Charmed Vengeance

The Aether Chronicles - 2


Suzanne Lazear

For Reina and Rachel.

Thank you for never giving up on me, even when I gave up on myself.

Dim vales-and shadowy floods-

And cloudy-looking woods,

Whose forms we can't discover

For the tears that drip all over!

Huge moons there wax and wane-


Every moment of the night-

Forever changing places-

And they put out the star-light

With the breath from their pale faces.

About twelve by the moon-dial,

One more filmy than the rest

(A kind which, upon trial,

They have found to be the best)

Comes down-still down-and down,

With its centre on the crown

Of a mountain's eminence,

While its wide circumference

In easy drapery falls

Over hamlets, over halls,

Wherever they may be-

O'er the strange woods-o'er the sea-

Over spirits on the wing-

Over every drowsy thing-

And buries them up quite

In a labyrinth of light-

And then, how deep!-O, deep!

Is the passion of their sleep.

In the morning they arise,

And their moony covering

Is soaring in the skies,

With the tempests as they toss,

Like-almost anything-

Or a yellow Albatross.

They use that moon no more

For the same end as before-

Videlicet, a tent-

Which I think extravagant:

Its atomies, however,

Into a shower dissever,

Of which those butterflies

Of Earth, who seek the skies,

And so come down again,

(Never-contented things!)

Have brought a specimen

Upon their quivering wings.

—Edgar Allan Poe, “Fairy-Land”

And we fairies, that do run

By the triple Hecate’s team,

From the presence of the sun,

Following darkness like a dream.

—William Shakespeare,

“A Midsummer-Night’s Dream”


The Sacrifice

“Welcome everyone to this special day.” High Queen Tiana’s voice carried over the crowd. “We gather here, as we always do, to honor the magic. Without it we wouldn’t exist, and neither would the Otherworld.” She paused and looked at the people assembled in front of the Lake of Sorrows, basking in the attention. “Like everything else, the magic must be nourished or it grows weak and fades away. We bring nourishment to her as thanks for all she does for us.”

In her chair, Charlotte shivered in spite of herself. James stood beside her, squeezing her hand. She gave him a reassuring smile in return. She was ready to go, but the love of her life wasn’t as at peace with her decision. At least they’d had this much time together. For that she was grateful. She looked at James and her friends Noli and V. Soon, it would be time.

Certainly, today was a festive occasion and she took comfort that the end of her life was celebratory, not somber. A big arch of greenery, purple and gold flowers, and ribbons had been constructed in front of the Lake of Sorrows at the edge of the wildwood.

“This has been a trying cycle, as it grows harder and harder to find the right mortal girl,” the queen continued. “But a girl with the Spark has been found. This mortal girl volunteered to be the sacrifice, offering up her life to preserve all of ours. It gives me hope that there are still young mortals willing to make such a choice.” Queen Tiana looked at Charlotte and smiled. It wasn’t comforting but triumphant.

Everyone seemed to think so much of the fact she’d volunteered. But she was dying. Since she had the Spark, that extra bit of something some mortals had, why shouldn’t her death mean something? She’d rather feed the land, the sentient magic that composed the Otherworld and kept all its citizens alive, than die unwanted and forgotten.

Charlotte looked at Noli, who’d turned away, her face contorting in pain. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t get her friend to understand. V pulled Noli to him and she leaned her head against his chest.

“Noli, I chose this,” Charlotte whispered. “This way it means something. Remember that, all of you. Take care of him, please?” Charlotte whispered to Noli and V. She prayed James didn’t mourn her too long.

“Of course we will.” V clapped her shoulder.

Charlotte squeezed Noli’s hand. “Live your life. Be with V, go to the university, invent wondrous things, and be a great botanist.”

All Noli’s dear and secret dreams. She had so much to live for.

“I’ll try, I’ll try so hard, Lottie.” Tears pricked Noli’s eyes. Noli bent down and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a friend like you.”

Her friends. Her dear and wondrous friends.

Out of the corner of her eye, Charlotte saw the queen nod to James. Even though her belly should dip, she should feel fear at the idea of dying, she didn’t. Between the injuries from her uncle and the brain tumor, not only had she been in more pain than she’d let her friends know, but she’d made her peace.

She was ready to go.

James gulped—and that wrenched her heart. Bending down, his lips brushed over hers, lingering, his hand cradling the back of her neck.

When he broke his kiss off, he gazed into her eyes. “I love you, Charlotte Wilson.”

“I love you too, James Darrow.” She lost herself in his green eyes. Reaching up, her fingers traced a line up his jaw as she memorized his face. Her love, her savior. If not for him she would have died in an ally in Georgia instead of spending her final days loved, cherished, and the center of attention here in the Otherworld.

The queen cleared her throat and James let out a heavy, defeated sigh which echoed through the oddly quiet clearing. Charlotte nodded to James. Yes, it was time.

Lips pressed together so hard they went white, he pushed her in her chair until they stood in front of the arch with the queen. A tall and lanky man with a permanent leer also lurked nearby. A long knife dangled at his belt, the purple jewels on its hilt winking. The ritual knife. The one that had killed each mortal girl since the sacrifices began.

Still, Charlotte wasn’t afraid. She gazed at the crowd. People jockeyed for position, children on their parents’ shoulders, as they gathered around the arch, the Lake of Sorrows glimmering behind them. Even Ciarán, the dark king, with his band of ruffians had turned out. Air Fae filled the pink skies, the silvery lake splashed as water Fae drew close to watch the ritual that meant they, their land, and their magic, would continue on.

“Thank you everyone,” she told them. “Thank you for the parties and the presents, for giving a girl without the will to live a purpose.” She turned to James, “and thank you, for loving me, for staying with me.” The words thank you meant something in the Otherworld.

“You owe me no debt, Lottie love.” James’ face grew tight as his eyes filled with pain. He stood behind her, gripping her hand. Never would she have been able to do this without him.

“And as it has been, so will it be done—and her blood will spill on the ground, her Spark nourishing the magic.” The queen flung out her hands in a dramatic gesture. The huntsman approached, unsheathing the knife.

Still, she wasn’t afraid. After being abused by her uncle, the harsh life at Findlay House where she’d met Noli, and what had happened before James found her in that ally, she had nothing to fear from a mere knife or the ruffian in gold and purple who wielded it.

Charlotte held out her hand and James helped her rise from the chair into a standing position. Her uncle may have taken away her ability to walk, but she wasn’t about to sit as she was sacrificed. James understood this. His arms wrapped around her in protection, love, and support as she leaned heavily on him and they moved until she stood on the grass.

Tilting her head up, she kissed him one last time, savoring his sweetness. “Remember, James,” she whispered. “The best way to remember me is to live your life— and make sure Noli lives hers as well. I don’t want to be mourned.”

“I’ll keep my promise.” His whisper broke.

“That’s all I ask.” With one last look at her love, at her dear friends Noli and V, her eyes closed. The crowd hushed at the sound of heavy footsteps. James’ arms tightened around her. She felt a prick at her throat and gasped, but it didn’t hurt, and she didn’t open her eyes. Charlotte knew that the huntsman would slit her throat and her blood would spill to the ground, enabling the people of the otherworld to live for seven more years.

“I love you, Charlotte,” James whispered. She felt him lower her to the grass as she grew dizzy and weak. “I love you so much.”

That was all she needed to hear and she drifted off into happy nothingness.

Kevighn Silver slumped over the wooden table he occupied at a seedy air terminal bar. Where was he? Chicago? Atlanta? He wasn’t even sure. Since he’d been exiled from the Otherworld he’d drifted from place to place in the mortal realm, spending most of it drunk, in an opium haze, or in the bed of yet another strange woman. Eventually, he should get a job, since he was nearly out of money. He was a decent gunner. Those were always needed on airships—both the respectable and disreputable sort.