At the Bottom of This Chapter
Concerning the Warning
Concerning the Titles
References Made in the Chapter
Concerning the Fanfic's Purpose
WARNING: this chapter contains a rape scene (for those who really don't wanna read that kind of thing). I apologize if this offends you, but I felt it was necessary for the plot. I hope you enjoy the story nevertheless.
Once Upon a Time
A Modern Faerie Tale
Little Red and the Big Bad
A Short Tale of a Lost Maiden, a Pack of Wolves, Some Instructions, and a Beast in the Subway
Every word is a part of a picture. Every sentence is (or can be) a picture. The reader uses their imagination to put those pictures together, and the pictures weave together to form the intricate tapestry that is a story.
There are many kinds of stories in the world: comedies, love stories, adventures, tragedies. Stories of laughter and love, warriors and sorrow. Each story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending (though what story can ever be said to ever truly end? Tellers of tales throughout the long centuries would dare anyone to find such a story). The magic of the story begins with those oft spoken words, "Once upon a time..."
And then there are the best kinds of stories to be had, the ones that have a little bit of everything.
In faerie tales, there is a man. He may be a proud prince or he may be a humble soldier. He may possess magic from a genie's lamp or the condescension of a good faerie creature met in the dark woods and treated with kindness. Perhaps he slays the dragon. Perhaps he saves the beautiful princess in her tower. Perhaps the prince loses his kingdom to an evil wizard. Perhaps the humble soldier inherits a kingdom from a dying king.
Then there is the woman. She may be a beautiful princess or she may be a simple peasant maid. She may have a voice like angels singing or be trapped beneath an ancient and terrible curse from a wicked faerie. Maybe she heals a beast in the forest. Maybe she breaks the enchantment on a sleeping prince. Maybe the princess runs into the labyrinth to escape the monsters that so mercilessly hunt her. Maybe the simple peasant maid marries the prince and lives happily ever after.
And in faerie tales there is evil. Pure, dark, and vicious. An insidious poison that hounds the maiden's footsteps or haunts the prince on his quest. There is evil in the world, as well - always has been, always will be. Evil needs no excuses. It needs no promptings. It only needs to catch the scent of prey, to feel the adrenaline pumping and taste the fear on the air...
Once upon a time, under the burning fluorescent lights of the nearly empty New York City subway, a pack of human wolves loped after their chosen prey. Bared teeth gleamed like moonlight on knife blades. And they could smell with their beasts' noses the delicious musk of a woman's fear.
She didn't want to run. Her legs burned and her lungs screamed. A stitch ripped through her side. But she didn't know how long it would take for them to overtake her if she didn't run. And if she were overtaken, they would most likely kill her for what she'd done to (and for) one of their own. If they didn't kill her, she would wish that they had.
So she ran. Her long, brown hair streamed out behind her in ridiculous ringlets. She'd been on her way home from the salon. She'd gone there simply to make herself look nice for no reason. No reason at all. Just because she could. Because her twenty-ninth birthday was approaching, would come in a little more than two weeks. Because she was happy and had the time and her sisters said she ought to (and for once, she'd agreed with them). She'd spent the day pampering herself because she wanted to.
It had brought the wolves down on her like a killing plague. So now she ran. The glass and stone on the concrete walkways cut her bare feet. She hadn't bothered holding onto her brand new high heels. They were just shoes - she could buy more. She did, however, clutch at her purse. The large leather satchel held some of her few most treasured items. It slowed her down, but she didn't care.
Slowing down would nearly get her and the strange one killed. She would care about that.
She glanced over her shoulder. Desperately tried to gauge how far behind her enemies were. Tried to catch a glimpse of the red jackets like blood against the dingy gray of the subway tunnels. Suddenly she tripped over a homeless man lying across the pavement. She hit the ground - and the corpse - hard. It ended up saving her life. A bullet slammed deep into the grubby tiles on the subway walls. She shrieked and glanced into the homeless man's face. Rheumy eyes stared back at her. She choked on the cloying, too-sweet stench of alcohol and death.
Sucking in the air she'd wasted in screaming, she jumped up and kept going. Kept running. Kept choking on her own terror and tears. Kept praying the monsters behind her wouldn't try to shoot at her again. It wasn't as if she could hide anywhere. There was nowhere to go.
Her right knee throbbed with every step. She'd whacked it good on the pavement. The flesh of her face burned where the men chasing her had cut her with their knives. The blood dripped into her eyes and mouth. Just the thought of those fear-bright knives made a sob catch in her raw throat.
She shivered as icy blasts of air gelled her fear-sweat to her body. She'd dropped her heavy, black leather jacket some ways back. Like her heels, it had slowed her down. Now she was so very cold in the freezing December air. Cold and sick and chilled with the fear. Her throat burned as she heaved in great lungfuls of air.
She didn't look over her shoulder again. She didn't have to. They caught a pretty good fistful of her hair and yanked. She jerked out of their hold. Lost some hair in the process. They caught it again. Gave it a good, hard haul. Against her will, she was yanked off of her feet. She smashed into the ground. But the fist in her face, braced by four brass rings, shot her straight up into the air again, and into outer space. Too dazed to scream, she floundered and gasped for air. Steel-toed boots connected with her flesh and passed through to bruise her bones. Then the knife flicked out. Burned like pain under the fluorescents. A dark shadow knelt above her and touched ice-cold steel to her cheek. She mumbled something under her breath, but with all the sneering and jeering from the wolves in human form, they didn't hear it.
It sounded an awful lot like, "Trust the wolves, but do not tell them where you are going."
Then the blade sank into her skin. Blood flowed.
And she began to scream.
Nuada had no intention of interfering. He was quite otherwise engaged.
Even as he subconsciously made that decision, he flicked the spill of star-blond hair out of his face with a toss of his head and continued to spin and strike with the silvery twin war axes in his hands. Sweat trickled down his scarred back as he moved with savage, primal grace, a pale jungle cat preparing for battle. Perspiration gleamed on his forehead, in the lines of his defined muscles, across his scarred chest. The muscles coiled and bunched beneath the flesh of his forearms as he struggled to become as proficient with these rather unwieldy weapons as he was with the knife, sword, and lance. The axe was not a favored weapon, but as a warrior, he needed to become equally adept at using any and all blades, not just those he favored.
His friend, the only one who had followed him into exile - a rather large silver cave troll nicknamed Mr. Wink - watched as the prince worked himself to the point of exhaustion. How long had the prince been training? Five hours? Six? Longer? He could see the fatigue in the Elf's relentless movements. See that he strained to move as if he were whole and healthy, though it was plain to Wink that the prince was not. When was the last time Nuada had actually slept?
The troll knew that nothing he could say would force Nuada to take it easy, rest a little. No. Honor, the way of the warrior, chivalry, valor, physical prowess; that was what mattered to the Elf prince. That, and his vindictive vendetta against the race of Man. His desire to find the final piece of the Golden Crown - the prince's proper inheritance - and use it and the other two pieces to awaken the Golden Army.
Once awakened, Wink knew Nuada would command the Army to slaughter all of the humans who dared stand against him and the other faerie kingdoms. He would drive the humans out of the fey forests and out of their cities of poisonous concrete and burning steel. Thrust them back to their primitive caves, where they would huddle in fear of the living darkness. Then he would raze those noxious cities to the ground. Nothing would stand in the Elf warrior's way - not even the demands of his own healing body. Instead the prince would attempt to sweat out the iron sickness and the last vestiges of poison.
Their power meant fae royalty didn't have to worry about the iron that infected human cities. Usually. And when it did become too much for the magic running through immortal blood, there were troll potions to combat the effects. But even then, the humans' lead and iron could still be a problem. Especially when a virulent faerie poison also sludged through royal veins. Yet the Elf prince pressed on, training. Making ready for the coming war, and the slaughter of the ravenous humans.
Nuada knew what Wink was thinking. He allowed his lips to quirk into a brief, humorless smile for a moment before returning his focus to the training at hand. Wink knew him quite well. Yes, he had a vendetta against the humans. They were hollow, wicked, vicious... little better than animals. So no, he would not help the woman.
The Crown Prince of Elfland was cynical, jaded, angry, and brooding. He had only three loves in his life - three motivating loves, at least - and those were for his beloved twin sister, Nuala; his father, the One-Armed King of Elfland, who still commanded the prince's loyalty from the far-off court of Bethmoora; and Nuada's love for his people. He trained night and day, giving himself only time to eat, sleep, and bathe, in preparation for the war that he knew was going to come one day. Nothing stayed or slowed him - not pain, not exhaustion, not illness. The feral-eyed warrior would not allow it.
He despised humans; hated the entire breed. They were greedy, selfish vermin that deserved to be butchered like the empty, hollow meat they were. One day, as the crown prince, as his father's son, as the prince of the Elves of Bethmoora, he would raise the Golden Army and use them to massacre the humans, and exact vengeance for their broken vows and the brutal rapine they had committed against the world.
And so he had no intention of helping a foolish mortal woman who ought to have known better than to wander the subway at night alone like an idiot sheep. She deserved the mugging she would receive. What was a few gaudy, valueless trinkets lost to human predators? Instead, Nuada focused on pushing through the fatigue and last vestiges of weakness from a bout with iron sickness. Gods curse this disgusting mortal city and the poisons that saturated the place. Even he could be brought low by such things for a time. Especially when first made ill by whatever coward had sicced the dipsa serpent on him only a few moons ago.
Then he caught the hideous scent of evil male desire.
It was thick, musky, seminal. It disgusted him. Choked him. His nostrils stung with it, as did his eyes. It was the stench of perverted arousal, cruelty, and the sickly scent of wolf skins. Of predators. He had to swallow quickly as bile rose in his throat. For a moment the prince recalled emerald eyes glazed with shock and pain. Golden blood soaking into hair like spun garnets. Agonized screams. Grief sharp as a lance in his belly. Desperation.
Nuada shook off the millennia-old memory, but could not shield himself from the foul reek in the air.
"My prince?" His friend, Wink, questioned softly. He had seen the horrified, sickened look on the Elf prince's face. "What do you sense?"
"A woman... mortal. And wolves." His voice was oddly distant, musing, as if he were commenting on the weather. But Wink had seen the revulsion in feral eyes like molten bronze. Seen the ghost of memory in those eyes. "They hunted her. They have caught her. They mean to rape her. Because..."
He could taste the faintest traces of their thoughts, that pack of wolves. They had hunted this woman for vengeance. Because she had taken one of their own away from them to someplace safe. They had dogged her footsteps in secret for weeks, searching for the opportune moment to strike. And they struck this night, sought to dishonor the woman with their vile lust, because she wore a red dress and had curled her long brown hair. That was all. Those were their reasons. They would rape a woman because of...
Before Mr. Wink had finished processing the prince's words, Nuada was striding from his subterranean home, motioning for Wink to remain. Over his shoulder, the Elf called, "Stay here, my friend. I want to make sure my... home away from home... is well guarded. Don't wait up for me."
And he began to run, to race, like a silver wind through the the pillars of the New York Underground.
If there is one thing I despise more than humans, Nuada thought, the embers of long-banked fury fueled by old grief smoldering to life, it is a coward. And a rapist is the worst sort of coward. No woman, mortal or otherwise, is to be raped when I am there to stop it.
It was like a hammer. They beat her body. Pounded against her. Inside her. She was drowning in the burning pain and the blood. She could taste both running down her throat, choking her like poison. Her legs had long since been rendered numb by blows. She no longer had the energy to fight. Too many blades of flesh had sliced through her hold on reality. She was floating, or drowning - she couldn't decide which. Strangely, she smelled forests, and tasted the musk of wolf fur on her lips. Concrete burned cold as ice through her ripped dress, bit into her battered shoulders. Her face was a sheet of fire. Distantly, she felt something tear inside her. Felt the hot blood come. Vaguely registered the pain.
Not again, her mind - and her memories - screamed at her over and over again. Not again, please not again, not again... But the pain and the icy cold and the crushing weight above her smothered the plea. Snarled at her, Yes, again. Again and again. Yes.
Then the hammer blows inside and around her were still, and she was granted blessed respite. She drew a gurgling breath, and barely managed to keep from choking on the blood in her mouth. She spat it on the ground and blinked as the darkness above her moved away, allowing the dim fluorescent light to kiss her eyes. She groaned as the feeling began to return to her legs. Cried out in shock and agony when a foot connected solidly with the side of her face. Fire erupted under her cheek. Added fuel to the burning.
"Don't think we're finished, honey," the rough, bestial voice growled. "We just got us an interruption, that's all." And he kicked her again, in the ribs. Something cracked, and she rolled and hunched in on herself. Couldn't catch her breath even to whimper.
"You will not touch her again."
The voice that spoke was ice cold and clear as fresh spring water in the mountains. It made her teeth ache to hear it - or that might have been the throbbing in her skull from the beating she'd so recently received. She blinked past the haze of pain, and beyond the dark mountain of her attacker standing in front of her, out of the eye that wasn't swollen shut, she saw boots. She couldn't focus beyond the boots. Black leather laced up the sides, supple, but scuffed and worn, as if they were old and had seen much use. It was amazing, what things she noticed as her limbs jerked helplessly and her head throbbed, as blood seeped from her body.
For a strange, bizarre moment when the entire world became one surreal dream, she thought she saw a cat standing in those boots, a large pale cat the color of fresh cream with golden eyes like the blood of ancient trees. A lion intent on the kill. Then it shifted to look like an ivory hound with firegold eyes and teeth bared in challenge. But then she blinked again, trying to focus on the soft, white fur of either beast, and the strange phantom-creature disappeared as her vision blurred.
Shuddering, she tried to prop herself up on her skinned elbow, or at least a forearm, but that was rendered nigh impossible by the shooting pain that lanced from her shoulder to her wrist.
"She your woman?"
The voice that demanded this information was gruff, accented with a touch of Brooklyn's tang. It made its victim shiver at the sound of it. She curled up, trying to remain inconspicuous enough that they forgot about her. If they forgot about her, she could get up and run.
The mysterious speaker made a sharp sound of disgust. "Women are not property."
She had to look again, even though something deep inside screamed at her not to do it. The voice was so cold and deadly it seemed to freeze her marrow; to crystallize her blood. She raised a trembling hand to brush her damp-sticky hair from her bleeding face and saw a man, his flesh so shockingly pale in the dim subway light it was tinted with blue under the fluorescents. Silver hair that slowly morphed to pale gold hung past muscular shoulders. Firegold eyes shot with crimson were set in shadowed sockets, and his lips were dark as night. An intricate scar slashed across his race. She quaked at the sight of him, though she didn't know why. A strange sense of familiarity shivered through her. An odd sense of familiarity, and a very healthy dose of fear. And just a glimmer of hope?
If the men who had tortured her were a pack of wolves, this man was a beast out of a faerie tale. He carried in each hand a silver-bladed axe on a gold-etched black handle. The blades gleamed like pain. The beams of fluorescents hit the cruel edges, giving off intangible sparks of starlight that burned her good eye with their brilliance. Strange, savage death kissed every line of those weapons.
They would do well to run, she thought absently. More lucidly, she prayed, Heavenly Father... help me. Please...
"Look, eśe - dis ain't none of your business. The puta and us, we got ourselves an understanding-"
With a look full of loathing and dark fury, the pale warrior snarled, "Be quiet."
Years later, she would try to describe, to her children, to her brother, to the people who would adopt her into their strange family, what had happened that night. Her brother would never understand, but her children and her family - as yet to be gained - would understand what she meant when she said that one moment, the blond man had been standing there, aloof and isolated from the group of brutal human predators, and the next, he was crouched over the man who had so recently taken his turn with her, an axe blade buried in the human wolf's back. A fine spray of crimson blood arced across her savior's nearly-white chest.
She tried to gasp, but her throat, squeezed until bruises circled her pale neck like a necklace of shadows, was swollen nearly shut. Trying to draw such a deep breath made her nearly choke. Despite her pain, her bruises, her blood staining the concrete, something told her that the pack, despite the Beast's presence, was still dangerous. She had to get up.
In the time it took her to make that decision, the blond warrior had struck down four of the nine men who had set upon her. He leapt to decapitate a fifth, when a sixth one, cowering on the ground and feigning death, suddenly struck out with something that glinted star pain bright in the light of the overhead fluorescents. The steel knife bit into the man's calf, right above the ankle. She tried to gasp and choked again. Had the cut severed her rescuer's Achilles tendon? The pale man fell to one knee with a cry that was more rage than pain, and the blade descended again, sinking into the meat of one shoulder. Blond hair flew as his head jerked back and his spine bowed, his body instinctively flinching away from the weapon.
The brunette woman he had fought to rescue glanced around frantically as she scrambled to at least sit on her butt and not be prostrate on her back. Every movement sent burning needles of sensation down her previously numbed legs. She ignored the feeling, casting around for her purse until she found it lying a couple feet away. In it she kept rocks, a habit from her college days that had never gone away. With hands that shook, she pulled out a good-sized stone and hurled it. Her arm screamed at her as she did, protesting the abuse it had suffered, and her aim fell short. She'd been aiming for the man with the knife, trying to hit his temple.
She got him in the back.
The stone projectile had the desired effect, however. The man with the blade whirled to look at her, his face purple with rage, contorting viciously. She tried to move back, but her arms, which she had to use to move herself, to hold herself up, buckled at the elbows, unable to take her weight. She fell onto the ground once more. Her head cracked the pavement. The man had enough time to take a single menacing step toward her before something silver arced across his throat. He took another step, stumbled, and his head fell from his shoulders. The man whom the blond rescuer had been attempting to butcher when the knife blade had interrupted him lay dead as well.
Six wolves down, three to go. She was feeling pretty good about those odds until she heard the gunshot. It echoed through her skull. She couldn't hide her wince, couldn't muffle her scream. The white-skinned man stumbled. Staggered. Her eyes registered the gunshot wound, black against the moon-pale flesh. Dark amber blood streamed from the wound.
Crimson-washed bronze eyes sunk within darkness like rings of smudged kohl met a frightened blue gaze shadowed by bruises. Rage, regret, relief, staggering pain and almost brutal exhaustion - they warred amongst themselves behind his eyes. She felt something akin to a sob hiccup in the back of her throat. Her own regret burned. She swallowed it, swallowed her panic, trying to wet her throat. It was swollen and hot saliva would wet it enough for her to speak, at least a little.
She climbed unsteadily to her feet, body shuddering. Hot blood streaked her skin, soaked her stockings. She stumbled towards her rescuer even as she raised a trembling arm to point at one of the men approaching him from behind. The pale warrior whipped around and the axe blades sank down between neck and shoulders on either side, rending flesh from clavicle to bottom ribs.
Seven dead. Only two left. At least, that's how it seemed. But a sharp cold zing through her chest warned her. There was danger approaching. They had to get away. Her instincts screamed, and her panic surged. She had to get them both out of there, right now. Something horrible would happen if they remained. Even as she was fighting panic, she was forming a plan - half a crazed idea, rather, but it was all she could think of.
He glanced at her, and something in his eyes told her to run if she could. But she couldn't. She couldn't leave him. His injuries were horrible. He could very well die here, alone in the subway, because he had tried to protect her from the scum of New York City. The idea made her heart burn like a candle flame. It gave her the power to croak, "Behind you!" He turned, and the spiked hafts of the axes plunged into the rapist's belly. The human wolf gagged and died, scarlet bubbling between slack lips. She shuddered and grabbed her rescuer's arm.
"Be gone from here," he snapped. There was something hateful in his expression, but she didn't care. His pants were soaked in blood, his and the blood of the wolves. He limped badly from the wound at his ankle. His right leg wouldn't support his weight. She saw the leader of the pack, her attackers' alpha male, raise the gun. Blue eyes widened. Her hero turned, raised the axes as he shifted to stand between her and the lead wolf. The warrior stumbled as he put weight on his bad leg in his haste to attack.
The gun fired twice.
Blood poured from the new hole in his left shoulder. His arm hung like a useless lump of meat at his side. A hole allowed the light of the subway to shine through the meat of one bicep. She had to fight not to be sick. Had to think clearly, had to suppress the shock that wanted to simply numb and blur the world into nothing. Had to time all of this just right. If she got it wrong, even a little, they would both die. She needed to hear footsteps. She knew they would come. The footsteps of the approaching enemy, but their assailant didn't know that.
She laid a hand on the man who stood beside her. He flinched at the contact and twitched away from her touch, but she knew he would act exactly the way he needed to in order to save them both. When she heard shoes clanging on concrete, on metal stairways, she screamed as loud as her tortured throat would allow, "Officer, Officer! Help us!" She tried to wave, as if she could see someone.
The gunman jerked and half turned to look in the direction she was waving. A silver axe flew through the air and embedded itself in the monster's skull. He fell to the ground, and she turned to the man who had thrown the axe with such deadly accuracy.
"We have to get out of here," she whispered. Clutching her purse in one hand, she grabbed his uninjured arm with the other and ducked beneath to take his weight, making it easier to lead him. He tripped and stumbled. She nearly fell with him. "Ow! Okay, okay..." She sucked in a breath and tried to think. Her body was numbing itself, compartmentalizing the pain of her injuries, allowing her brain to numb her to what had happened so she could think. It was an old trick from her youth. It would cost her later - suppressing trauma reactions always did, she'd learned that in psychology - and only the blanket of shock allowed her to manage it at all. But even with the trick, fire burned inside her and sticky blood cooled on her skin. Everything hurt, especially her right knee, her slashed and bleeding face, and the ripped places inside of her. She didn't want to think of what would happen when the shock and the mental walls she'd put up dissolved and the trauma came back. Last time she'd dealt with something like that, she'd passed out.
Heavenly Father, give me the strength, she begged silently. She pulled the pale man's arm and settled it more firmly over her shoulder, trying to more easily support some of his weight. He tensed, but allowed himself to lean on her a little. His pain was almost tangible. Help me save us both. Help me stay strong, stay focused. I can't do this without Thee. Help me, please.
A warmth stole through her chest, and she closed her eyes. Everything would be all right. Everything would work out the way God wanted it to. She could do this. She could. And if she couldn't, well... she'd figure it out when she got that far.
The pale man weighed much less than she'd expected, but he stiffened as soon as she tried to get them both to their feet. Tightening her grip on his wrist, she pushed herself upright, supporting him as well as he staggered to his feet with a groan stifled behind clenched teeth.
"Okay... okay, come on. There has to be a safe place here somewhere. Yeah. Come on."
"How are you doing this?" He demanded gruffly from between clenched teeth. "A moment ago, you could barely move."
"It's a lot easier to push myself past suicidal limits if others are depending on me." As a wave of dizziness and horror tried to choke her, she bit down hard on the inside of her cheek. The sharp stinging pain ripped her back to the blissfully almost-numb present. "And I had time to gather my strength and get a second surge of adrenaline. Self-producing caffeine shots are great. Come on, we need to hide out until they leave. Let's go."
"I do not want your help."
"Um... no offense, my lord," she muttered, remembering to whom she was fairly certain she spoke, "but I so don't care. Shut up and walk if you can. Come on, come on..." Her voice was breathy with fatigue, with pain. She didn't sound impatient, only exhausted. "We gotta go. Is there somewhere we can go?" She saw him open his mouth to speak and knew she needed to press her advantage, now, before he got enough energy to really make a good argument. So she hissed, "Look, I'm not gonna leave you here. If you know somewhere we can hide until they forget about us, I suggest you tell me so we can get there before more of them show up. You're in no shape to fight. There's steel and Teflon in those bullets - poisonous to your kind."
She was hazarding a guess. She'd seen the delicately pointed tip of one ear peeping through the strands of silvery blond hair and the fact that the sclera of this man's eyes was nearly burgundy, not white. It was one reason she didn't fear this man as much as she might have otherwise. If she was wrong, this would all be for nothing. He'd think she was mad as a hatter. But she could tell by the way he tried to flinch away from her that she'd been right on target.
"I have the Sight. And I work with children on a daily basis. You pick up a few things. Now seriously - let's go!"
She put the last bit of volume her voice would allow into that last word. He glared at her for what seemed like a thousand years before giving her an almost imperceptible nod. She tightened her grip on his wrist to ground herself, tensed her shoulders to more easily support his weight, and began to move. So did he. They were silent, the better to hear their enemies. Footsteps stomped on concrete, and they moved faster. Pain lanced her body, stealing her breath away. She bit her lip to stifle her moans. He, her rescuer who moved like a jungle cat, was in worse shape than she could have imagined anyone surviving. She owed him. She had to help him.
"You are bleeding," the blond man beside her hissed. His teeth were still tightly clenched. She snorted.
"So are you. Stop talking. Begging my lord's pardon," she added as an afterthought.
"Why are you doing this?" He demanded. His voice dripped with venom, with fury. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Refused to answer. She needed what little breath she had. He pressed, "Answer me. And it's, 'Your Highness.'"
"Oh. My apologies, Your Highness," she said, and kept moving without answering. For a long time, there was no speech between them, save for the tersely muttered directions her rescuer bit out from between gritted teeth. Her vision was beginning to fade in and out, things becoming flickering and white and sparkling. She blinked and bit her tongue to pull herself back from the brink of fainting. She had to do something, or she would fall at his feet. Her fingertips were cold and numb. Her legs were full of red hot spikes. She was gasping now, near the end of her strength, but she knew she couldn't afford to collapse. What if her companion needed her help? What if the icy walls she'd erected between herself and what had just happened suddenly collapsed as well? She'd break into a million pieces. She couldn't afford that. Not again, not yet. Not ever.
"What is your name?" The pale-skinned man demanded, though his voice was laced with pain. She glanced at him.
"Your Highness, why are you talking?"
"Because I no longer hear the sounds of pursuit. So tell me, human, what is your name?"
She sighed, and tried to keep the world from spinning out of control around her. Taking in a deep breath through her nose and out through her mouth to reduce some of the vicious pain threatening to crush her, she finally admitted, "It's Dylan, Your Highness."
"Dylan? I thought that was a man's name among... most people."
The rape-victim glanced up at him, shivering and still managing to sport an incredulous expression on her face. Was he seriously asking about whether she had a guy's name while she bled from vaginal tearing and he slowly bled to death from multiple gunshot wounds? Seriously? Or was he trying to make small talk? Because that was actually sort of what it sounded like. But why? Why couldn't he just shut up and concentrate on not dying like a normal person? She shook her head slowly from side to side in exasperation.
"It's unisexual. Although my father did want boys," she found herself saying.
"I take it he had all daughters," her rescuer replied dryly.
"Until the last batch, yeah. My sisters' names are Petra, Pauline, and Mary, Simone and Gardenia, Victoria and Francesca. Triplets and three sets of twins. I have a twin brother, John; we're the third set. Since you don't like me, why are you asking?" She wasn't cracking jokes now. She could tell by the revulsion in his golden eyes that he positively loathed her.
"The sound of silence irritates me," he replied, his voice wicked ice cold, like starlight in the subzero depths of space. She fought a shiver. "I would prefer even your irritating voice to the sound of my own thoughts at this moment. You have not the slightest idea what those... animals were thinking."
"I'm sure I've some notion," she said with a sharpness she hadn't intended. But the unmitigated gall he must possess to claim-
"Do you know what the barrel of a human's gun would do to a woman's body? Or a glass bottle? A knife blade?" He hissed, his voice seething like the molten bronze of his sanguine gaze. "Do you? Because I do."
She bit her lip and shook her head as tears burned her eyes. She'd read in a book once about a group of men who had raped a woman until they were exhausted, spent, and because their bodies could do no more, they had continued to ravage her body with the hilts of their swords. The woman had died slowly, agonizingly. The idea turned Dylan's blood to ice. And she knew that the men who'd attacked her, bearing the inked mark of the Rojos, would have done much much worse to her. Worse even than she'd experienced during her days in-
No. Don't go there. Not now. I can't break now. I can't break ever. No.
"You are more fortunate than you can possibly imagine, that I decided to save you."
"Regretting the fact that you did?" Dylan asked, only half-joking. He glanced at her, then away, and she knew the answer instantly. She sighed, but didn't comment. If she was right, her rescuer had every reason to gripe about the fact that she'd "imposed" on him, as it were. Dylan knew many of the fey didn't like humans, or at least cared little about hurting or manipulating them for a moment's amusement. She even admitted that some mortals deserved the Fair Folk's hatred. How was this Elf to know that she was not one of those dark-hearted humans who relished the pain and torment of other beings? Many of the fey didn't believe such humans even existed anymore.
"If it makes you feel any better... I'm truly grateful," she replied softly. "Thank you, Your Highness."
Dylan felt the Elf stiffen even more. Start to pull away. In retaliation, petty though she knew it to be, she tightened her grip on his wrist, pulled a little. She wasn't going to let anything happen to this idiot just because he was trying his hardest to piss her off and make her leave him behind. She had no doubts that that was exactly what he was trying to do. Well, she wouldn't have any of it. He needed help. She wasn't a monster, no matter what he thought; she wasn't going to just leave him to die. Besides, without the need to help him driving her... she'd likely collapse and let herself bleed out on the pavement.
"Where are we going?" She asked wearily after several tense moments.
"A safe place," he mumbled absently, glancing around. They needed to hurry. He smelled the tang of ozone, which meant a subway train was coming, though not for some miles yet. They had perhaps ten minutes. But he also caught the irritating stench of humans. Male. Aroused, angry. On the prowl. Hunting for something... or someone. Also no more than ten or eleven minutes away, but moving quickly, quicker than Nuada and Dylan could in their current, injured state. Dylan, being human, was slower, weaker. His only chance of escape without further risk of injury would be to leave her. He contemplated the idea for a moment. After all, she was only a pathetic human. He owed no human anything but a swift, merciless death.
"How you holding up?" She asked breathlessly, and tripped over her own dragging feet. They both started to go down, but she caught them, steadied them. Her breath hissed through her teeth as she fought the waves of nausea and searing pain. "I am... so, so sorry, Highness. My fault. Gosh. Move, feet," she snapped down at the ground, as if ordering the appendages around would make them obey her. "Did I jar anything? Any fresh bleeding?"
"No," he replied slowly. "No."
A debt of honor was being incurred here, and it greatly displeased him. Infuriated him. He loathed humans, despised them for their spineless, heartless, gutless behavior. For everything they had done to the world. Yet here was a mortal woman who had remained behind, severely injured and afraid, to make sure he survived the fight he had engaged in to save her. Even now, when it was obvious to an imbecile that she needed medical attention, she refused to leave him, because he was injured. Either she was a simpleton, a madwoman, or not altogether human. Those were the only possible explanations.
He heard footsteps, closer this time. Smelled the wolf pack in men's clothing approaching them. Far enough away that they could not yet see or be seen, but close enough that they were nearly out of time. Gritting his teeth in anticipation of the pain, he made a decision and with a snake-quick strike, lifted Dylan into his arms and over his good shoulder in what the humans called a fireman's carry.
"What are you doing?" She yelped. The utter terror in her voice enraged him. "Stop! You're in no condition... what are you doing?"
Her voice had dropped to a whisper as he approached the gap between the concrete walkways and the subway rails. Even as they watched, a rat sizzled and fried as it touched the third rail coursing with electricity.
"Watch the middle bar," she squeaked.
She squeaked because her body was reminding her in painful ways that it currently didn't like her, but she had no choice but to ignore it. She felt muscles bunch, coil, ripple, and then her rescuer sprung, leaping so that when they landed, it was on the far side of the tracks, well clear of the electrified rail. The impact of their landing sent rockets of pain shooting through Dylan's pelvis and face, and she bit her lip to stifle a scream. Fresh blood exploded from the countless knife-slices bisecting her ruined mouth.
Nuada did not ask her if she were all right. He knew she was not, and he did not care to hear her lie to him (or to whine) about her status. He did not ask if she were bleeding still. He could smell the copper fear stench of her blood, feel it dribbling down the arm that was pressed against the backs of her thighs by virtue of holding her clasped tightly over his shoulder. Feel it smeared across his shoulder and back from the cuts on her face. He shuddered in disgust.
"Are we almost there?" The human woman whispered. He turned his head until he could look at the slashing ruin of her face.
"Yes," he managed to say calmly. She was watching him with wide, fearful eyes like cobalt pools of ice shrouded in mist. As if he were the answer to all her prayers. Her salvation. It had been... centuries since anyone looked at him like that. The last person had been Nuala, as a child, when their mother...
Nuada's chest ached with the struggle to draw breath. His skull throbbed from loss of blood. The last embers of iron-fever would be rekindled by the poisonous metals in his body and the pain would only continue to get worse. His body, already weakened by poison and illness and exhausted from hours of training, wouldn't last much longer. But he could carry her as far as the entrance. That burst of effort had shaved three minutes at least off their journey. If he continued to be able to maintain this pace, then they would be safe in moments.
He heard a click, and turned slightly to look behind him. Dylan tried to focus on the concrete that rose above and away from them, but everything was blurred. Nuada saw the men, saw their grins, saw the gleam of the light upon the steel barrel of the gun, and spun as the weapon fired. A bullet, burning with pain and toxic lead, ripped into his side. His breath shot out of him, and he hit his knees on the ground. He tasted toxic metal, scented it, and realized a train was coming.
Dylan whispered, "No. No. It isn't fair. Put me down and get out of here. Please, you have to-"
"You killed our friends, eśe," the first thug, the one to the left of the gunman, called out. Dylan fell silent. Tears made her cheeks shine under the dirt and blood on her face. Burned in the slashing cuts. "All for the puta. You're gonna die. No weapons now, man."
Bronze eyes met silvery blue. Both burned as they urged the other to abandon them and run. Nuada got to his feet. The mortal in his arms cursed under her breath, calling him ten kinds of idiot. The Elven warrior didn't care. He had engaged in a battle to save her life. Human or not, abandoning her now would be dishonorable and cowardly. He had made his decision. Like a true prince, he would abide by it.
He tried to sprint. He was as slow as a human now. The gun clicked. He picked up speed, or tried. Dizziness slammed him hard. He stumbled. The entrance to his sanctuary was less than sixty seconds away.
The gun fired, twice.
A bullet bit deep into his good arm. Dylan landed on the ground in a heap as his muscles lost the ability to hold her. She cried out when the ground hit her. Agony shot through her back, her legs, her pelvis. Her skull screamed at her. Another bullet found the back of Nuada's right thigh. He stumbled and fell hard to the floor on hands and knees. The moment he was on the ground, she was on her knees. She had a stone in one trembling hand.
Heavenly Father, please, don't let me miss, she prayed silently.
She threw it, hard. It hit the gunman's hand, and he dropped the gun. It went off, and he screamed as blood began gushing from his foot. In his gyrations, he kicked the gun onto the tracks, which rumbled with the weight of the approaching train. Dylan whispered a prayer of gratitude even as she hauled her rescuer to his one good foot.
"Tell me where," she commanded breathlessly. Her knees buckled. She quickly locked them and bit down on her tongue. The pain helped steady her a little. "We have to go. Tell me where!"
"Straight," he gasped. Pain made him dizzy. Blood-loss made him cold. He wanted to rest, just for a moment, but... but in rest lay death. "Fifteen feet."
They staggered forward. Dylan looked around wildly. Bright light washed over them, and the subway train shrieked at them. She gasped and cried, "Now what?"
Nuada touched the wall of concrete and gasped out, "Guardian, let us pass. Slay our enemies."
Dylan's vision twisted, doubled, and she knew somehow she was going to die. Blood or train, that's what she wondered. Would the train make her into a pancake? Or would she turn into a puddle of blood? That was the question, wasn't it? The crimson liquid dripped onto the cement. Her stockings were soaked with it. Everything sparkled around her and her skull buzzed. The speeding train bore down on them, screaming that they were going to die. She tasted death on her tongue. She blinked at the wall as a gaping darkness yawned before her. Her own eyes or the whispered words of her rescuer?
The faerie warrior lurched forward, dragging her with him, and she fell... through the wall. The subway train whizzed by them like a herd of carnivorous horses. Nuada sagged against the wall. Safety. Blessed safety at last.
He turned to Dylan, who dropped to the floor in a graceless heap. She sank into oblivion as the world went black around her. Just before unconsciousness closed up her senses, she smelled the sweet scent of lilies and roses, and inexplicably thought, Grandma?
Author's Note:About the length. Okay, this chapter is about 6500+ words (not counting author's notes; with author's notes it's 8000+). So ANs are only 20% of the chap. The chapter lengths vary depending on what's going on, just an FYI. There are a few long chaps, but not a whole lot (IMHO – long for me is 8k+). This will be a rather long, fic, though. =) At least 100 or so chapters.
Concerning the Warning: About the rape scene. It really was necessary because... I feel that if you are going to have rape in your writing, it's a hard subject. And you shouldn't gloss over it, because it is violent, violating, and traumatizing, and the evil of it should not be diminished. However, in my opinion, this scene is not that graphic. However, one of my favorite reviewers suggested I put a warning up, so I have.
As for the necessity of the event itself... Nuada is not going to care about anyone getting mugged or even murdered. He will care, however, about a woman being raped, because he has honor. I literally could think of nothing else that would force him to behave in the way I required for the fic to be believable.
One thing I do NOT want to do is paint Nuada through rose-tinted glasses or make him out of character in anyway. I don't want an out-of-character Elf prince, and I don't think most of his fans do either. We fell in love with the Nuada from the film, and that's the Prince we're going to get in this fic. Hence, rape - the most heinous thing anyone can ever do besides molest a little kid - is the only tool I can use here.
Concerning the Titles:The title "Once Upon a Time" was inspired by a book series I absolutely love by the same name. Written by many different authors, this series consists of retold fairy tales, such as the Storyteller's Daughter by Cameron Dokey (1001 Arabian Nights), the Crimson Thread by I-Forgot-Her-Name ("Rumpelstiltskin"), and Golden ("Rapunzel"), also by Cameron Dokey. Because this fanfic will incorporate a gazillion and one fairytale motifs from a vast variety of sources, I couldn't use a fairytale inspired name for the title of the fic (chapter titles being another matter altogether). Hence, the only thing I could think of that fit is Once Upon a Time. So the fic itself is named thusly. If any kind, gentle, loving soul wants to help me the heck out and suggest another title, please do.
As for the chapter titles... each chapter title will be inspired by a fairytale or legend (usually the one whose motif appears in the chapter) and in some instances, like this first chapter, after a retold fairy tale's title. "Little Red and the Big Bad" is a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood" with cannibalism and a rather ambiguous ending, found in Swan Sister, an anthology compiled and edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. And each chapter will have a secondary title which gives a more in-depth look to what's to be found in the chapter. Since each chapter, like a story, must have a beginning, middle and end (usually), I also call each chapter a "short tale" that makes up the bigger story.
As for "a modern faerie tale," well... it basically is. It's a fairytale set in our time, so... a modern faerie tale. Although the phraseology, I will admit, was inspired by Holly Black's modern fairy tales (Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie, and Ironside: A Modern Faery's Tale).
References Made in the Chapter:
- "Every word is a part of a picture. Every sentence is (or can be) a picture. The reader uses their imagination to put those pictures together..." is an almost direct quote from the movie The Mighty, which is based on the book Freak the Mighty (I can't remember who it's by, but it's a pretty unique title so if you want to read it, it should be easy to find). It was one of the most interesting explanations of reading I'd ever heard.
- "Trust the wolves, but do not tell them where you are going." This is a line from the short story "Instructions" by Neil Gaiman.
- The thing about iron poisoning. Originally that wasn't in here, but then one of my favorite reviewers made a comment that Nuada is a very good warrior, he's been through wars where there are no rules, he's had to fight dirty, and he can take out just about anyone. Her point was - how did Nuada end up so badly injured by a gang of street thugs? So I introduced three concepts: one, the exhaustion. If you've just gone a bazillion rounds with yourself over the course of 5-6 hours, you're gonna be tired, and slow, and not quite as sharp as you would be otherwise. The second was iron poisoning. Why would Nuada end up hurt so badly? Because he went into a fight, 1 against 9, while he was exhausted and still sick. Gives him a viable weakness here.
Now, what is iron sickness? I've read a lot of faerie books, and in almost all (if not all), iron is toxic to the fae. Even someone like Nuada, who's strong and tough, would be affected if he was in the city long enough (this is also my theory for why he looks so sick in the auction house scene; it's the only scene where he looks almost... dead). As he lives underground and such, obviously there are ways to circumvent the iron sickness, so why it didn't work this time is up to you. But that's just a little back story on that. Toodles!
- The third concept is the dipsa assassination attempt. The dipsa serpent is a snake from the medieval bestiary (I assume that means it's not real) that's so small it's really easy to step on, and so poisonous that by the time you've realized it's bitten you, you're a second away from dying anyway. Here, I've altered it a bit so it's a type of faerie.
- The thing about the stones was something I actually did in middle school. I carried rocks in a fanny pack around my waist in case I ever needed a weapon, because I was afraid of guns and was too young according to my parents to own a knife of any kind.
- Petra, Pauline, and Mary - Peter, Paul, and Mary was a musical group from the 60s (maybe the 70s).
- Victoria and Francesca; look at the male versions of those names. Victor and Frank. Victor Frankenstein.
- Simone and Gardenia. Simon and Gar. Simon and Garfunkel. I love their music.
- "The Sound of Silence" is a song by Simon and Garfunkel. My own brother never really liked it. It is in the Dustin Hoffman film, the Graduate.
- The thing about the gun being used to rape a woman was from an episode of CSI: Vegas I saw once.
- The thing about the bottle being used to rape a woman was from an episode of Criminal Minds I saw once.
- The thing about the knife being used to rape a woman was from a Labyrinth/Legend fanfic I read once. I don't think it's on here anymore, and I certainly don't remember who wrote it or even what it's called, but I remember that much.
- The thing about the swords being used to rape a woman that Dylan remembers (that exact story) was from a book I read about Robin Hood called Lady of the Forest. I liked the book a lot, but not that part (too sad). Will Scarlet's wife was the victim of rape by Norman soldiers as related in the text of this chapter. It was really really sad.
- "Heavenly Father, please don't let me miss" is inspired by the movie IT, based on the novel by Stephen King. In IT, the character Beverly prays, "God, please don't let me miss," right before firing her silver slingshot bullet at the monster. I changed it to "Heavenly Father," because the character Dylan is LDS (Mormon).
- Dylan is named after the singer/songwriter, Bob Dylan. She has a more feminine middle name.
Concerning the Fanfic's Purpose:
This will be a prequel/companion piece to Hellboy II: the Golden Army, with an alternate ending to the movie. I don't like that Nuala and Nuada die. That's just... freaking lame. I mean... ugh. I hated that Nuala killed herself, so that Abe will have to go to therapy. I hated that Nuada died, because surely he was redeemable, a man of his honor and greatness and... I dunno. I was all depressed throughout the movie because the villain was someone who was complaining about all the things I whine about all the time (people not appreciating the magic and wonder in the world, too many parking lots and malls when there ought to be trees and flowers and parks, that kind of thing) and then he freaking up and dies!
Argh! Stupid Hellboy movie script writers! Are you all on acid or something?
*insert scream of intense frustration here*
So yeah, that's why the ending in this fic will be different - I hope. If it doesn't fit, then I'm screwed, but I'm gonna do my freaky best. So yeah, prequel/companion/rewrite of the second live-action Hellboy movie to salvage the ending, the villain, and the love interest of a hero. I'm going to try to keep things as close to the movie as possible, though, and I am desperately attempting to avoid the dreaded Mary-Sue.