The nursery was a re-purposed artifact room in the Colosseum base. Every waist-level platform had been made into a soft bed for wrapped infants.
“Nearly one-thousand of the richest, most useless people in this city have been fed to the Fey so far,” she said. “From them, the Fey has produced twenty precious Chosen babies. Amazing little blessings that will each have a unique power just like ours. We are starting this city population over, Rat. And I will be its nurturing mother. With enough Chosen, someday the elves will have what they want, too.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, as the healthy, bizarrely alert infants watched them and waved their arms without purpose.
“For every Chosen that is born, that’s really a piece of a new Fey,” she said. “With enough of them, they can all be merged together once more, creating a companion for Cloverra.”
“What’s the point of another Fey?”
“These elves want to see a world like it used to be, with Fey as the most populous race, and elves the most powerful mortals. Apparently once there’s a second Fey, they can reproduce on their own. Don’t ask me what happened that got us to only one Fey. I’m not an elf, and they don’t trust me that much. As for me, I have shorter-term goals. Let me raise some lovely little Chosen of my own. That’s all I want. Let me bring special beings just like us to their prime.”
“You’re probably wondering why I’m here,” he said. “Apart from the fact that, since you hear my thoughts at all times, being away from you is pointless.”
“Indeed. Your mind has been quiet. Why did you come back?”
“Because I give up,” he said.
She turned, eyebrows high. “Give up?”
“I realize what you were saying to me all along, and I’m hearing you.”
Merrian narrowed her eyes as he got closer to her, making her back touch the far wall.
“I am not jealous of you and Claudia, and I am not unable to move on,” she said. “That’s all I wanted you to realize. And while I learned how to live without you, I am happy to pick up where we left off. These beautiful children will need a papa, and there will be a whole lot more. Wasn’t that what you wanted, ten years ago?”
He ran his hand up and down her thigh. “Yes. Put children between a warring man and woman, and things just seem to resolve themselves, don’t they?”
“You’ve got that right. Children solve everything.”
“Children are precious,” Rat said, pulling his knife from his scabbard. “That’s why I must make sure you never get to touch them.”
“Ugh, I knew it. Rat, put that back,” she said. “You don’t have it in you to hurt me.”
In an unfeeling reflex, Rat stabbed through her hand and pinned her to the frame of a marking board. She shrieked hot breath in his ear, and a rush of bubbles followed. The minty, strange presence of Cloverra behind him was just as obvious as the screaming and coughing infants.
“A Chosen is hurt!” it said. “What are you doing?”
“Stay your hand, creature!” Rat roared, dragging the knife up Merrian’s wrist as her tears fell on his forearm. He kept the knife in place with his left hand and dug out the other item he needed, the flask of liquid. “This is a concoction of skymetal gas, and it would easily kill her, me, and every infant here.”
The Fey stepped back, hands up but turned flat, begging silently.
“You give up, huh?” Merrian stuttered. “Give up what? Being a decent man?”
“You’re going to give me some answers, one last time.” He looked to Cloverra, shaking the tube. “And I swear, one little squeeze and this gas goes everywhere. I doubt you want that.”
“Ask,” Merrian whimpered.
“Why did you send me to Nimb Vard, only to let Claudia go free? I thought you didn’t want her learning anything about us.”
“It never mattered. What mattered was her emotions getting pushed. So I had you disappear suddenly, by my doing. That and all the other things I did to her made it finally start to happen, didn’t it? I didn’t see it myself, but I can tell just by looking at you. You know what she can become, and it’s because of me.”
“Why does a shapeshifter matter so much to you, huh? What is the point?”
“The Ven Quari desire one,” she said. “That is all Glaradalle has told me.”
“Rat,” Cloverra said.
“Don’t say my damned name, you filth!”
“Shouldn’t disrespect our mother like that,” Merrian said with quivering lips.
“There’s something you want to know, and I should say it,” the Fey said, pushing back tears. “It was I who pushed you two together.”
He turned toward her while still pressing his full weight into Merrian.
“Chosen who mate with each other produce more Chosen. That way, I don’t have to keep consuming others. So I suggested that the elves guide Merrian toward you.”
“And I was all too happy,” Merrian said, “to make a family. It’s all I ever wanted.”
“But you two were not compatible. It was a mistake.”
“She used me to kill her family!” Rat screamed. “You told this insane woman that she could have a special family to replace the one she hated. This is your fault!”
“Stop arguing with it,” Merrian said. “If you have the guts to kill me, then do it.”
“Oh, I won’t kill you,” Rat said with a grin. “Cloverra. Absorb her.”
“What?” Merrian lurched so hard she nearly ripped her hand off the knife.
“Absorb her into you.”
“How dare you suggest such a thing? I would rather be raped!”
“Please, Rat,” Cloverra said. “I’ve lost Kimora already. Absorbing a Chosen is not efficient…”
“I don’t care,” he said, squeezing the flask. “Recycle one Chosen or lose every Chosen in this room.”
“You will not absorb me, Cloverra!” Merrian said, spittle flying from her red face and dotting Rat’s cheeks. “It will be Sallith all over again, I promise!”
“Oh, good, then maybe when you come back you’ll have learned something,” he said, smooching her cheek. She tried to bite him. “What’s the matter? It’s not so bad, is it? It’s not as empty as death.”
“I lay an unwashable curse upon you.” Her words seethed through her bared teeth. “When Cloverra vomits me out, and it will, I will pursue vengeance with the same determination as Sallith. Do you understand me? I will massacre your life, Rat. And worst of all, your beloved Claudia will get the worst of it. So don’t get too comfortable around her, all right?”
Rat moved out of the way, stone-faced, and waved the Fey over. Reluctantly, the floating nude being turned watery and widened itself to encompass all of Merrian’s extremities.
“Cloverra!” Merrian whimpered. “Think about this!”
“Once you do it, send me back to Nimb Vard,” Rat said.