From the depths of the water something emerges. A head. A serpent. Wadu.
Tentacles sprout like hair from the back of its head. Its giant mouth hangs open, sharp teeth dripping with saliva. It pulls me closer. Closer to its jaws. To the darkness I see there.
Asher jumps into the sky. Higher than I think possible. He flies past me. And rams his blade into the beast's eye.
The serpent roars, a primordial scream. The tentacles flail around. I am slammed into the ship. Again. Again. As the creature convulses in its rage. My head aches and rings. My body is splitting apart.
Asher clings to the beast's head, stabbing at its eyes, nose, fighting off the whipping tentacles as it attempts to strike at the demon.
Arrows fly toward the serpent, and I cringe, even in my own pain and panic, hoping none hit Asher. They miss the head and hit only the thick, scaled neck of the beast.
I must help him. I must help Asher.
I strike again with Spero. My hand is soft, my body feels heavy. I drop my blade. My vision fades.
Yami cries out, but it is a far away sound. So far away. And I strain to hear. I am tired. I am sleepy. Maybe, I can just rest. Yes. Rest. I close my eyes.
And then I hear it.
The sound that brings one last smile to my lips.
Baron leaps on top of the tentacle and tears into the beast's flesh, ripping it apart. The serpent loosens its grip, and I collapse to the deck of the boat, air returning to my lunges in a painful burst. I choke, gag, and grab for my sword even as I try to clear my head and regain my wits.
A hand reaches for me.
A hand I have memorized.
A hand I have dreamed of.
I take it, and he lifts me to my feet.
"You know, you really should stop getting attacked by sea creatures," Fen says, his blue eyes so bright.
I try to laugh but it comes out as a croak. "Sea creatures should really stop attacking me."
He laughs, and the moment is too brief. There's still Wadu to deal with. But my heart feels so full, so complete with him here, that it's hard to muster fear or panic.
Maybe I'm still oxygen deprived.
Fen turns to the beast, his long brown hair whipping in the wind, his copper highlights catching the sun. "Asher!" His voice tears through the stormy air.
Asher sees his brother and hops back down to the deck. "Took you long enough," he says, grinning.
Fen grabs a long rope off the ship and throws one end to Asher. They look at each other knowingly, and nod. And then they charge in perfect unison.
They run to the front of the ship and leap into the air on either side of the beast, defying gravity once again, proving how inhuman they are. The rope catches Wadu on the neck and snaps tight. Asher and Fen use the momentum to swing around the beast from behind, tying the rope around the base of the head. The next time they touch ground, they land back on they ship, their places reversed.
And then they pull, moving backward as they do.
Together, they strangle the beast.
It roars and flails. It is not strong enough.
The brothers pull harder, moving further back.
The serpent wails. Its movements grow slower, more staggered, its mighty roars grow weak.
It is a terrible and wondrous sight, to see these brothers coordinate without words, without a plan, to move as one with such fluidity, grace and power. Their knowledge of each other is more profound than anything I've witnessed.
One more pull.
And the beast collapses, its head spilling onto the deck.
Fen and Asher exchange another glance. "Ready?" asks Fen.
Asher grins. "Thought you'd never ask."
They charge forward, swords drawn, and each blade takes the beast in an eye.
They rend their swords free, and the spirit, now motionless, slips off the deck and back into the water's depth, its body fading into mist.
The brothers clasp bloody arms, and the people on shore cheer.
Then Fen looks over to me, leaving Asher as he makes his way to where I stand in just a few long strides. His arms wrap around me and our bodies press against each other. I don't feel the pain of my bruised ribs or the shortness of my breath.
I just feel Fen.
"Welcome home, Princess."
"There are no free Fae save for the Shade, and to call them free would be to play with the truth. All Fae are slaves to one degree or another in this world."
I can't let go of his hand, but we are all wet and bloody, and my head is fuzzy. My knees weak. I start to fall. Someone… Fen… grabs me. He carries me to shore. I lean against his chest, listening to the steady rhythm of his heart. He lays me down, studies my body. Bruised and cracked ribs is the prognosis. He carries me to the castle, to a room, to a bed. Women I have never met before tend to my wounds, wrapping them in clean bandages. They give me a thick elixir for the pain. I fall asleep and dream of Stonehill, of the waterfalls that rumble like thunder, of the rivers that turn rocks smooth. There is pine on the wind and snow beneath my feet. And there, in the distance, beside a frozen pond, stands Fen. I smile and hug him, and for the first time in a long time, I feel home.
I sit on a white bed, a fireplace crackling near me, purple curtains blocking most of the light. A thick rug decorated with an eagle covers the stone floor. This is my room at Asher's Castle. It is beautiful, but it feels too sparse, too foreign, to call home.
Fen arrives with Baron by his side. He is clean, his thick brown hair less messy than usual, and dressed in thin brown leathers, having dropped his furs due to the warmer weather. Baron wags his tail and lays his head on my lap. I nearly cry, seeing the big wolf again. I rub his head. "I've missed you, boy."