The King did not know what to say. Though the sky was blue once again, he now saw figures in white with bows just like his own. He didn’t know what was happening, but at this point, he knew that he had to get back to the palace and ensure that the boys were safe.
“How could you pierce their armor—”
“Skymetal for skymetal,” a light voice said from behind him. “You were not the only one to seek commission from Nimb Vard.”
The stub-nosed, leering elf had two others behind him in similarly adorned uniforms. They were made from pure scintillack, a shimmering white metal so soft that it could be confused for polished leather.
“I take it you’re not from Inria?” Sallith said, still getting his breath. At this point, he could only stall.
“I am Glaradalle Sunspear. Patriarch of the Ven Quari Elven Covenant. I am normally the most discursive of elves, but for you, I have far fewer words. Here they are: The city is ours.”
“You cretins think these are all of the city guards?” Sallith asked.
“Oh, we are aware that you have more guards. But the city is ours. Our weapon, that Fey before you, will soon be ready to do what is necessary.”
The scintillack-armored elves had fired from the audience level, and they scaled their way down on hooks and ropes, each like a descending white tear on the face of his black Colosseum. How did these vermin hide in my city for so long?
The elves, bearing no magic in them whatsoever, hurriedly picked up the skymetal pieces and threw them aside, reducing the smoldering and melting of the Fey.
It was so close to being weak enough to capture. I was so close. Or rather… that was the point. Make me leave my perch.
“You were working with the Ven Quari elves?” Sallith asked, looking toward Merrian. He had expected a woman in her position to seat herself in his throne, but she still hadn’t moved.
“I have no other choice. Not that they command me. There simply is no group more worthy of support. And there is no sacrifice more worthy than this.”
“Every man, woman, and child in Mirek shall be consumed by the Fey,” Glaradalle said. Sallith froze in place. “We give you a simple choice. Maintain the calm of the people, and convince them that they either have this, or death. If you refuse, you may die now.”
Sallith reached for another arrow, but it was hopeless. The tightening of at least twenty other bowstrings told him he’d never get a piercer through this elf’s eye in time.
“You know that compared to death, being one with the Fey is—”
“Hold your tongue before I rip it out,” the King said.
“How fiercely independent. But you, out of anyone in Mirek, knows that to be absorbed does not mean death. We do not wish that upon your kind. But this city will serve as the Fey’s union. Guide the people to their purpose, and you will be spared.”
“So I make my people climb inside that monster, and get swallowed up like that ogre-man, Kimora.”
“Or, you may die here and now. We know that making Cloverra absorb you again would only slow it down. There is nothing complicated about this negotiation. Help us or die.”
Enough of the metal had been scattered away that the Fey was beginning to regrow its strength, and its wings. It walked, panting. Does such a thing really need to breathe? Sallith wondered.
“Glaradalle…” the childlike voice said, as the being came closer behind Sallith. “Why? Why are you doing this? I don’t want to absorb the people here!”
“The soil must be fertile, Cloverra,” Glaradalle said. He reached into a chest pocket and brought out something that made the Fey wither backward. It looked like a giant pomegranate aril, egg-like yet geometric with tight, transparent red skin. Behind it appeared to be a metallic seed. “We have given you your way for thousands of years. No more. Sallith has created your perfect feeding ground, and we will not ignore this chance. Do this for us, and for you. Resurrect Latalla, or the effigy breaks.”
“Fine! You win!” the Fey said.
Sallith’s mind churned. Did that elf call the Fey ‘Cloverra’? The God of elves? And what was that about resurrecting Latalla? How is some fake god dead or alive?
“You’ll really proceed with the operation?” Glaradalle asked, his squeezing fingers putting pressure on the unpleasant red skin-egg.
“Yes. I will. Just let me do one thing.”
“One thing?” the elf asked.
Then Sallith felt the nude arms and chest of the Fey hugging him, and bubbles swarmed all around him.
Again. It’s happening again.
Sallith roared far beyond the capability of a pure-blooded human. His body went thrashing and striking for every part of the thing he could feel before being pushed down onto hard sandstone steps. It was dark, and his eyes would need to adjust, but the steps and the severity of the sudden blackness told him exactly where he was.
Sallith scrambled onto his back, but the Fey wasn’t there. Only the trace of a few bubbles that vanished like little dots in his peripheral vision. The high frame of the portal to Nimb Vard awaited him, a few more steps down.
The Fey reappeared in another splash, then vanished. This time, it had delivered Cole, his most rebellious.
“Cole!” He was up in an instant. “Are you alright?”
“I think so. Something grabbed me.”
The Fey returned two more times, delivering Maximus, the largest boy, and Pali, the palest.
“What’s going on? What was that creature?” Pali snapped.
“Where is this?” Maximus said, spinning his head left and right before backing away from the portal frame. “Father?”
“I have to go back now,” Cloverra said, floating next to Sallith, and he swiped at it in reflex. “Glaradelle won’t like this, but he’ll accept it.”
It’s restored already. Unbelievable.
“Why would you do this?” Sallith said. “Why do you care? Why not just absorb me again, you insect?”
Cole began to speak “What is—”
“Silence!” his father screamed.
“I will hold off Glaradelle as long as I can,” the Fey said after a deep breath, “but I will have to obey for now. I will tell him that I sent you far away, because I care about the boys. But go through the portal. Come back ready to stop them.”
“Are you really their god?” Sallith sneered. “Why don’t you stop them?”
“I know you hate me. But what they are doing is wrong.”
Sallith had a million responses that all pushed against each other, like his subjects desperate to escape from the Colosseum.
“I have to go back now,” it said. “I’ll try to do what I can, but it’s up to you to stop them. And don’t give them a chance to break that thing.”
Then Cloverra was gone. Sallith’s eyes were adjusted, and the frame of the portal responded to his intent, creating the picture of the Nimb Vard throne room, shining in metal hues like an open chest of pirated treasure.
Mirek’s sky had turned from a perfect blue to a deep red, and back. Now, once again reacting chaotically to Cloverra’s presence, it had turned a sickly chartreuse. The bizarre changes had drawn nearly every citizen into the streets to watch, which also aided in the Ven Quari’s next step.
“Attention, rabble of the city walls!” Elven criers shouted through every street, repeating the message over and over. Each was in a procession of archers ready to shoot the defiant, especially the guards. “Your city is taken, the walls and exits are sieged, and your King is gone! You will report to the Colosseum when demanded, willingly or through pain. Until then, stay where you are.”
No one dared try to rush through the streets to the Divide and out of Mirek, as a few jumpy resistors lay with arrows in their legs, whimpering. The more brazen dragged themselves, leaving blood trails. People in the Colosseum had fled for home, and now they were where they belonged, huddled near windows but away from the light of parted curtains.