CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE: Death

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CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE: Death

“Well, he’s quite the winner. I can see why you fell for him.” Eirnin’s eyes were a swirl of brown, red, and yellow. Story sighed and bit back the cutting retort on the tip of her tongue. He was just scared of losing her, angry with Morrigann—and probably himself—and still a bit jealous. Though why he would be, she had no idea.

She faced him and took his face in both of her hands. “Yeah, well, you never had to be-spell me to make me like you. I like you just as you are. You have so much more to offer me than he ever could.” She laid a feather soft kiss on his lips before smiling against them. “Besides, you never tried to kill me, so that’s got to count for something, right?”

Eirnin chuckled, and she watched his eyes settle. The colors didn’t completely fade, but they did become more subdued. He pulled her into a tight embrace, and she rested her chin on his shoulder.

“What am I going to do with you?” His breath rustled against her hair, sending a shiver up her spine.

“Whatever you’d like. Just so long as it involves me being with you.”

He leaned back and looked her in the eyes, and when he saw that she meant it, he raised an eyebrow at her.

“Copycat. Can’t even come up with your own silly lines to express your feelings for me.”

“I figured if I had to suffer through them, so did you.”

He laughed and kissed the tip of her nose. “Right, let’s get out of here and back to your seashell. I feel like we could both use a nice, long night of… sleep.” He waggled his eyebrows at her, and Story elbowed him in the ribs with a chuckle.

She pulled out her compass to get a good bearing on which way they should go to get back to the lakeshore; she certainly wasn’t going to ask Morrigann for directions. She looked through the glass surface of her compass and froze. They were far enough away from the Faerie Prince that it should have been working properly; sure enough, it wasn’t spinning. But it also wasn’t pointing back the way they’d come. Instead, it was pointing unerringly to her right; perpendicular to the clearing they were just in.

“What’s wrong?”

Story held up a hand, silencing Eirnin and the selkies. She looked in the direction the compass pointed. At first, she saw nothing and probably never would have seen anything had Eánna not gifted her with elf sight. But then, a hundred meters or so away, she saw it: the sickly-looking apple tree, incongruous with the healthy trees around it. It was weighed down with several dead and dying branches, and a few silver apples were hanging from one, sickly, yet living limb.

She felt as if she’d been struck by a lightening bolt, and in an instant, she knew.

The Ailes.

She raced toward it without a second thought, ignoring Eirnin’s calls and the selkies’ barks. She would only have one chance at this. Her mother had warned her. Eánna had warned her. She knew better. Morrigann would never have allowed himself to be so easily beaten, and he always had a trick up his sleeve. Always.

This time the garden was not so accommodating. Roots rose up out of nowhere to trip her, branches tangled in her hair and scratched her skin, but she didn’t care. She ran. Story spared a quick glance over her shoulder just in time to see two trees move to block Eirnin and the selkies from her. He was hacking at limbs with Aiolus, and Pinni and Ped were tearing branches off with their powerful jaws and claws. But she couldn’t wait for them, she was nearly there.

She looked ahead at the tree and pumped her arms harder, forcing her legs to move faster. Her calves and hamstrings protested—she was not a sprinter—but she ignored them. The Ailes—and she was completely certain that it was—drew nearer, beckoning to her.

Twenty feet.

Ten feet.

Five feet.

A swirl of golden sparks coalesced in front of her and Morrigann appeared.

“You should have taken the apple, Story.”

He thrust out with his arm, and she felt a sharp tug in her exposed abdomen. He twisted his wrist and pulled out his gleaming obsidian blade, covered in her blood, careful not to let a single drop near The Ailes.

Despite the sudden ringing in her ears, she could hear Eirnin screaming her name and the selkies howling in the background. She collapsed against the Faerie Prince, having lost all sensation from the waist down, and he cradled her in a morbid lover’s embrace. Morrigann lowered her carefully to the ground and pulled the amulet from her neck.

“That’s better; now I can see your pretty face properly.” He placed a silencing finger gently over her mouth, tracing the contours of her lips with his fingertips.

“Shhh, talking will only hasten it and make you more uncomfortable. Besides, isn’t this what you want? Now you’ll get to be with your precious family again.” He smiled at her before leaning over and kissing her gently on the lips. She batted at him with ineffectual hands, trying to push him away, but she was already too weak. He smiled down at her once again and cleaned his blade with her sarong. Then he looked back at her frantic companions.

“I’ll even do you one last favor. I’ll send the elfling to meet you in the hereafter, or whatever it is you mortals supposedly have.” Then he left her, discarded like a broken seashell.

Story struggled to get up to call out a warning to Eirnin, but her body refused to cooperate, and her lungs seized with every breath as if she was being smothered with a wet towel. She looked down at her hands and saw that they were completely coated in red, and something that should not have been poking out of her abdomen most definitely was.

Pain exploded through her body as she pressed a hand against her stomach, pushing back in what was threatening to spill out. She wanted to simultaneously throw up and pass out. Instead, she covered the wound with her palm as best she could, though the blood still flowed freely between her fingers. As she fought her clouding vision, Story’s world narrowed to perfect focus on one goal; she started dragging herself the remaining five feet to The Ailes.

Morrigann may have fatally wounded her, but if she could just reach the tree, Eirnin would regain the ability to wield magic again, and maybe, just maybe, that would be enough for him to get away. Enough for him to live. Besides, she’d be damned if she died without a fight.

Spurned on by her determination, she covered the most difficult and most important five feet of her short life. The sounds of a fight raged on behind her, and worry for Eirnin intruded, distracting her, but she forced herself to focus and have faith in his fighting ability, the amulet’s protection, and in Aiolus’s sting.

Three feet. Her head felt heavy, as if it suddenly weighed twenty pounds.

Two Feet. She couldn’t feel her fingers.

One foot. Her entire body burned as if it was on fire.

Six inches. She had to rest.

Her breath was labored, her vision completely blurred, and red stained mud coated the skin of her legs as they dragged behind her through a trail of her own blood. She clung to the edges of her remaining consciousness, reaching toward the nearest root of the dying tree with her crimson stained hand. Pain burned through her abdomen, and she nearly passed out from the agony it caused her. She could feel her wound tear and grow from the stretch, but she didn’t care.

Just.

One.

More.

Inch.

Her fingertips grazed the dead wood, and it was enough.

Story fell onto her back and saw the single living branch bearing the silver apples over her head. A mighty crack rent the air, and the earth shook as if it was being torn in two. As soon as it started, it was over, and the silence was deafening. All she could hear was the sound of her own labored, gurgling breath. And then, in a moment of perfect clarity, she watched as the silver apple turned into a bright red one.

She knew then; it was finished. The elves had been saved.

Eirnin has a chance, she thought with a pained smile.

And then, Story died.

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