* * *
by Edmondia Dantes
Disclaimer: Not mine. No money for Dia from this thing. They belong to Disney and Shakespeare and themselves.
AN: Long time coming, eh?
* * *
- Chapter Four -
Light flared, exploded, and was gone.
* * *
She blinked the brightness away and peeked through the foliage.
Nothing. The field was wiped clean of any growing or living thing. It looked bleached, the ground dry and cracked, pale in the light, wan after the dazzling display of a moment before. She swallowed nervously, her throat suddenly dry. The prince was a bit more powerful than she had thought.
She almost screamed when a hand fell on her shoulder.
"Excuse me." The voice was soft, polite, tinged with an aristocratic accent. Cobweb felt her stomach plummet to somewhere around her knees.
How did a member of the royal family wind up here? Then again, the prince was embroiled in the thick of the fighting, and had just wiped out several people she rather despised.
So she swallowed again and glanced down at the pale hand that rested on her shoulder with a grip that could have splintered bone. She blinked several times. With a grip like that, she would have expected someone ten feet tall and made of rock. Instead, it was finely boned, uncalloused, and rather dainty. A boy's hand, not a man's. But who could tell with their kind?
So she gathered her nerve and turned around.
Her first thought was that he was cute. Her second thought was that he was going to kill her.
* * *
Titania rubbed her eyes and dropped the corpse she found herself holding.
She flung herself to his side. Barely hanging onto consciousness, he looked up at her dazedly, blinking blearily. "...Tania?"
She frowned, smoothing back the bangs from his face. He made some unintelligible noise, thick lashes fluttering shut. How could he expend that much power at once? she wondered, scooping his head into her lap. His hair was a mess, spread around him in a thick ivory pool that fell over her legs and glowed like moonstone against the dry earth. He looked pale.
So it was that she wound up teleporting her husband back to their camp and bellowing for a full retreat.
No one stopped them when they went, silence heavy in their wake.
* * *
Her lips turned down in a grimace.
Apparently her son hadn't approved of the abduction of his child. So this little thing had done his duty, gathering the prince's affection where the child of his body had none. Even now she could sense the resentment simmering in the child, beneath a shivery sense of fear and confusion.
Her little Oberon did not know what he was doing, expending all of that energy. He'd have to rein in his temper if he thought he would survive this war.
Her nails dug viciously into tender flesh, and to his credit, the trickster did not flinch.
* * *
David looked rather pale. His hair had gone loose in the blast, and it now looked like he had bed-head. Fox spit some dry grass out of her mouth and considered her options.
She'd grabbed David and dived to the ground when the light had started to blaze. Then there had been some strangled screams and a thick, still silence that choked the air.
For a moment, all was calm.
Until she saw her mother flash by, wreathed in flame, to the center of the empty battlefield.
So she looked at her husband and wondered what to do.
* * *
Cobweb had seen him. Watched him, in point of fact. Watched him slice off someone's head and dance with ease around a woman she knew for a fact was one of the fastest on Avalon.
And she desperately wished she could have thought of something more appropriate to say than, "Oh fuck."
Those very pretty eyes narrowed, and she winced, waiting for her innards to be removed. But the hint of an evil smile curved those perfect lips, and she suddenly felt fear of another kind. Long fingers slid lightly over her shoulder, darted up her neck, and tilted her forward until she was nearly nose-to-nose with him.
"Now," he said in a voice like smoke and honey, "what were you doing here? Not playing the part of a warrior, I see," he purred, tugging briefly on a silver spangle strung in her hair, "Not playing the part of a thief nor a spy."
She desperately wished she could regain the use of her tongue. Around cute men it tended to forgot how to work. This was the first time she'd been around a cute man who could kill her without blinking, however.
She didn't like the feeling, even though he was so very close.
Those eyes were colder than ice, intent and clear as starlight. The fingers beneath her chin were deceptively gentle, and the angelic beauty of his face was equally enthralling and frightening. No, I don't think he's my type at all, she thought, and had the uncomfortable feeling he knew exactly that.
"What shall I do with you, hmm?"
Damn you, mind! Cobweb swore to herself. She did not need visions of what he could do polluting her mind when most of her people were running away or dead.
"I think, perhaps, you should come with me. I've heard Lady Mab doesn't take well to turncoats."
His eyes flashed emerald. "If you're not, I'm going to have to become rather unpleasant."
She stood her ground. Cute, menacing, and much stronger than her. Life sucked, but at least she'd go out with a good view, right? "I may disagree with the queen... psycho bloodsucking demonic... err, well, I suppose I may be interested in perhaps no longer serving her."
"Reallllllllllllly," he drawled, the glow fading. "Good. You're much too pretty to kill."
Cobweb blushed from her toes to her hairline. "Uh... I... that is to say..."
One pale eyebrow rose. "You're in Mab's court and you stutter. How've you managed to stay alive?" He questioned, a suddenly playful grin teasing his lips.
Okay, he's weird and cute and powerful. Such is my life. She glanced away, pretending to be humble, and knew he saw right through it. "I'm just a servant."
He snorted lightly. "One could say the same of me."
"No servant kills that many people that quickly."
"I'm talented," he said, soft and dark enough to make her creepy monitor start blaring warnings.
"I'll bet," she said, and her voice squeaked. Squeaked.
Cobweb looked into brilliant blue eyes and felt mortified.
* * *
Aliel stole a glance at his... not-brother.
His grandmother knelt in front of the thing, her fingers sliding lightly through his milky hair, making soft tsking noises. The boy, eyes slitted, jaw set, didn't move, though his hands were clenched into tiny fists.
He blinked and leaned forward. Why was grandmother fussing so much? She'd made him... so she knew everything about him. But didn't she know everything about everyone? He bit his lip and tried to think.
~An exercise in futility.~
His head snapped up, cornsilk hair falling over his eyes. The other boy hadn't moved, but there was a slyness about him that hadn't been there a moment ago.
Mab frowned and hauled him up by the rich fabric of his tunic. Aliel winced. He knew the look on her face, the painful familiarity of her nails digging into his chest, the mental probings that were like an iron dagger to the brain. He'd always whimpered and looked away, tried to be as soft and silent as possible just so she would stop.
His brother, then, was nothing like him.
The Puck locked eyes with his creator and growled. It should have been a soft, childish noise, as ineffectual as the baby-soft hiss of a kitten.
It was not.
The temperature in the room plummeted, but he didn't know if it was because of the queen or the boy. Aliel took a step back, poised to flee.
"Are you so afraid of this little trickster that you would run away?" The queen scoffed, still holding the boy aloft, a cruel smile on her lips.
Aliel swallowed and sank to the plush carpet meekly.
Puck placed a hand on the queen's wrist, lightly, curiously. She arched a fine eyebrow.
The hobgoblin flipped himself over her, tumbling in midair before landing squarely on Aliel's head, sending him flailing face first into the carpet.
Mab laughed, delighted.
* * *
She'd always thought he was adorable when he was asleep. It still proved to be true, though the circumstances were certainly a million times more unpleasant than usual.
She ran her fingers through his long hair, idly smoothing out tangles.
He stirred, mumbling something incoherently. His eyes slowly fluttered open, and he blinked sleepily at her.
She leaned over, taking his hand and pressing it to her cheek. ~My love?~
Her throat hurt suddenly, and she didn't know why. ~With your mother.~
He winced. ~Our baby...~
She cuddled against his chest and tried to resist the burning behind her eyes.
* * *
They jumped off of the flying thing's back with a shouted thanks that earned them a completely blank look.
And then a girl dropped out of the sky and landed right in front of them.
Big, dark eyes; long, slightly rumpled hair; a very skimpy outfit; and an expression of bewilderment flavored with a tinge of abject terror.
David glanced up. "Hey yourself."
A tight smile touched the trickster's lips. "Not quite, I'm afraid."
His expression was carved from ice, his voice glacial. "I just got kidnapped. Forgive me if I seem a bit testy."
"Watch her, won't you? She's gone Benedict Arnold on Mab."
"Wait! Who is she?"
He glanced down and snorted faintly. "Cobweb."
* * *
The velvet was brushed aside.
Titania's head snapped up. Who dared?
"Chill. It's just me."
She blinked. How strange, to have forgotten him...
Oberon shoved himself up on his elbows, glaring through narrowed eyes at the Child. ~Did you know?~
That small jaw set in an achingly familiar motion. "How could I?" he hissed, the air suddenly tense with unspent power. "I wouldn't have let it happen if I had a choice."
She pressed a hand to her husband's chest and shoved him back into the pillows. Puck drifted closer, ducking his head. ~Do you remember at all what did happen?~ she asked.
He bit his lip, tilted his head, his eyes going blank. ~Kinda,~ he said faintly, lost in memories of a long ago right now. ~Light and stars and Her and... water.~
But he was staring at his hands and didn't look up.
* * *
He was a strange little thing. She'd forgotten how strange, but now she remembered.
All teeth and claws. Viciousness wrapped up in a delicate package. She was quite proud of him - he was perhaps her finest work. And he didn't have a clue as to his own soul. It was a pity, his ignorance, for she knew he hadn't used his true power yet. He didn't even know it existed. Though he was still very small, she reminded herself, very very small and entirely too attached to her son.
She wondered if, during all those times her son had tucked the boy behind him protectively, Oberon had any idea of what the child had been made to do.
He really shouldn't keep tossing Aliel into the fountain like that. It was rude.
* * *
They stared at her. She stared at them. Then the bright-headed woman smacked the man on the shoulder, and they started speaking wryly in strange tones she couldn't understand.
She might have tried to make a break for it, but she'd seen them both during the battle, wielding iron weapons with ease, and so decided that being soft and polite was the right thing to do, since she'd never fought a day in her life.
She chewed nervously on her thumbnail, casting an anxious glance over at the dark tent. He'd gone in there over a half hour ago, and still hadn't returned.
Visions of doom filled her head. By Avalon, please let the prince be nothing like his mother.
The relaxed babble of conversations washed over her, and it seemed vaguely surprising, the laughter and swearing and tense-voiced strategy sessions, all casual. No need to be on guard all the time, fearful that someone might rat you out.
Either you were loyal or you were dead.
Cobweb tried desperately not to look like the end of the world was at hand.
* * *
He clung to the shadows, soft and dark, his voice low and muted. "Something that hurt. Explosions?" He shook his head, his frustration palpable. "I don't know. Stop asking me! And even if I did know, why would I tell you?"
"You can't remember more?" Gentle, soothing, and if the child had been closer he'd have petted the soft ivory hair and searched the clear eyes for a sign of deceit.
"...It's been... a very long time."
Titania leaned forward, peering intently into his eyes. "How old are you, anyway?"
The boy smiled, but said nothing.
A long pause, and then delicate fingers snapped in sudden remembrance. "There is another thing," Puck said quietly, glancing almost shyly over at the prince.
Oberon started at the sudden change. "What?"
"Who, actually. We've caught ourselves an enemy who doesn't want to be one."
One fine eyebrow arched. "A traitor? My mother's children are turning against her?"
"You did." He pointed out blandly.
Oberon blinked. True enough. "Who?"
"A girl. Cobweb. Dark hair, dark eyes, doesn't look like she can fight for crap."
"Wasn't she one of your mother's attendants?" Titania asked musingly, drumming her fingers on the dagger tucked into her belt.
"I wouldn't be surprised." The prince shoved himself up, straightening his hair and rumpled clothes.
"Send her in."
The boy sent them a glittering grin. "As you wish."
* * *
David blinked several times. He really would have to get used to Puck just appearing out of nowhere, really he would, because it was undignified to be caught off guard like that. Blinking! His reputation would be shot to hell.
"Hello. What the hell is going on?" Fox questioned pleasantly, and he sent her a worried glance. He rather thought getting to beat the living daylights out of so many distant relatives might be getting to her.
Puck rolled his eyes and settled comfortably in midair. "Basically, life sucks. I just got kidnapped by a lunatic, princy-boy tired himself out blowing up the army, and that little cutie there hates Mab's guts."
"Oh, is that all?"
"More or less. N'dayal?"*
The girl looked up and visibly gulped. "Sastanke thossum zameya..."**
Puck grabbed the girl's silver-gloved hand and pulled her along behind him, and David couldn't help but notice how incredibly red her face got.
Fox looped her arms around his neck and peered over his shoulder. "Aww... that's so cute!"
David frowned thoughtfully. "Kinda old for him, isn't she?"
* * *
It truly seemed he'd forgotten his purpose.
Mab scowled at the tiny creature, who in the course of the last half-hour had nearly drowned her grandson six times over, choked a maid, and ripped the insides out of two promising young warriors.
She suddenly giggled. ~Pretty little boy, do you miss your papa?~
Soft-soled boots took a hesitant step backwards, uncertainty flickering across his face. "Whassit matter t'you?" he mumbled, looking away.
Insolent brat. She should have known better than to give him to her son. It had ruined him. "Why don't you speak properly?" she snarled.
He pouted. "'Cause."
"Your brother can speak properly, as befits his station."
Aliel's head shot up from where it had been buried in his arms. "He's not my brother!"
"Oh, perhaps, perhaps. Your father's certainly quite fond of him. Much more than he is of you."
Aliel flinched, and when she had turned away, sent a glare of pure malice towards the trickster. Puck tilted his head and glared back.
Mab thought they looked ridiculous. So she laughed, loud and long, and ignored the looks of startled horror on both of their faces.
"Don't fight, little ones." Mab's voice was far colder than ice and twice as sharp.
Two tiny mouths snapped shut, two pairs of blue eyes widened.
"Soon, my darlings. Then we shall see what we shall see."
Neither made a reply.
* * *
A hint of smoke and summer and rain, touched by sorrow, embraced by wilderness, flavored with silver and drenched in gold and scarlet.
The faintest brush, an ever-so-delicate touch against her mind, and her decision was made.
It seemed her son's favorite had gotten quite a bit older very suddenly indeed.
She tugged at the bonds, snarling as they proved unbreakable, ripped and tore till the child lay curled in on himself and screaming. But the connection remained, pure and clear and strong, and for once in her life the queen found herself unable to do as she wished.
Because none other could do it, she clapped irons on the littlest one, seized the other, and was gone before they knew what had happened.
* * *
"Children, my lady?" Hope and awe imbued the deep tones.
"Many dangers haunt my kingdom. They must have sanctuary, or all is lost." Her imitation of a long-suffering parent was flawless.
The priest bowed, elaborate robes pooling about him like spilled wine. "As you bid, so we serve, my lady."
"It matters not what happens, as long as our dear ones are safe. Let no commoners see them, let no commoners know they are here. Tend to their needs and make them happy. Spirit children such as these must be protected."
"They are beautiful, my lady. We are blessed by their presence."
"They are the dearest of my children, the youngest and most fragile. Treat them as you would me."
"The twin heirs to my kingdom."
The priest's eyes widened. He bowed again, lower than before. "We shall love them as if they were our own, my lady."
She smiled. "See that you do."
A flash of dazzling light, and she was gone.
Sepulchrave  turned his eyes down to the children of the gods.
Twin boys? They looked somewhat alike, both slender and delicate, with the same upturned nose and porcelain faces. The elder looked barely eight years old, with bright blue eyes that peeked shyly out through soft gold bangs. The younger was tiny, barely five, with hair as pale as moonlight and a glare that nearly froze the marrow in his bones. Both were clad in the royal scarlet and gold, a shadowy cape on the slim shoulders of the elder, and what looked rather like some dark metal around the wrists of the younger.
The two did not stand together. When he approached the elder, the boy took a skittering step backwards, his eyes widening and taking on an eerie glow. He frowned, decided not to press this shy prince, and turned to the other. That boy parted his lips in an almost silent snarl, revealing sharp canines that were completely at odds with the rest of his physical appearance.
Sepulchrave instinctively took a step back.
* * *
"You can stop shaking now."
Cobweb tried valiantly to cease shivering. It really was terribly embarrassing. But by Avalon, the prince was tall! And when he scowled he looked... she dared a glance to her side. Exactly like him.
"Who are you?" She demanded, planting her feet and scowling at him.
He raised an eyebrow. "Just another average guy."
Like she believed that. "Liar."
He folded his arms elegantly, looking at her with a vaguely amused expression. "Am I?"
She glared. "You have to be. Think I didn't notice the way they looked at you?"
One slim finger came up to stroke his chin thoughtfully. "What way?"
"Like you were either their savior or their favorite brat."
He shrugged. "Think what you will."
"I think-" she began venomously, but was cut short by the other, starting backwards, his eyes suddenly very wide as he bit his lip. His gaze was somewhere far away, but at the same time precisely where he was.
"They're gone..." he breathed.
"You... what? You're right there!"
"I am, but I'm not."
Cobweb blinked. "Come again?"
He shook his head sharply, frowned, then gave her a look that made her freeze where she stood.
"I'll need another," he said, his voice blank and remote as a distant star. "You'll do, you know the brat. And even I am not that cruel."
She didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but her instincts were screaming at her to run far, far away.
The glance he flashed her way made her cringe. Cool, focused, deadly. Predatory.
"Where is the island?"
Her voice died, and she tried again to speak. "Which?"
He didn't blink, but she could suddenly feel the overwhelming pressure of his power, a threat as clear as the moonlight that poured over the land.
Cobweb hadn't meant to speak, yet, "Mab has a refuge... humans live there..."
A slow smile curved his lips. "Really? Then I know where they are."
She wanted to scream and cry and just get away. But she couldn't.
* * *
They didn't notice either of them. He'd turned his hair short and black, changed his eyes to green, and debated for a long time before turning his skin a dusky bronze. He looked just like the rest of them. She'd dressed herself like a lady of the night, all leather and smoky makeup. He lifted a dagger off of a guard, a throwing knife off of a very bad thief, and some fine jewelry off of an old woman who was so busy screeching at her son-in-law she wouldn't have noticed if she were run over by a Mack truck.
Things never changed.
They slipped through the crowds like the water that surrounded their isle, their sole destination the shining temple of blue stone that glowed in the night like a beacon.
Wards surrounded the place, though he had half a mind the mortals hadn't put them there. She found a weak spot, and with a little effort they slid through, into the great courtyard that mirrored the night sky, so polished were the stones.
~Go,~ he whispered, and she gave him a curious, suspicious glance, before darting up the marble steps towards the heavy doors.
~Take care...~ she murmured as she vanished inside, but he doubted her sincerity.
He skipped over a high wall, landed atop a fountain depicting a pleased goddess, and vanished into the tree shadowed garden.
He thought he'd make a rather good cat burglar.
* * *
The tiny one was kept in a separate room, one lined in tapestries and covered with plush carpet.
He looked far from happy, even though the cheeriest shrine maids had been sent to make him smile and to fuss over him.
One girl, the youngest, noticed that the color slowly drained from his face, and he started to shiver, even though it was very warm in the room. His eyes were closed, his teeth gritted, and though he was a god's child, he reminded her of her baby brother just before he had died.
She ducked away, hid behind a statue, and ran all the way home.
* * *
He didn't cry.
His arms were burning and he ached and he couldn't see.
He didn't cry.
Pain ripped through his body, clammy and cold, ice and fire intertwined.
He didn't cry.
* * *
That strange little creature was chattering at him again. Aliel tried to huddle back more into the pillows and found he couldn't. But they had given him food, strange things that he didn't like the taste of, and several young girls (at least he thought they were girls, though he'd never seen any girl wearing so many clothes) had been fluffing the pillows and touching his hair.
They smelled funny. Not like his kind. And they wore strange smells on top of that weird scent, fruity and flowery and sickeningly sweet to his senses. But they had sweet smiles, so he guessed it was okay. The sweetest one was the one who didn't fuss, just patted his hair and offered him food, instead of shoving it in his face. She was little, like him, but dark-skinned and round, with big dark eyes and black hair. He liked her, but not the others.
But grandmother had said that he must stay here. So he let them fuss and fiddle and poke at him, and he didn't like it at all.
* * *
Some weirdly-dressed little man was holding her arm and blabbering. Cobweb stared blankly at him.
The hand slid down her arm and around her waist, and he pressed his face closer. He reeked of sweat and long nights and mortality.
She shoved him away. He swore at her, grabbed her wrists with a grubby hand, and yelled something.
Her eyes narrowed, while his widened in sudden terror.
And if anybody heard the scream echo through the vast hallways, they made no indication of it.
* * *
He tilted his head, surprised. Now why would a mortal man be screaming?
~Damn pervert!~ the outraged shriek rang loud in his head, and he stifled a chuckle.
But no... not just yet, not just yet.
He had an uneasy feeling. Atlantis didn't exist in his time. And the city was dedicated to Mab. Something dark whispered in the back of his mind, and he wished, he wished he could remember what had happened. Light and dark and water...
He shook his head sharply and continued the search.
* * *
They'd all seen him vanish, the girl in tow. And now...
Her mother looked worried.
Her stepfather looked exhausted.
Her husband looked anxious.
Fox hadn't a clue how she herself looked, but was willing to bet it wasn't pretty.
It felt like her guts had all twisted up and acid burned in her throat.
She desperately wished she knew where Puck had gone.
* * *
The trickster slipped into the room far more silently than a ghost.
He lay there, huddled on the floor, pale white, eyes scrunched closed, fingers clutched into ragged holes in the thick carpet.
Pain exploded in his head, sent a shock spiraling down his body, made him want to retch.
Heat and cold and agony...
And all he could remember was that he knew he was dying.
The disguise swirled away on the horrifically cold night wind.
He wasn't aware of how brightly he was glowing, he wasn't aware that the contents of the room had melted, he wasn't aware of anything except himself.
And that precious barrier he so carefully maintained crumbled as if it had never been.
* * *
Cobweb sighed in relief when she found him.
She gathered the boy up in her arms, and he blinked at her, confused. "Can we go home now?"
She was about to reply when she was nearly bowled over by the shock of another's rage.
He's losing it! she thought, and didn't know how she knew.
She clutched the child against her chest and ran.
* * *
The touch of the iron bit into his hands with a vicious cold. Puck flinched against the chill and pulled harder.
~Hurts...~ his other self whimpered, and he gritted his teeth, trying to block the pain for both of them.
He knew the catch was there, somewhere, because these things had to come off or he would die.
They clattered to the ground with a loud 'thunk' that hurt to hear.
But he was beyond pain now.
He swept the child onto his lap, cradling him against his chest, one hand smoothing his hair back from his face. There was no difference in color between the two.
Remembered and current agony, wild and nigh-overwhelming, tore at his senses.
He tried to soothe the ache, but the tiny wrists were mangled, hanging limp and dull, the skin twisted and melted away, revealing only the pale glimmer of magic that was slowly and painfully perishing.
The child shivered into the softness of his shirt, and he ducked his head, pressing a kiss to the tangled, dirty mass of hair, settling a blanket of warmth around the tiny frame.
One or the other closed his eyes, set his jaw and refused to cry.
Neither noticed the flash of brilliant emerald energy that obliterated the building. The glow around them flared like a second sun in its wake.
And the little boy, his eyes dark with new, ancient knowledge, parted his lips and giggled darkly. His elder tossed back his hair and laughed, the sound vicious and wrenching, melding with the other, catching and echoing across the towers like a proclaimation from hell.
* * *
And again, and again, until there seemed to be nothing but the unholy light and the sound, the laughter ringing loud and cruel over the cries.
* * *
Cobweb pressed the child against her chest and fled for Avalon's shores.
Aliel watched and felt all, wide-eyed and silent.
* * *
Fire blazed through the streets, devouring the city with a wicked hunger, and they did nothing to stop it.
Some sobbed, some sang, some curled into a ball and tore their hair.
The high priest, the chosen of their goddess, lay dead at the edge of what once had been a triumph of human engineering.
* * *
The land trembled, shuddered, bucked like a dying thing.
The people did not notice as the ground split open. They did not notice the dark water creeping higher, sliding into the street and dousing the fire, twisting and plunging through the alleys, sweeping away houses and children and life itself.
They did not notice the crash and roll of the waves as they tore down the mighty towers.
* * *
Atlantis plunged into a raging ocean beneath the light of a midnight sun.
* * *
And somewhere between eternity and nowhere, a goddess-queen giggled, clapped her hands, and sang gaily of her dear, clever little child.
He'd grown up marvelously.
* * *
On Avalon, Oberon was nearly sick with the wild magic that battered against his senses.
* * *
And two mortals clutched each other, vaguely wondering... "What have you done?"
* * *
The two laughed again, glorious and triumphant, over the endless sea.
* * *
* - Hey. You ready?
** - Oh fucking hell. No.
* - Yes. he is named for Lord Groan from Gormenghast, now that you ask.
Written 2002 by Edmondia Dantes
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