Chapter 21- The Eleventh Hour
Rain pulled back the black velvet backstage curtain to peer out at those assembled beyond. They were unlike any people gathered that she had ever seen, even at the otherworldly Maison Rouge. Hair of all colors, extravagant make-up and fanciful dress defined them all. Fully three quarters of these people had to be Fae, for she could feel the pull of their magic, almost see it in the chill of the night air dancing about them. They were seated or standing around the myriad of tables beyond the huge stage which had been erected in the middle of a great clearing in the woods just outside of town, beyond which lay the Noir cliffs. Candles and lanterns cast flickering light upon the impossibly beautiful faces of the Fae and the secretive faces of the Mortals who had come to see the art exhibition hosted by Arent Lavander, as well as to greet their Jade Prince. The air hummed with anticipation, and she could feel the tension in it so strongly she had to restrain herself from reaching out and plucking it.
“Come away, mine Lady,” came the Germanic accented voice of Moeve, her Dark Fae mentor. The woman was the perfect image of a strict headmistress, with her severely pulled back black hair and piercing blue eyes. Her manner of dress recalled the look of the 1940’s and Rain had the sneaking suspicion this one had been very disappointed when the third riche had fallen. Rain let the curtain fall and followed the woman, though she could have stood and drunk in the energy of the gathered folk all evening.
“Moeve, what are those two big things hidden under the silk coverings on the stage? I could swear I feel the pulse of life in them, and they smell of fear,” she asked the woman as they walked a little ways behind the stage to where an elegant motor coach served as Rain’s staging area. All about them members of the house of Maison Rouge came and went, putting the final touches on the night’s event.
Moeve paused a moment in her step, but resumed her strict walk immediately. “They are Heir Lavander’s surprise. What they are, I can only guess,” she answered as she opened the door to Rain’s trailer. “Now, the Lady Z’iel awaits you with some final instructions. It would be best not to keep her waiting.”
The jade eyed Rain did as she was bid and went inside. Waiting for her was indeed the Opal Prince and someone else, a dark presence that at first gave Rain such an ill feeling that she wove a ward of shadow about herself and readied a spell lest he try and assault her.
Z’iel laughed softly. “That was wonderfully done, little one, but you need not worry about my pet Ash here. He’d never harm you. Would you, my pet?” She turned her color changing eyes upon the shadowy figure to her left, his features hidden by darkness. Her voice dripped honey, but Rain had the feeling her words were meat to taunt Ash, not to placate her. Rain dropped her spells, but remained weary of the silent figure. She could not read him, sense any emotion from him at all. Nor could she see beyond his shadows, which had not happened to her before. Ever since she had begun honing her powers, nothing seemed beyond her and the fact that he was irritated her.
“Moeve said you had some last minute instructions for me,” Rain stated flatly, her pale eyes trained upon the Light Fae’s perfect face. Clearly she wanted Z’iel to know she was in no mood for the woman’s games. Sometimes she wearied of the Light Fae’s constant double speech and her games. She had for a time delighted in the power of them as Z’iel had ushered her into a dark and fanciful world that she had not even imagined existed. However, in the last few days, and especially since her dream the other night, she had grown weary of the Opal Prince.
Z’iel caught the tone of Rain’s voice and her eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. “I do. Vermillion asked me to express his regret to you that he will be unable to attend this evening, as he has pressing business which will not wait. Arent, however, will be along shortly to make sure you know when to come on stage at the end of the show. You are to stay here until you are called for, and then you will be brought on stage for the final event of the evening. He plans to reveal you to the Fae as their Child of Darkness, a place of honor and respect.” She smiled sweetly.
Rain sighed. “Is anything else required of me?” She asked. A few days ago she would have reveled in the idea that she would be the center of the attention of so many Fae, that they would bow down before her and acknowledge her as their Lord. Tonight, however, now that the time had finally come, she just wanted it to be over. She did not feel the elation and dark pleasure of this being Fae that she had since first arriving at Maison Rouge, and much of her now only wished for her old life back, to live in anonymity and obscurity forever. The visions of the dream she had had still haunted her, and somehow she just could not feel right about the dark mystery surrounding this art exhibition.
The Opal Prince sat forward in her lush chair and took Rain’s hand. “What’s the matter, my dear? You seem kind of upset.” The woman schooled her features to be the flawless mask of deep, friendly concern.
“I’m not sure, really,” Rain answered noncommittally. “I haven’t been sleeping well the last few nights. I just feel like there’s something odd going on upon which I just can’t place my finger.” Rain’s pale green eyes met those of the Light Fae.
Z’iel ran a soft hand along Rain’s chin. “I know this is all a lot to get used to, my dear. With trying to learn what it means to be Fae and all the stress of your friends betraying you, I can’t imagine what you must be going through. I just want you to know that I’m here for you, and that after this evening, no one will ever be able to hurt you again. Lavander has an amazing surprise for you.” She smiled reassuringly, patting Rain’s hand. Through her mask Z’iel was fuming. She could sense that all her subtle spells were unraveling about the girl, as if somehow either Rain or someone else had cut them with a blade. The enchantments which had emboldened Rain and freed her darkest side were fading, freeing Rain to think clearly once more. That was dangerous for them all with the culmination of centuries of work only hours from fruition.
Showing none of these thoughts and feelings, however, Z’iel only smiled softly. “Let me get you something to drink, Moeve’s elixir, perhaps. I think all the stress of this event is just wearing you down, and that should make you right,” she had been about to say ‘as rain,’ but the absurdity of the pun mandated that she finish with, “as can be.” The ivory haired woman stood, and as she did the door to the motor coach swung open to admit the dashingly attired Arent Lavander.
His wild pale purple hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail, leaving his strikingly attractive features the center of attention, those deep violet eyes most powerful of all. He was dressed in a three piece suit of exquisite Italian design, black with a dark purple dress shirt and tie beneath. When he entered an alluring smile lit his beautiful face, and only slipped a fraction when he saw that Rain was not alone as he had expected her to be.
“Ah, Z’iel. I had not expected to see you and your… friend here. I hope I am not interrupting anything,” he stated politely as he closed the door and stood in the shadow shrouded entryway.
Rain’s eyes darted from the face of one to the other. It was perfectly clear to her that the friendly tone which he had adopted was for her benefit only, for she could practically see the animosity radiating off of the two of them. Z’iel’s color changing pale eyes flashed dangerously when she saw Lavander, though she smiled as sweetly as ever. And as for the art dealer, every muscle in his body was tensed, as if he expected a fight to break out. Rain found their behavior to be very strange, and it occurred to her that she had never seen either in one another’s company before. Is there division between those loyal to Vermillion? If so, I wonder why? She though. The thought caused her to ponder what implications that might have.
“Nothing at all, my dear Arent,” Z’iel answered him with a purr. “I was just about to fix our beautiful Rain here one of Moeve’s elixirs, as she’s not feeling all that well at the moment.” Her eyes were like mocking daggers as she regarded him, making the drink as she spoke.
He turned those striking eyes to Rain, now alarm and concern replacing the challenge which had been in them as he had warred with the Opal Prince. “Not feeling well? My belle, what’s the matter?”
Rain shook her head and smiled shyly. “It’s nothing, really. I’m fine.” She laughed. “I really am just being silly. I think all the chaos has just made me more tired than I had expected, and I’m still getting used to controlling my powers, which takes a lot out of me.”
“Of course,” he said with empathy. “As I’m sure it must. Well, just take a drink of this,” he handed her the glass which Z’iel had handed him. “It will make you feel completely better.”
Rain accepted the glass, and held it in her hand for a long moment. The liquid was a red so deep that it looked almost black except for where the dim light caught it. For some reason she could not bring herself to drink it, a sense of revulsion for the unknown liquid filling her. “I really am feeling so much better,” she said looking up at Arent. “Whatever was bothering me has passed. I don’t think I need this.”
“Drink it just to be sure,” Z’iel replied coaxingly.
Rain’s eyes narrowed as she turned to look at the woman. Some of the fire which always seemed just below the surface of her emotions, flickered to the surface. “Why? Why are you so insistent that I take this? Every morning it’s the first thing you ask me, if I’ve taken my elixir. Is there’s something you’re not telling me, my friend?” Her voice was icy, and the last word accented so that there could be no doubt that said friend was under great suspicion. Rain slammed the crystal wineglass down upon the table beside her. “I’m not drinking it.”
Z’iel looked as if she were about to cry, her flawless mask of a face now one of hurt and sorrow. “I… I’m sorry, Rain. I just thought to help.” She hid her face in her hands a moment before pulling herself together. “Come on, Ash. Clearly we’re doing more harm than good here, we’d better be away. We have matters of our own to see to.” Without looking at either Rain or Arent the beautiful woman and her abyssal companion left the motor coach.
As the door closed behind them Z’iel’s lips curled into a loathing snarl. “How dare that little tart speak to me like that? I will show her, Avatar of Nightmare and Vermillion’s future Queen be damned. I still know what her weakness is, and how to kill her. She had better watch her back!” Through the shadows which clung to him, Ash seemed almost to be amused, though his features remained as frozen as ever. He had known a moment of almost pleasure when the Dark Child had yelled at the bitch Prince of the Light Fae. He hated Z’iel, but could not help but obey her. He was her slave, though he knew one day he would have his revenge upon her.
“Come on,” she said with a voice of ice. “Arent and Vermillion may think that Velorum and his fool Watchers are not prepared, but that is not a risk I’m willing to take. I can feel the Lord of Life mustering his power, and that means they are on their way. Let’s hope Amethyst, that posturing idiot, gets this done with soon so that by the time they get here it is too late.”
“Echo.” Ash said softly, his voice no more than a whispered hiss.
Z’iel smiled darkly and laughed as they headed into the night to meet with those who would be guarding the parameter with them. “On indeed, my pet, indeed. Tonight you may have her head, just as I’ve been promising.”
This time he did smile, and that smile held all the warmth of Death himself.
Back in the motor coach, Arent Lavander knelt before Rain, one of her hands in his own, deep violet eyes holding her in their intense gaze.
“Do you believe in fate, ma belle?” He asked softly, never letting fall his stare.
Rain blinked a moment, wondering what that question had to do with her outburst and the Light Fae’s exit. Still, the power behind his eyes compelled her to answer him, and not for the first time she wondered what powers he might have of which he did not speak. “I believe that there is a path in life upon which each of us is set. It is the greater design of our lives, and the purpose for our beings. However, unto each of us is given the choice as to where that path might lead, the choice as to what kind of life it will be. We may choose how to react to any given obstacle we find along that ordained path.” She returned his gaze with equal intensity. “So, I suppose my answer to you would be that yes, I do believe in fate. However, it is our choice on how to execute that fate, and ultimately what kind of person we will be, regardless of that fate.” She tilted her head to one side, a very birdlike mannerism. “Why do you ask?”
He smiled in an almost secretively amused manner and stood. “I was simply curious, my Cherie. With so many people telling you that you are fated to be one thing or another, I was simply curious while I had you to myself for this one, quiet moment, thus begging the question.” He looked at the watch upon his wrist and his face clouded slightly. “I must go, but I will send Lynsey when it is time for you to ascend the stage.” With that, he bowed and made for the door. He had almost reached it when he heard her voice and turned.
“What lies beneath those silk coverings on the stage, Arent?” She asked softly, almost with a hint of danger.
For a moment he was reminded that in less than an hour’s time he would be facing the deadly Avatar of Nightmare. His ability to control her then hinged on how she felt about him now. He flashed her a charming smile, the smile which had melted the heart and stolen the soul of many maids throughout the ages. “A wonderful surprise for you, ma belle. Tonight will be a night to remember.” He swept from the coach and headed to the stage to begin the night’s festivities.
Under dark quilt of the star enchanted night and wrapped in the embracing arms of Mother Night, the Unseelie prepared for the coming of their Queen. Faery and Mortal alike enacted dark rituals long forgotten by others of their kinds, ancient and unholy rituals. Though to the outside observer they would all have appeared to be watching a delightful art exhibition, the illusion was a spell for the unwitting. Behind the dark vale of magic, the gathered Exile Court of the Unseelie made ready for the Awakening of the Avatar of Nightmare.
The Amethyst Prince led them in their spell weaving, for he was mighty among them and one of their High Lords. It was by his will and power that they were called hither, and by it eternally bound. For many, this night was the culmination of centuries, even millennia of planning and preparing. All the proper pieces were in place, from the harnessing of the power of the Dark Lay Lines, the astrological alignment of the heavens, and the tainting of the Dark Child, to the acquisition of the perfect sacrifice in order to Awaken the Avatar. All had been perfectly planned; nothing left to chance, at least, nothing that they could directly control. There was yet one final test, one final key which would make or damn them all.
At long last, Amethyst gave the order for his Fire Fae right hand, Lynsey, his favored pet, to bring forth the Dark Child. As she crossed the stage and came to his side, a bright smile on his face, he turned once more to address the audience.
“My brethren and friends: from all corners of the world we have come, drawn in this hour and to this place. We come to see the Awakening of our long awaited Avatar, she who shall stand as our Queen, and bring about the downfall of any who might stand in the way of our glorious ascension. For too many ages the enemy has stood between us and the realization of our ancient dream, too long have they branded us Exiles. Tonight, my friends, that Exile comes to an end, and a New Age begins!” His voice rose in a fevered pitch as the Faery and Mortals listed up their triumphant cries to answer his stirring words.
He turned to Rain, who stood feeling very small and more than a little afraid. All the fire and passion she had felt when she had gotten angry with Z’iel seemed to have vanished, and now the simple and shy girl she had always been was all that was left to her. Something in the passion and frenzy of the assembly disturbed her on a deep level, some latent Fae intuition screaming at her that something was terribly wrong. In the eyes of the man she knew as Arent Lavander, she saw only fire and a kind of crazed passion.
“Come, my child,” he beckoned to her, holding out a hand for her to take. “Come and meet your Fate. Be who you have always had the power to be, and scourge the earth of all who stand in your way.”
He led her to the two large covered objects, the hungry smile of a predator stalking his lips. From an ornately carved wooden box upon a table before him he drew out a long dagger. It was of simple make and design, but upon it were set endless runes and spells. He handed it to her.
Rain turned her confused eyes to him. “What is this?”
“The key to your future, ma belle.” He closed the distance between them until he became the only thing in her world. No longer could she hear the voices of the shouting Fae and Mortals. Nor could she see anything but the fire in his deep Amethyst eyes. In a voice that was hardly more than a whisper he began to speak, and his words held her as surely as any chains could have done.
“You are the Child of Darkness, Avatar of Darkness and the Night. All of shadow and mystery, of dark, and night obey your will. But there is another side of you, one which has been warring for freedom for centuries. You, my beautiful Rain, are also the Avatar of Nightmare, Bringer of Destruction, Raven of War, and Queen of the Fallen. It lies within you the power to level those who have hurt you, broken your heart, and reforge the world anew as you see fit. You have but to do one small thing, and the endless power of the Universe is yours to command.”
He motioned and the silk coverings fell to reveal two teenage girls tied to great rune carven monoliths, gagged and obviously terrified.
“They,” he said in a voice which dripped with loathing, “are the servants of those who would seek to deny you, to hurt, and betray you. They came to do you harm, and have been poisoned against you.” Amethyst leaned in close to her. “They would kill you if they thought you had come into your full power, for that it what Velorum has sent them to do.”
Rain shook her head, eyes transfixed upon the girls. One was pale, with almost white hair and fine features. The other was olive skinned, lovely, and had white streaked warm brown hair. Both had eyes full of fear and pain. For Rain, the thought that these two could really have come to do what he said seemed impossible.
Before she could form more of a coherent thought, Amethyst put a strong hand beneath her chin and forced her to look at him. “You must take that dagger and slay them, Rain. End their treachery and become who you were meant to be. With their betrayer’s blood the Avatar of Nightmare will be set free within you, and you will never need be afraid or helpless ever again.” With a firm hand, he propelled her before the girls, waiting for her to do as he commanded.
Rain stood before them, trembling. How can this be? She cried to herself. What have I come to? I don’t even know what’s real anymore! She wanted to scream, but somehow the act just would not come. Velorum, Tear, and Echo lied to me, but at least I never felt like they were trying to make me into something I wasn’t. Every fiber of my being tells me that this is wrong! A soft voice, that from her dream the other night, came to her once more; loving, comforting.
Then follow your heart, Child of Darkness. Follow your heart.
I can’t, she wanted to cry. There was a very real part of her which reveled in the thought of the crimson blood of these two betrayers spilling upon the stage and covering the cold stone. It screamed for her to slit their beautiful white throats and drink their blood… and her hand crept inch by inch toward the exposed neck of the pale, white haired girl.
That’s right, came a purring voice very like her own into her mind. That voice was born of the Void, unholy incarnate and full of despair. Spill their beautiful vermillion and set me free… I tire of your whining.
It was like a knife to her soul. Vermillion. The word, meant as a color, slid all the disjointed half truths and hints into one cohesive image in her mind. Vermillion: the Ruby Prince of the Dark Fae, High Lord of the Unseelie. She had seen his ring and never noticed it, saw his ruby eyes, the eyes which no Fae could hide, not even the Avatars. She had felt the oil in the sweetness of his voice, and seen the fire in him as he poisoned her against everything she had once been. Vermillion, King of those of the Exiled Fallen Fae, her betrayer and the one who had cursed her so very long ago. With a force which took all of her strength, she threw the dagger to the ground and whirled upon Amethyst.
“I know you now,” she hissed as her jade eyes flared silver. “I remember you now, though you have been poisoning me, tainting me to your cause. And I know your Lord as well. I am not your pawn in this Faery war, Prince of the Unseelie. I will not be who you want me to become.”
Amethyst laughed in her face and a condescending smile settled upon his face. “I have made you into nothing, girl. You would rally against the truth because you do not want to face it. But the fact of the matter is that where you are concerned, I have never lied to you, nor has my Master. You are the Avatar of Nightmare. You will bring about the end of this world and the new age of the Unseelie. It is your fate, Rain, who you were born to be.”
“No,” she screamed, fire and rage burning inside her.
“It’s true and you know it!” He yelled back, advancing upon her. “You liked it when you tortured the innocent with Z’iel! You delighted in the power of your magic! You felt the power of a God when you bent the shadows to your will! All of these things you cannot deny! You are the Avatar of Nightmare, and there is nothing you can do to escape it! You will destroy everything you have ever loved! It is your Fate!” The shadows about them grew, for he too was a master of them as a Prince of the Dark Fae. His features became more angular and pronounced, his ears lengthening into points. But more stunning than any of that, the breathtakingly beautiful gossamer and shadowy dark violet and black wings which marked him as full Fae. He was aglow with the majesty of his power. “You are the Avatar of Nightmare, Rain. By your hand have countless hundreds fallen throughout history. You have brought about famine, bloodshed, and terror. You are Darkness in living form, the stuff of Nightmare. Since before the dawn of time you have been, accept it. You are Darkness, the Avatar of Nightmare.”
His words tore at her soul like shards of glass, rending her into pieces. Rain felt as if she were going to go mad, for the two contrary forces of her being warred for supremacy within her. She could see images of a hundred lifetimes go tearing through her mind, all of them affirming every word he had spoken. She saw herself in biblical times laughing as the children of Israel perished by the hand of her shadows. She saw the death of a hundred Crusaders at the end of her long sword. In all times she saw devastation, and always she was there. Her mind fractured, screaming. She could not escape the blood, or the hellish laughter of the Avatar of Nightmare within her as she laughed. At a loss for anything else to do, she turned and fled the stage as fast as she could, vanishing into the shadows of the forest beyond.
Amethyst swore and gave chase, only a few steps behind her.
The thick forest swallowed the sound of the roar which sounded at the entrance to the clearing in which the gathering was being held. At last, Velorum, Tear, and the Watchers had arrived.