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The Hidden Fortress
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Cold.

Cold enough to keep us shivering. Not quite cold enough to pitch us into hypothermia. Just sufficient to sap will and strength, to cause a constant bone-deep ache in my joints, to numb hands and feet.

Not cold enough to hold down a fever. Lugh's temperature rocketed, and I could smell his badly-cauterised leg turning septic.

He shivered, sweat rolling down his face, dripping onto my skin as I held him.

'Didn't think you could get sick, old man.'

'Get h-hurt enough...too of-f-ften, the h-healing breaks d-down..'

I smoothed the hair back from his forehead, put a cold hand on his brow.

'Hang on, Lugh. Just hang on. I will get you out of this, I promise.'

'K-know you will. J-just ...it'll be my w-way...'

'Not a chance.'

Another spasm of shivering ripped through him.

'Are y-you...really...that c-cruel, lass?'

I couldn't answer that.

 

They took him away again, the brightness half-blinding me as the door swung open, though in reality it was dim lamplight.

Had to consider that. If we could get out, it would need to be when we had time for our eyes to adjust; we'd have to leave when there were only a few of the Fomorians around. So, maybe during a raid on our home side – assuming most of them went. We needed to know when the next battle was being planned. Then we had to find a way of keeping track of time... I slammed the flat of my hand against the wall in frustration.

 

They threw him across the floor with a degree of force, then turned to look at me where I crouched in the corner.

A wide, needle-toothed, unamused grin spread across the warty face of the one nearest the door.

'Going home soon, human. Hope you don't want to see it again...'

The other slapped him across the shoulder, shoved him towards the doorway. 'Enough, Chicol. You know what the Eye said – we get our chance to do some real damage before she goes.'

I tried to ignore them, glanced at Lugh slumped in the opposite corner. No hands. No feet. He tried to lift his head and I choked back a cry as I saw the bleeding pits where his eyes had been.

Then the door slammed, and we were back in the dark.

 

Sounded like he was being sick.

I scrambled across the cell to stop him choking on his own vomit.

It took me a while to realise he was laughing.

'What?' Disbelief swept through me; how the hell could he laugh at a time like this? When he was...oh gods, Lugh.

He rubbed his head against my cheek, greasy hair soaking up the tears I couldn't stop from falling.

'Got news.'

'Save your strength.'

'No t-time. H've to t-tell you n-n-now, y'h've to g-g-go.'

'Going nowhere without you.'

'St-stop being so f'k'n n-n-naive. Th-they h'd a skirm'sh last n-night. S-someone's us'n the S-sword.' He paused, hacked out a laugh. 'Only one oth'r I k-know can d-do that.'

'O'Brion.'

My heart lifted a little. He had kept his word. So maybe Ryan and Rob were okay.

'Yeah. Canny lass! Know wh't y'were up t'now...B-balor's real piss'd. They go again, s-soon...c-could be goin' n-now. You h-h-have to f-follow.'

'No.'

'Th-there's m-more.' His voice was getting weaker. I brought him water, sucking it up into my mouth, letting it flow into his.

'Save your strength.'

I felt his head shaking, no, no.

'Balor g't a w-weak spot. S-saw it 'fore he..'

'I know, lad. You need to rest.'

'NO!' I could feel him fighting to sit up, wedged my shoulder behind him and propped him up against me.

His head rocked back against me, voice hissing in my ear.

'Liss'n. B'k of the n-neck, just b'hind the jawl'ne. Arm'r plate c'm loose. C'n see the p-pipes...'

A chill ran through me.

'The hydraulic pipes? The ones that open the Eye?'

'S'right. Y'got t'get him s-soon, 'fore he f-fixes it. Only chance.'

Gods help me, he was right.

I felt my stomach sink, turn to ice.

I felt his head turn, a soft kiss on my cheek.

'Not goin' t''come back from this, love. D-don't want to go on. End it, lass. S-send me home. Please...s'last thing I can do f'you...'

My mind's eye saw a curl of smoke rising through autumn trees, the glint of evening sun on water and I heard the ring of a hammer in the forge.

A selkie couldn't be the price for the Lord of Annwn.

After I lost Hal I'd planned it would be me, once this was over.

Part of me wondered if Lugh had known all along. Sorrow wrapped me like a physical thing, a hurt that gripped my heart and tightened like a noose round my throat.

The tears I'd been trying to hold in ran down my face, trickled into the corners of my mouth, acrid and salt as the sea that had taken Hal.

 

'Oh, Lugh.....I'll try to make it quick and painless.'

'I k-know.'

 

I shifted round, laid him down on the cold floor, gently lowering his head.

My hands cupped the sides of his face, gently stroking the scrubby growth of beard.

'I'm sorry, Lugh. Sorry I got you into this.'

The stub of a forearm rubbed against mine.

'Nothin' to be sorry for, lass. Y'saved me, rem'ber?'

I could feel the corners of his mouth turn up under my fingers. Bent down until I could feel his breath, put my mouth on his, and kissed him.

His lips parted under mine, hungry for that one last taste of life.

I let my fingers find the sides of his neck, felt the slow throb of the artery on each side. Pressed down slowly, cutting off the blood and oxygen to his brain.

Kept the kiss until his breath ceased, and his heart stopped beating.

 

Then I broke his neck, to be sure.

 

There was a click from the doorway as the wards broke. I opened it a short way, to let some light in and get my eyes accustomed to it.

Told myself that the blurring of my vision was just from the brightness.

Felt white-hot rage boiling up inside me.

Let it come.

Couldn't leave Lugh crumpled on the floor. I laid him out properly, his arms across his chest, legs straight, feeling my anger build all the while.

Smoothed back his straggled hair.

Kissed his forehead.

Not right to leave the Hero of the Fae in this dank, cold tomb.

 

A scratchy whisper in my mind.

Dry slither of scales on marble floors.

>>Morrigan...<<

Bring it on, Corchen. Show me what you've got.

Somewhere, something, someone, gave a long, satisfied hiss.

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