Earth.  Teleporting between dimensions left a strange feeling of lightness in the limbs for a few moments.  Teleporting within a dimension left only a brief sensation of pins and needles.    As soon as i could, I scrambled away from Teran.  I had no intention of joining Kaleb's ranks anytime soon.  This bastard of a demon wasn't about to change that.  I bared my teeth, feeling the acute lack of fangs to scare him with.  No fangs, no claws, no strength and no magic.  What a fine state I was in now.

 

Teran cornered me easily, a manic grin fixed on his face.  He took hold of my broken arm in a parody of gentleness, prodding the break with a light touch.  I gritted my teeth.  I wanted to pull away, but I would only exasperate matters.  With one quick movement, he twisted my arm, snapping the healing bone easily.  I couldn't stop the scream from escaping my throat.  Teran barked a laugh, still holding my arm in his hand, the broken bone grinding beneath his fingers.

"Teran!" Bellowed a, unfamiliar, female voice.  An angry looking woman who looked very similar to Teran strode on, closely followed by Ilrune and Bart.

"Elva," Teran growled in response.  The woman tossed her hair out of her eyes glaring at what I guessed was her twin.

"I'm only doing this because I need a favour from the Roth-Mercians and Shadow is technically still the head of it," she said before turning her yellow gaze to me.  "I saved your ass.  In return, you tell Vrael that Elva's back in town.  Now get the hell out of here."

 

Ilrune held me for a moment longer as we arrived in Bart's flat.  I squirmed a little in his grip, buthe refused to let me go.  He rested his forehead on my head, murmuring quietly to me.

"Gods, next time, please scream or something so I will know that things are not right."  Only then did he let me go.  With infinite care, he touched m broken arm, wincing as i hissed in pain.  Murmuring something under his breath, he let his magic flow, putting the bone back together with crystal.  I flexed my hand gingerly, expecting the usual flash of pain.  Nothing.  Healed.  I flung my arms around his neck, pulling the taller demon down to hug him tightly.  Summoning my courage, I let him go and turned to check on Dominique.

 

The Kraferrin was huddled in a corner of the room as if terrified.  As soon as she realised who had walked in, she refused to look up at me.  Carefully arranging my skirts, I sat, crosslegged, opposite her, close enough to comfort, far away enough not to threaten. 

"I'm sorry," she murmured.  I could see the tracks from her tears, still fresh, gleaming in the room's low light.

"It's ok, Dominique.  No one was badly hurt apart from you."

"It's not ok, I sold you out to that bastard!"

"Then I forgive you."

"No!  There are some things that are unforgivable!"

"I choose who I forgive and, right now, I forgive you, Dominique Kraferr.  There are far worse things that could have happened, but they didn't, and for that I am grateful."

For a moment, Dominique remained silent.  Behind me, I heard the door creak open.   Ilrune, standing silhouetted against the light, glared at Dominique.  I glowered back, causing him to back up a couple of steps.  I pointed a finger at him.  The crystal demon quickly made himself scarce, disappearing back into the living room.  For all I had been complaining about him for the past while, he is still intelligent enough to know not to cross me.  I turned my attention back to Dominique, rubbing her arm in an attempt to comfort her.

"Hey, it's ok, he was just annoyed earlier because Teran was being a bum. He won't be hurting you any time soon if he values his crown jewels."

Then, for the first time, she looked up at me.  "Am I really pregnant?"

I took a moment to think carefully through my answer.  "Demonesses are quite a bit different to humans in that respect.  I'm not sure about Kraferrs though.  Basically, we don't have periods, we're always ready to reproduce, there's a 99.9% chance of becoming pregnant when we have intercourse, we never miscarry and we always give birth to twins.  In short, yes, you are pregnant."

"Two children..." Dominique repeated, lowering her head, "Am I really sure of what I'm about to get into?" she asked herself, "I mean, two lives to take care of... I've already seen Kraferric mothers give birth and I have already seen how newlings are treated. Physically, I'm able to do that, but will I be able to keep up?  I don't want to screw anything up by doing this..." Dominique murmured to herself, letting her hair fall over her face as she spoke, "I'm willing to be hurt for them, I'm willing to do anything for them. I just don't want to make any mistakes."

"And you are not," intervened Bart's voice.  I glanced over my shoulder to see the Kraferr leaning against the doorjamb.  I briefly wondered how long he'd been there.  He gazed down at Dominique, in human form. "Sure, you did a big mistake by risking all of our lives with this," he continued, crossing his arms, "but something tells me that what you're doing is right. You always wanted to save the Kraferrs, and even though they will never be what others call 'pure' Kraferrs, they will still be descendants. By doing this, you're willing to go through it 'til the end of your goal. And I respect that. The ends don't justify the means to me, but hey, I'm pretty happy that we won't be the only half-Kraferrs on this planet."

"But you won't be alone in this," I added, "you can call me anytime and I'll be back as soon as I can."  I stood up, pushing my hair off my face.  "Ilrune had better get me back to Aspheri. They need me there." I smiled slightly at Dominique. "Get Bart to call me whenever you need me here or when you go into labour. I'll help you through it."  Before walking out to the living room, I paused by Bart, talking to him under me breath so that only he could hear. 

You'd better look after her. Pregnancy isn't easy at the best of times, and demonic pregnancies have a tendency to be worse."  Ilrune stepped forwards to take my hand, preparing for the teleportation.  I cast one last look at the Kraferrs, my mask in hand.  "I guess I'll be seeing you.  Thanks for putting up with us and all the crap we've put you through."

 

The End

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