“The world as we have known it ends this day.” The warriors, men and women both, needed to hear him speak. The grit and determination in his voice carried as much emphasis as the words themselves. Many cut uncertain glances his way, the deep-seated beliefs ground into them over the centuries nearly as much a part of them as their skin and their magic. Lugh patrolled the top of the castle wall, watching the courtyard below. The elaborate breastplate strapped to him served more as a status symbol than actual protection, even with the magicraft worked into the polished leather. He was the Champion of the Sidhe, even for the Sidhe who would sooner slit his throat than call him their champion. It mattered not. He protected his people regardless, most especially from themselves.
The Sidhe and lesser fey warriors of the Seelie Court spaced themselves at intervals of less than a full arm span. Wood elves, dwarves, selkies, and even a stout-hearted fairy held the line for this final watch, bows, spears, and magic at the ready. Although the technology-embracing world beyond the Mounds long ago abandoned the grace of the bow for guns and other modern weaponry, the long-lived fey of the Mounds shunned such graceless devices.
“Keep a sharp eye on the barrier.” The canopy of magic reached just beyond the courtyard wall, preventing Glamour or teleportation within the castle grounds. If any fey dreamed to raid the stronghold of the Seelie Court this day, they faced more than simply this entire cadre of fey warriors. They would have to best the Champion of the Sidhe, a near impossible task. For greater than a thousand years, only a handful had ever crossed purposes with Lugh and bested him. A few of these skilled warriors manned the line with Lugh now. Others, such as the greatest of the Unseelie guard, had yet to breach the courtyard threshold. His heart harbored no doubts that at least one would challenge Lugh’s mettle and resolve.
Lugh cast a proprietary glance across the outer wall to the fey town in the protective shadow of the castle. The hills rolled into the distance. The internal measure of the Mounds roughly equated to Ireland in width and length. Lugh knew every tree, every step of every path. Twice he held the Seelie crown. Since he was a much younger Sidhe, Lugh held the mantle of Champion. He earned it. The very sunlight in the sky was his gift to the Mounds. The Celts once worshipped Lugh as the god of the sun, for in that lay the aspect of Lugh’s unique magic. All the life that grew and prospered in the Mounds did so by the very power of his love for this place and these fey. He would defend it, and them, until his final breath.
With a great explosion of shattering wood, a boulder crashed though the courtyard gate. No such boulder had been transported though the city beyond the castle. This one had been ripped from the ground and flung with a magic only one Sidhe possessed.
“Jhaer!” Lugh growled, “Bring me your rage, Elite.” With his spear, Lugh pole-vaulted the low parapet and dropped the twenty feet into the courtyard. Using the grace of the fey, he hit and rolled, then came back up to his feet in a charge for the Unseelie intruder.
A volley of arrows whistled over Lugh’s head. A shielding wall of rock flew up before Jhaer, shattering the arrows like twigs. Nothing so mundane could deter the dark Sidhe when the rage claimed him. Lugh dueled with Jhaer hundreds of time over thousands of years. Every time the Seelie and Unseelie crossed swords, Jhaer led the charge. As did Lugh.
This would be the last time, though. Last time as Seelie verse Unseelie, at the very least. After this day, that division would end. The unified Court would rule the Mounds.
“Lugh! Have you been staring at your own magic so long you've blinded yourself?” Jhaer snarled. The rock shield dissipated into a cloud of dust and crumbled away as though cast aside with the contempt poisoning the Unseelie. He would rend Lugh just as viciously if he had blood instead of earth power. A tremble rippled through the ground and Lugh’s nimble feet expected to evade a grasping fist of earth clutching at his ankles.
Those familiar tactics failed to manifest. Instead the ground gave up a guttural rumbling. The very earth before the castle heaved upward in a sheer rock wall that shot skyward and blocked the fey of Lugh’s regiment.
It mattered not. The Champion could fend off the Elite long enough for the Unseelie king and queen to submit their magics to the greater Seelie, or rather the unified, Court.
Jhaer snapped at him, conviction and venom cutting in equal measure. “This must stop! Before it’s too late!”
Lugh raised his hands and with them he brought up a shield of fire in front of Jhaer. “Halt, Elite! You shall not violate the Seelie Court. Not this day of all days!” Lugh charged toward the fire between them, intent on getting his body and his spear between the Elite and the castle. “Stand down! I shall not permit your passage!”
In the Mounds, secrecy was near to impossible. Hardly a fey in the Mounds didn’t know what was to occur. Many he’d expected to protest or to charge the gates had yet to reveal themselves. At this late hour the ceremony must be nearing completion. No one, not even the very head of the Unseelie Elite, could not stop it now. Nor would Lugh allow Jhaer to mar the day with his rampage.
“One Court, Sidhe! We can be brothers. This feud can end! It should end!” Even as he said this, he prepared to fight.
"Light and dark can not merge. One will always consume the other. You know this! Yet the arrogant Seelie’s hunger for power would rather destroy everything than have balance!" Jhaer sank into the ground that enveloped and then closed over him like quicksand.
Lugh cursed the slippery magic that allowed his opponent to evade him. He felt through the soft soles of his boots the slight tremor as the Sidhe traveled beneath him. Lugh rushed to follow. As Jhaer reemerged from the ground, a great tremor rocked the courtyard. A crack climbed the outer wall like a growing vine, reaching ever higher.
“Trying to bring down the entire castle?” he snapped at Jhaer. “Danu is in there!”
The Unseelie stumbled backwards before catching himself; his wide eyes followed the crack in the wall. “Would I knock myself off balance? Open your eyes, Lugh! Something is wrong!"
Lugh rode out the next quake, but just barely. His feet remained under him only by his fey grace. Thunder rolled across the sky and then the sky itself flickered. Or rather the magic that gave the ceiling of the Mounds the appearance of a sky. Fractures like a spider’s web shattered the illusion. As long as Lugh lived, the Mounds would have sunlight, so even without the sky and sun illusions, the world was not cast into darkness. But without the magic the great bowl of rock overhead became visible for the first time in Lugh’s thousands of years of recollection.
“All-Mother…” he breathed. The dread stabbed him like a knife to the heart. Danu was in peril. And so were the Mounds.
Jhaer raised his hands, fingers curled as if clutching something invisible. The cacophony from the crumbling rock slowed to the rumbling roll of distant thunder. The ceiling caved in elsewhere, the echoes reached them across the expanse of the Mounds, but Jhaer’s mastery held the rock above them together. The Unseelie trembled with great personal strain. Sweat beaded along his skin and made his black hair glisten.
“Help Danu! NOW! I can't… hold it up… much longer!"
Cursing the magic that prevented him from teleporting, Lugh found his feet before Jhaer finished speaking. The rock wall Jhaer erected before the castle broke into chunks that slumped without Jhaer’s will binding its shape. Lugh bound over the debris and raced into the castle, even as all others scrambled to flee it. He dodged great chunks of falling plaster as it crashed from the buttresses arching high above the rotunda and grand staircase. The rubble shattered on the marble stairs. Plaster dust floated on the air currents like mist as Lugh cut through. Screams echoed from everywhere. Lesser fey scrambled to and fro, but Lugh paid no heed to any of them. He saw no Sidhe. Not one.
Heart pounding, he used the handrail to catapult himself as he raced up the long, curving stairwell to the second level. No one need tell him where to find the All-Mother. All fey connected to the Mounds possessed a sense of her. No guards manned the watch outside the throne chamber. No bodies strewn about to explain their absence. No blood. No dropped weapons. Fear for friends and lovers kindled behind the greater dread that brought him to a sliding stop on the dust-covered floor just inside the chamber.
In the center of the oval chamber… a lone woman curled onto her side on the floor. The fine layer of debris dulled the shine of the blond hair draped about her. Her slender back, decorated with premium fey brocade and lace, faced him. Like a finely crafted statue, she remained stone still. Unalive.
“No,” Lugh exhaled. Utter shock drained the strength right out of him. His spear clattered to the floor with hardly a notice that he’d dropped it. If not for the quake that pitched the building and lurched him forward, he might not ever have broken the paralysis of shock. “Danu…”
Lugh scrambled forward as the very world gave a shudder. The Mounds were crumbling. Dying.
As the All-Mother was dying.
Lugh gathered the tall, thin frame of the Sidhe All-Mother into his arms, rolling her body as he lifted. The handle of a silver dagger gleamed, driven to the decorative hilt in the very heart of Danu. Twice again as ancient as Lugh, Danu’s delicate beauty remained unchanged from the innocence of grace she possessed at seventeen. Not even the pallor of bloodlessness could rob her of her Sidhe perfection.
The Creatix of the Mounds… The All-Mother of the Tuatha de Dannan… The people of Danu… The Sidhe… The single unbreakable tie binding together all magic in this fey realm…
Stabbed in the heart.
“No!” Lugh rose to his feet even as the light and illusions beyond the balcony flickered and crashed down from the sky. Her hair and the drape of her long skirt spilled from Lugh’s arms and reached the floor. Embracing her limp body tight to him, Lugh rushed to the back of the throne room, to the great crystal globe balanced on a pedestal and throbbing with centuries of magicraft. Lugh kicked the globe, driving it from the pedestal. It crashed down onto the floor and shattered into flakes of enchantment like a pile of snow. The barrier against Glamour and teleportation disintegrated.
Jhaer’s strength finally faltered. The precious minutes the Unseelie bought Lugh were spent. A great crack and rumble shook the building as the ceiling of the Mounds gave way to the tons of rocks and earth above. It hit the rotunda, which stalled its descent only a fraction of a second. The Mounds came down with crushing force just as Lugh teleported Danu away.
The story continues in End of the World - Champion of the Sidhe #1