-Museum Display Case
"Serenity's Light" (Part 9)
If Sarah Brighton felt at all like she was being watched as she went about her duties as curator in the Celtic Antiques Exhibit Hall… That was because it was true. The large, looming portrait of Lady Jocelyn Stark stared down at her, the mocking black ring right at Sarah’s eye level—the tiny, dark eyes full of enough disdain to practically beam right through the layers of paint.
Within the brush-strokes, the sole remaining essence of the Fae who called herself Lady Jocelyn Stark simmered and smoldered. The woman who had originally sat for the portrait had died long ago, but this part of her remained, captive of the canvas, biding her time till the right moment when she could strike.
At long last, the chime sounded on every hidden speaker and the voice announced over everyone’s heads, that the museum would be closing in a few minutes. Jocelyn watched with stone-faced satisfaction as Sarah ushered the meddling blonde toward the door.
Alone at last.
Jocelyn waited till the electric lights of the exhibit hall extinguished of their own accord, and duly directed her painted body forward. She gasped and moaned as her body went from two dimensions to three, but when it was done, she sighed with relief. If the thugs she’d hired were waiting for the museum to be clear, then she would have plenty of time to pick up the artifacts for herself, before they even arrived. Let them get caught with the empty case. She glided across the floor without making a sound. Slipping black silk gloves on her hands, she reached for the first clasp on the display case.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” murmured a voice.
Jocelyn stiffened and her eyes darted toward the sound. An old woman sat on the bench just under the now-empty landscape she had just departed; how had she gotten there without Jocelyn noticing her? The woman didn’t take her eyes off Jocelyn. The Fae recovered quickly and smirked at the old biddy.
“I don’t think you’re in any condition to prevent me, grandma!” she mocked.
The woman stood and smiled back. “I might not,” she admitted. “But they might be.”
Jocelyn whirled in the direction of her nod, just in time to find a golden eagle soaring straight for her face.
Jocelyn ducked, and the eagle passed over her. Speaking quickly, she gave the command for entrapment while holding onto a birdcage from a thirteenth-century Britain display. The next time the eagle struck, Jocelyn held out the cage, and both the eagle and the wood sprite riding it were trapped. Jocelyn now stood next to the display case that was her whole objective.
"No!" A voice cried, as hands shoved her away. Jocelyn glared; it was the blonde she had seen earlier! Of course she had been a plant in the crowd, protecting the curator in secret. But how had she known? She was Fae, too. Jocelyn lost her balance and tumbled over a bench.
"So," Jocelyn spat, "You're with them, are you?"
The Fae with the golden hair didn't take her eyes off Jocelyn.
The wood sprite hummed something, and the bench dissolved into writhing vines to grab Jocelyn.
The Fae struck out with her arms and yelled, "Fiss!" Immediately, her skin erupted in flames, burning the vines that tried to hold her. She lashed out at the other Fae, flinging her with magic against the far wall of the exhibit hall.
"Relaya!" The old woman called, but the blonde Fae didn't move.
Jocelyn felt a surge of relief when three bodies dressed in black dropped from the ceiling. She turned back to the display case.
"About time you slugs got in here," she muttered as one of them moved to stand near her. "Stuart, take care of the annoying ones and find the others. I know they're here somewhere, just don't let them find me!"
The man she addressed as Stuart nodded and signaled his companions. One of them moved toward the fallen Fae, and Jocelyn whirled to him. "Wait!"
The clothes he wore stretched too tightly around his body and gapped in strange places. He was much larger than an average human, and definitely not one of the men due recruited.
"Go, Jens!" Called "Stuart," ripping off his ski mask and lunging for the display case.
"Not so fast!" Shrieked Jocelyn, pointing at the large man. Jens! The Norseman who had beaten her to the crown in the eighteenth century! She pointed at his legs.
Jens stopped mid-stride.
"My legs," he grunted. "They are stone!"
"Stop it!" The third body hurtled at her, and Jocelyn found herself face to face with someone she recognized.
"You!" She gasped.
Nerissa, the renowned Light-Bearer, grabbed Jocelyn’s wrist. "I don't know what business you have with these artifacts," she pointed to where Jens and the Lore-Master Kenneth were trying to breach the display case, "but you cannot have them. They belong to my dimension."
"THEY BELONG TO ME!" Jocelyn screamed, shoving Nerissa aside. "Nothing will stop me from getting them! You hear me? NOTHING!" She cackled. "You don't know who I am?" She mocked Nerissa. "Let me show you!" At once, the disguise from the painting—and even the human disguise she had worn—all faded as she funneled all her power into one spell. A portal split the air behind her, and a terrible darkness seeped out. The newly-revealed sylph spread her arms and called out the words that sent tendrils of Darkness stretching for the group.
Kenneth cried out as the tendril caught him around the leg. Jens could not move, and the Darkness soon enveloped him and Relaya together. It coiled around Agnes and seeped through the bars of the cage holding Nakoma and Kharrie.
Only Nerissa remained untouched. She gaped at the sylph. "Larklyn?"
Larklyn the sylph grimaced and pointed at Nerissa. Again, the Darkness lashed out, but did not touch her.
Nerissa dodged the attack and confronted her former neighbor. "Larklyn, what have you done?"
"A lot more than anyone expected of me, that is certain!" Larklyn snarled. "Look at you, Light-Bearer!" The Darkness crept forward again. "Did you even know more than my name before Serenity fell? Did we speak? But look now! I claimed a power greater than our very sun! I need only acquire these last few pieces, and all will be as it should!"
Nerissa planted herself in front of the display case. "You are not meant to claim Serenity! The Darkness has poisoned your mind, Larklyn! If you wield these artifacts now, it will release the Darkness into this world and it too will be Forgotten!"
Not even Larklyn's magic could move Nerissa. Instead, the angry sylph merely used the force of pushing against the Fae to crack the display case. Nerissa dove out of the way as Larklyn lunged for her again, and the glass case shattered, leaving the three Relics exposed. The Darkness surged forward expectantly.
"The Prophecies were wrong, Nerissa," Larklyn assured her. "You may have beaten the Darkness, but in the end, I will claim the victory."
As soon as she finished speaking, alarms and sirens blared from every direction. Emergency lights flashed, and the sprinkler system activated. Several metal cages lowered from the ceiling around the more valuable pieces—namely, the Relics.
"Not if I can help it!" The triumphant voice of Sarah Brighton came over the loudspeaker.
Larklyn bellowed and began attacking the cage.
Nerissa took advantage of the new diversion to check on her friends. They had all wilted under the influence of the Darkness; she could only imagine what it was saying to them now. She found Kenneth and placed her pendant against his forehead.
"Wake up!" She said. "Serenity is not dead! We can beat the Darkness! We have not failed!"
The cloudiness left his eyes, and he looked up at her.
"I'm so tired," he said.
"You've made it this far," she reminded him.
"I can't think."
"Remember your wife; you can still save her."
"I'm not strong enough."
"Yet you still believe we can win."
Kenneth paused, and the Darkness began to unravel around him.
"You're right," he said to Nerissa, coming fully free from his prison. "I do believe."
She smiled and nodded toward the glowing case. "Then go; pick up the Relics and restore Serenity." She slipped the pendant off her neck. "Take this with you; it will protect you. I will engage Larklyn and keep her away."
"But won't the Darkness get you?" Kenneth asked.
Nerissa gave him a little push. "Don't worry about me. The sooner you claim the Relics, the sooner this will be over!" She dodged a groping tendril and launched herself at Larklyn. The two Fae traded magical blows as Kenneth made his way to the case in the cage. Serenity's Light whispered to him from the pendant around his neck.
Sarah raised the cage once he was in position.
He picked up the sword first, feeling the way it energized his muscles and sharpened his thoughts. He almost caved to the urge to attack Larklyn right then, but a small voice whispered in his mind.
"True power comes from the love between two people."
Arielle! He kept a hold on the sword as he took up the Crown of Immortality. Now he could attack Larklyn without fear of being killed. He could merely resurrect and attack her again. He was untouchable.
"The longest life is not always the best one; it is the life lived for the sake of others."
Kenneth glanced behind him, where his friends lay. The Darkness had left them behind to attack him, but as long as he held Serenity's Light, it could do nothing. Jens and Nakoma were just beginning to stir, but Relaya and Agnes still could not move.
Kenneth made his choice; yanking Serenity's Light from its chain, he tossed it toward Jens. "Here! Use this to revive them!"
The burly Norseman caught the pendant—but now Kenneth was exposed to the full force of The Darkness. He just needed to retain enough willpower to obtain the last—
His fingers closed around the necklace as a tendril of Darkness crawled up his arm. The fear and despair choked him.
"What if you lose your memory? What if you end up like Arielle, lost in another realm with no idea who you really are? What if she dies over there because she is not Fae? You have failed; you gave up the pendant, and that was your only chance of surviving this. You should have just claimed everything for yourself..."
Hastily, he shook his head and banished that voice from his mind. "I am Kenneth Walsh," he stated, clasping the collar around his neck. "And I will not desert my friends!" The Relics flashed with a blinding light that caused everybody to stop what they were doing at once. When it faded and everyone could see, the portal—and the Darkness coming through it—had disappeared.
The pendant in Jens' hand glowed brightly—so white-hot that he released it with a cry of pain. The pendant did not drop, but hovered in the air, then slowly floated toward the shimmering Relics that Kenneth now wore. It came to rest at the top of the Crown, and once again, a bright light flashed and caused everyone to close his and her eyes—
But this time when they opened them, they all stood in a different place.
"Where are we?" Kenneth wondered.
In answer, somebody screamed.
Previously In This Series:
Crossover Parts: "Rendezvous" (SM 6/SL 2) "The Viking and the Lore-Master" (SM 9/SL 4)
Single Posts:#26 "The Tides of Battle"
#1 "Red of Morning"