The inside of the car was so hot that an uncharacteristic flush swept over Áine DeDanann’s fair cheeks. She looked down affectionately at the baby sleeping in her arms, gently tucking the child’s fine brown hair behind one ear so she could see all of her daughter’s face.
Áine sat still on the back bench seat as a curtain of sadness fell over her eyes of crystal violet, just like the flowers would look if viewed through water. Her loose auburn curls framed a face that smiled gently, as if assuring herself of something.
“It will be alright, my love,” she whispered to the child, who opened her eyes at the sound of her mother’s voice. The woman stroked the baby’s cheek in a gesture of comfort, feeling the smooth pale skin so like her own. “I promise you, I will keep you safe. He will not take you. That is the only gift I have to give you now. I am so sorry.”
Tears fell on the pink blanket that swaddled the infant, who blinked brilliant aquamarine eyes at her mother as if she understood what she’d said and all that was happening around her. A tiny hand grasped the Áine’s finger and held it tight. She smiled at her daughter’s gesture and kissed her on the forehead.
“Sleep my angel,” she whispered. She began a soft chant of unintelligible words that filled the car with a sound so melodic it could have been music emanating from the woman’s throat, not words.
The lullaby continued for what seemed like forever, though the baby’s eyes drifted closed almost the second Áine began her hypnotic song. The metal and glass around the two began to vibrate and glow the longer she sang, enfolding the vehicle and it passengers in a shield of energy that protected all within from the outside world.
Time was running short, but Áine was determined to have these last precious minutes with the child she loved more than her own life. Then she would end this tragedy that should never have been allowed to go on for so long. She took comfort in knowing her daughter would be protected from the monster’s vision in this car and that she would soon be with her beloved Michael once again. What happened after her death, she would have to trust to the gods.
She felt his presence before she saw the red light of the demon’s aura through the car window. He wouldn’t see her, but could probably sense her even through the barrier she had conjured to protect her child. Áine would let him pass and appear down the street for their final meeting, so as not to alert him to where her daughter might be. For now, he only wanted her, not the baby. When he realized that would never happen, he would take the child, and that, she would not allow.
Áine unfastened a silver chain from her neck. She slipped it around the sleeping child before pulling the blanket more tightly around the baby to ensure she was protected on all sides. Her hand caressed the pendant, a circular Celtic symbol that looked antique, and moved down to the matching embroidery on the quilt. Both chain and blanket glowed momentarily and then went back to their pristine state of rest.
“Your birthright, my lady,” she said. “Wear it always and trust in its protection, the protection I give to you, most precious daughter of the sidhe. I love you.”
She leaned over the still sleeping baby and kissed her gently once more, spilling one last tear on girl’s cheek. Then she was gone, streaming invisibly out the car and down the street to reappear just feet from the man walking casually to the corner. He stopped, though with no show of surprise on his handsome face. The man was tall, with waves of blonde hair resting on his shoulders. Power radiated off of his huge, muscular frame like heat, a tangible reflection of the menacing aura he wore like a cloak. It wasn’t just pure physical strength that inspired fear when in his presence; it was that extent of raw energy at his command that even the least sensual human could feel a miles away.
Terror shot through the woman’s frame, working its way swiftly and insidiously through every muscle. She stood tall and elegant in a thin muslin dress that accented her healthy curves and angles, her spiral auburn hair flowing about her face and down her back. In front of this golden demon, she looked slight, almost frail. He smiled handsomely at her presence, showing white teeth that had just the right amount of sharpness to them to make such a showing of pleasantry intimidate. His stark nose, gently curling forelock and iced silver eyes smoldered with suggestions better left unsaid at the moment. That single look was enough to speed the woman’s heart with fear and anticipation of what she knew was to come.
“Fearless to the end, my lady,” he said, smile widening. “Where is the child?”
“So you think.” He began to circle her slowly, eyes devouring her head to foot. The man’s black button-down shirt and fitted black dress pants only added to his intimidating presence. As he circled, he stepped closer to the woman until he was within touching distance. From behind, he reached out a hand and captured one of her curls, bringing it to his face.
“Why must you make things so hard on yourself, Áine?” he said after sliding her hair over her shoulder and inhaling her scent from the nape of her neck. His other hand slid from around Áine’s side to lay flat on her stomach just below her belly button. “This could be where my child begins his life. You make beautiful babies, you know. Would ours be any less wondrous than your little halfling?”
“Your mind must be deteriorating faster than the rumors say, Regan, if you truly believe that. Any child of a demon can be no more or less than a demon. Taking me will not purify your line.”
“But it is not purification I seek, my love,” he said, sliding the hand up Áine’s rib cage and over her breast, where it lingered and stroked over the fabric of her dress. She closed her eyes as revulsion slid into her stomach in response to feeling Regan grow rigid and heated behind her. The hand then traveled to rest on her throat, fingers stroking her pulse.
“I will not give myself to you. You know that.”
“Unfortunately, I do. Yet, I offer you one more chance to consider my offer. Stand at my side and merge our kingdoms. We will rule the Draoda Tír together, unstoppable. And I shall allow your daughter to live and flourish in my court. Your resistance has already forced me to slay that human lover of yours. Must you resign your child to the same fate as her father?”
Áine laughed quietly.
“I have given her the freedom to live in a world without fear of demons or dark sidhe. She shall grow to be a child of light, never to be hunted. You will never lay eyes on her again. I do not fear for her fate.”
Regan stood silent for a moment before sighing and tightening his grip.
“Your death makes the girl the next sidhe queen. She will be invaluable to us all, considering her fragile age. Our kingdoms will unite. It is written. Why not save us all the trouble and simply surrender to what should have happened a long time ago?”
Áine pushed off him in a rush of energy she projected backwards into his body. The force propelled Regan into the building behind him, causing brick to crack and dust to rise.
“The hard way it shall be, then,” he said, apparently unruffled from Áine’s attack. “I am not above simply taking what I want, my queen.”
“Then come and get it,” she said, smiling before she launched from her palms an enormous lion made of raw flame that raced toward him, jaws open and ready to devour. He parried quickly, floating above the creature before raining ice down to cool the fire. Regan conjured a cyclone of wind to surround Áine in a vortex that sucked the air from her lungs. She erected a cage of energy to protect her from the winds and bring in air from above the cyclone.
“You have grown strong, my lady,” Regan conceded as he dissolved the winds with a wave of his hand and made his way closer to Áine. “Which makes me want you all the more.”
She built a sphere of water around her enemy before he could reach her, which knocked him off his footing and deprived him of air. She knew it would not hold him for long, but it would buy her enough time to formulate her next attack. Before she could summon enough electricity from the atmosphere to charge the water, the sphere exploded, sending water speeding mercilessly in all directions.
The blast hit Áine like a thousand cinder blocks dropped from stories above and slammed her hard into the concrete sidewalk. Pain tore through her and the world began to swim with darkness when she felt the heavy press of a body on top of her.
“Do you yield?” Regan said as he straddled her waist and leaned over her face, eyes glowing a deep ruby red. “Being my queen could be quite … pleasurable.”
He ran a finger down her jaw line to trace her throat and lower. She spit in his face before he reached the span of skin between her breasts. He looked at her, anger flashing on his face.
“Remember this, Áine. If I can’t have you, I will have your daughter. That is a promise. I cannot promise that I will be as tender with her as I will with you.”
She made to spit at him again, but this time he was ready and punched her in the jaw before she got the chance. Blood trickling from her mouth, Áine smiled.
“I’d like to see you try.”
With those last words, she hit him with a wall of energy that cast him off of her and far into the air above. To stop his fall, Regan had to counter his flight with an expanse of energy below, which crushed into Áine’s body with enormous force.
Blood flowed from her mouth, as tissue and muscle contracted under the pressure of the attack. It would not take long. By the time Regan landed, Áine she’d be dead -- as it should be. She smiled one last time and let the darkness take her to the next plane.