Disclaimer: Violence, injury, shirtless Lincoln, clothes-less Nimueh
“Faun. Wake up.”
Lincoln was drawn out of the void by the sound of a familiar voice. Slowly, the dark haze of unconsciousness faded away. He gradually became aware of his own body, as well as the cold, uncomfortable rock that it had been deposited on.
Slowly, Lincoln pushed himself up, grasping for his head as his vision blurred in and out of focus. The faun let out a groan.
“Ugh… what… happened?”
It took him a moment to become aware of his surroundings. He wasn’t alone in the sanctuary. Nimueh stood right beside him, glancing down at him with an expression of cold disdain before looking away.
“You broke your word. That is what happened.”
“What… are you talking about?” Lincoln groaned. The Lady of the Lake let out an indignant huff.
“You gave me your word that you would return after the festival had ended. You came to me beforehand. You broke your word, Lincoln.”
Lincoln blinked, still feeling groggy from unconsciousness. Slowly, the events from before started to come back to him. The feeling of his body going numb as he forcibly dragged himself to Nimueh’s lair. How his legs had given out from under him, sending him sprawling to the ground. Her cold, uncaring gaze as the darkness slowly ate away at him from the inside.
You are too early.
“You… you were going to let me die for that?” the faun muttered. Nimueh let out another huff.
“I was tempted. I will not be so lenient again.”
“Because I came back a day early?”
“You have been spending too much time among humans, Lincoln,” Nimueh scolded, her voice dripping with disdain. “You are beginning to forget our ways.”
But the Lady of the Lake interrupted him again.
“Yes, you have. And you must not. A fae never lies, Lincoln.”
“I know that-”
“Good. Then act like it.”
Nimueh’s gaze softened as she looked down on him. Her fingers idly brushed through her hair as, for a moment, the fae appeared lost in thought. Then, her voice rang out through the sanctuary again.
“We can withhold information. We can twist and bend the truth into what we want it to be. We can avoid being honest, and manipulate others into reaching the conclusions that we want them to reach- but we must never, ever lie. That is the one rule that binds us all, Faun. You must not break that. For all our sakes.”
“I didn’t lie-” Lincoln protested, but the Lady of the Lake stubbornly cut him off.
“You did. You arrived before you promised you would.”
“Oh, come on,” he sighed. “Things are more complicated than that, Nimueh. Sometimes plans change.”
Nimueh clicked her tongue in disapproval. The Lady of the Lake turned away from him, visually annoyed and reaching the end of her patience.
“You sound like a human.”
“You say that as if it is a bad thing,” Lincoln replied, a shadow of a smirk crossing his face. The sight of it made Nimueh let out another annoyed huff.
“Fine. Do as you please. But do not be surprised if the rest of your kind shun you for it.”
He had heard this lecture from her before. It made as much sense now as it did then. Lincoln raised a single eyebrow in response.
“You wanted me to be different from our kind. That was the point, wasn’t it?”
If Nimueh had heard him, she didn’t show it. Lincoln watched as she moved towards the wellspring in the middle of the sanctuary. Wordlessly, Nimueh sat down on one of the boulders, turning her back towards him. He knew she wouldn’t say anything else. But the droplets floating around him were frosty enough to let Lincoln know exactly how angry Nimueh still was. He knew that he couldn’t leave the sanctuary while she was like that. Not if he wanted to be invited in again in the future.
The Faun let out a sigh.
Dealing with his kind was exhausting sometimes.
Dealing with their kind was exhausting sometimes.
Nimueh couldn’t remember the last time that she had caught someone in a lie – and had actually helped them instead of freezing them on the spot with extreme prejudice. Since Ceb, there had only been a handful of people that had angered her to that point. All of them had been human – naturally. All had come to her for help, and none had displayed proper manners or possessed any knowledge of the game that the fae played. It had been centuries, and yet humans never learned to do it right. If anything, they had gotten worse at it. And when they faced the consequences of their own ineptitude, they defaulted to blaming her and her kind.
Perhaps I should start freezing them again, Nimueh thought, idly looking down into the wellspring. Perhaps I have grown soft.
The Lady of the Lake frowned. It had been hundreds of years since Nimueh had decided to care about humans – and despite the centuries ticking by like seconds, she was no closer to understanding their kind than she was when she started. Her mind involuntarily wandered back to the Faun behind her. Even interfering with him had brought her no new answers. If anything, his human-like behaviour just ended up confusing her.
I did want him to be different. But not this much.
Perhaps it is hopeless.
From behind her, she could hear Lincoln let out a sigh.
“Look. I broke my word, and I apologise for that. But if I hadn’t come to you, then that darkness would have destroyed me. You know that. I had no choice-”
But the Lady of the Lake had stopped listening. Lincoln’s voice faded into the background as her attention was pulled towards her surroundings. She could see the flow of water around her falter slightly. It was barely noticeable. Not more than a twitch – a barely-existent ripple in a perfectly calm and serene pond.
But it was enough. Because it was a ripple that she had not made. All of Nimueh’s senses went into alert as the Lady of the Lake rose up from her seat, turning towards the source of the disturbance.
Towards the edge of her lair.
A dragon’s lair was impenetrable. Carefully crafted and nurtured over centuries of time, it was a reflection of its master’s will. A dragon’s lair not only amplified any kind of magic cast within its space, but also served as a barrier that kept out everything – and everyone – that was unwanted. For a dragon, their lair was the ultimate sanctuary, as well as their final line of defence.
As such, there were only two ways to enter the lair of a dragon.
The first was by way of invitation.
Was by raw, brute force.
Nimueh could feel her blood run cold.
It can’t be.
She knew that only a handful of creatures were capable of such destruction. Three, in total. The Lady of the Lake knew them well. One would never attack unprovoked, and she had reached a truce with the second after working together to freeze and imprison the third.
That only left Ceb.
The Lady of the Lake could feel a deep sense of dread overtake her. Her eyes were glued to the ice wall before her, her limbs temporarily paralyzed as the crack in her barrier grew.
“-And it helped you, too, so instead of anger, how about some grati-”
The faun never got to finish his sentence. Lincoln let out a surprised yelp as Nimueh reached out, lifted him from the rock that he was perched on-
And flung him into the wellspring.
His scream was abruptly cut off as the faun vanished underneath the water. His body submerged without making a single ripple in the wellspring. The Faun sunk like a stone. Within moments, Lincoln had completely vanished from sight.
Out of harm’s way.
She would get him back later.
The Lady of the Lake grounded herself, instinctively reaching out to the water that surrounded her. It twisted and froze at her command, forming into giant spikes of ice that hovered around her body. A low growl escaped from her mouth. Nimueh could feel her form begin to change. Her nails grew into claws. Scales rapidly began to cover her back as hard, pointy spikes grew out from her spine. The horned fae turned sideways. She aimed the spikes at the crack in her barrier, forcefully pushing down her feelings of dread.
It was fine.
She had frozen him once.
She would do so again.
She did not have time for any further thoughts. The next second, Nimueh’s barrier broke. A massive surge of raw magic burst through the ice wall, tearing a hole in her barrier and sending bits of stone and ice flying everywhere. The sheer force of it made the ground underneath her shake- but Nimueh did not have time to deal with the earthquake, as a fraction of a second later, a familiar shape burst forth from the rift.
The Lady of the Lake reacted instantly. She brought her arm forward, hurling a torrent of ice spikes through the air-
But her target had been anticipated it. Nimueh could see a flash of energy, followed by the heavy rumble of stone grinding against stone. In a split second, he’d taken hold of the standing stones in her lair, yanking them from the ground and using them as a shield. Her barrage of spikes jammed into the stone, missing its target completely.
From the other side of the stoned, Nimueh heard a cold chuckle. She could feel his voice invading her head, pressing down on her mind, his words unmistakably mocking.
You’re going to have to do better than THAT.
And her foe retaliated. All the air was forced out of Nimueh’s lungs as one of the standing stones rammed into her, knocking her off her feet and sending her flying through the sanctuary.
The horned Fae came to a painful, skidding halt on the other side. Grass and dirt scattered everywhere as Nimueh slammed straight into a flower patch. Half of the flowers were destroyed by the impact- enraging the dragon even further. A low growl escaped from her lips. Nimueh pushed herself up, raising her hand to cast an ice storm-
But Ceb got to her first. Within a split second, he was on top of her, slamming her back down and striking her across the face with his claws. Hard. Nimueh could feel a searing pain shoot through her face as Ceb ripped open her skin, leaving a deep, bleeding gash behind. The Lady of the Lake could taste metal. The sensation of it left her momentarily stunned.
It had been a long time since she had been wounded.
Her shock only lasted for a second. Then, that feeling turned into wild, unbridled rage.
Her assailant cocked his head at her expression, straightening his back and looking down on her as he shook the blood off his claws. She could see the corner of his mouth curl up into an amused smile.
Nimueh. It has been some time, he spoke, his voice once again echoing through her mind. The Lady of the Lake glared up at him.
It’s ‘Cenred’ now. I must say, mauled and blood-covered suits you nicely.
I am sure that it will suit you better than me, Nimueh replied. Cenred let out another chuckle in response. The next moment, his expression of amusement faded. What arose from the depths in its place was a raw, cold anger that rivalled her own.
You gave my empire to humans.
I did not “give” anything, Nimueh retorted. It belongs to them like the Faewild belongs to us. It was never ours to take.
“And so you decided to sit back and WATCH?!” Cenred roared, immediately losing his temper. In his anger, she could hear him twice – his voice boomed throughout her sanctuary and echoed in her head at the same time, battering her mind and assaulting her eardrums simultaneously.
“You let them butcher our priests! YOUR priests! You watched and did nothing as they were hunted to extinction!”
They are not extinct-
“TWO!” Cenred roared. “Two of them! That is ALL that is left!”
Nimueh’s eyes opened wide in surprise.
How did you-
“Find out so quickly?” the horned fae growled, finishing her sentence for her. “Did you really think that coming for you was the first thing I did after breaking free? I have been free for months, Nimueh. You might have realized that, if you were not so single-mindedly obsessed with peering into Avalon.”
Nimueh struggled against his hold – but she couldn’t move. An enormous amount of magic was keeping her in place, rooting her to the ground beneath her. Cenred had always had a tremendous force of will. And in his rage, the full weight of his gaze felt like the equivalent of an entire mountain bearing down on her.
“Our temples are nothing but ruins,” Cenred spat, his growl causing the ground underneath them to shake. “Most humans do not even remember us. They shun magic – they reject the Old Ways. Are you aware of what they call our kind these days? A blight. A ‘thorn in the side of humanity’.”
They do not know any better, Nimueh answered, trying to shake off the echoing presence in her mind. In a swift, ruthless movement, Cenred slammed his armoured foot down on Nimueh’s wrist. Hard. A sickening crunch echoed throughout the sanctuary. The Lady of the Lake stifled a scream as she felt her bones breaking.
“They do not know any better because you three have allowed them to forget. We command hurricanes, split mountains on a whim and summon wildfires that destroy continents – and you allow them to call us a blight.”
“No matter,” Cenred continued, oblivious to the increasing number of ice spikes behind him. “I will make sure to correct this error. Without your interference, this time. A few centuries encased in stone should be enough to even the-”
Cenred wasn’t fast enough. He spun around, folding his wings around him to shield him from the barrage of ice spikes that rammed into his body- but he couldn’t block them all. The sheer force of the assault knocked him off his feet and sent him sprawling backwards, slamming into the ice wall behind him.
Nimueh’s spikes embedded themselves all around him, pinning him to the barrier by his wrists and nearly skewering the dragon’s head. He only barely pulled out of the way – and not quick enough to keep the spike from leaving a long, nasty gash across the side of his face. Nimueh could see Cenred’s wings fold and vanish as he struggled to break free from her magic. But the tide had turned – and Cenred knew it. A low, frustrated growl escaped from his lips.
He was stuck.
Carefully, the Nimueh moved towards him. She could feel her bones on her arm rapidly heal – any mundane injury did not plague them for long. Cenred couldn’t even bleed. But the cut on her face remained, unable to close. The thought of being stuck with that gash for the foreseeable future filled Nimueh with rage. Never mind freezing Cenred in the Faewild – the Lady of the Lake was going to turn him into a decorative statue right then and there.
But she had to confirm something, first.
The Lady of the Lake watched as the fae in front of her grew calm. He stopped struggling against the ice, taking a deep breath as he looked at the dirt underneath him. She knew what he was doing. Nimueh knew that she did not have long before he’d break free of her hold. A thousand thoughts rushed through her mind at once, together with a thousand different faces that were now suspect. Someone had let him out. Someone had set him free.
The thought filled her with a cold, determined fury. She had to know who did it. It didn’t matter if it was a fae or a human. She would find out who it was, and make them regret the day they were born.
“Who set you free?” Nimueh growled.
So you can kill them for their loyalty, Viviane? I think not.
The Lady of the Lake growled at the blatant use of her old name. She took another step forward, her voice dripping with hatred as she looked down on his skewered form.
“Your time has passed, Ceb. This is not your world any longer.”
You’re right, Cenred answered, much to Nimueh’s surprise.
The horned fae lifted his head, and the two of them made eye contact. Nimueh watched as a hateful, mocking smirk spread across his lips.
“Let’s rectify that, shall we?”
An enormous surge of magic burst out from the fae in front of her. Before Nimueh could react, Cenred had pulled himself free from her binds, shifting and rapidly changing form.
For the second time in a row, Nimueh was hurled across her own sanctuary. She was blown away as Cenred changed into his true form, slamming into the nearest standing stone. His dragon form barely fit inside of her walls. The standing stones around her wellspring were shoved aside like pebbles as the dragon spread its wings, taking off into the sky.
He was fleeing.
After destroying her sanctuary, he had the gall to flee.
Nimueh’s rage finally reached a breaking point.
The horned fae gave in to the transformation. Her teeth grew sharp and jagged as she felt the wings unfurl behind her. Rage drove her every movement. He would not get away. Not this time. Nimueh sunk through her knees, her feet turning into clawed talons as she moved to launch herself into the sky-
At which point her gaze fell on a corner of her sanctuary.
Towards the vile, purple mist that was beginning to rise up from the water surface.
She knew exactly what that mist represented. Nimueh let out a gasp.
“…no. Not now.”
“Damn it all.”
She did not have a choice. Nimueh turned away from the fleeing dragon, mentally cursing the timing of humans. Ceb would have to wait. The Lady of the Lake couldn’t ignore this. If that darkness was allowed to spread, it would corrupt anything it touched.
She didn’t have a choice. For now, the Lady of the Lake had bigger problems to worry about than him. She had to take care of the immediate problems first. Afterwards, Nimueh would find Ceb again – ask for the help of the others if she had to- and take him down before he could do any more damage. Before he could gain any power, like he had last time.
She had to.
Or history would repeat itself.