The whole world was watching when the Prime Minister had a knife driven through his heart.
Eliana was home sprawled on the floor, a pile of gears and and bolts and screws splayed out before her. She only half listened to the news caster as she excitedly commented on proceedings. Ana’s mind and fingers more concerned with building a pocket-sized catapult, per her father’s instructions. Her father sat behind her on the couch, his posture sloppy. Quite unlike him, his elbows on his knees, one hand buried in his hair. The action let his ears show, the pointed tips quivering as he strained to hear the news over the sound of Eliana’s three elder sisters once again attempting to recreate the Elfen Girls newest music video.
Ana hadn’t been asked to join their fun. Not because she was tone deaf -- though, to be sure, every single one of the Lochland girls was about as musical as a bullfrog -- but because they knew she’d never be so frivolous with her time. Not when their father was home and there was a chance to win his praise.
Ana swore softly under her breath as a gear slipped, threatening to capsize the whole venture. Below the gears was her homework, half-finished and mostly wrong. Coffee colored one edge of her math tablet’s case, something for which she’d gotten a scolding, not because she’d ruined the computer, but because the beverage was not appropriate for a 12-year-old girl and especially not a girl in her condition. But her father drank it. So she did as well.
“Eliana, come sit with me,” her father said.
The gear slipped again, and this time, the half-finished catapult did come apart, a nut rolling away to disappear beneath an easy chair. Ana looked up at her father, eyes wide. This was just about as close to affection as she ever saw from him, and it made her own ears, large, but not quite as pointed, quiver.
Silently, she stood. On socked feet, she crossed the plush carpet to sit next to him on the couch, knees curling so she could tuck her toes beneath her butt.
“Do you know what’s happening, Ana?” he asked, one hand giving a weak wave toward the television.
Ana shrugged. “They’re signing the peace treaty,” she said.
Harvarde Lochland sighed. While the rest of the planet was out dancing in the streets, the end of the war between Fae and humans had left him melancholy. As she looked at him, Ana had a straight line of sight down through the dining room and the hall beyond. A door stood half open on the farthest wall, and through the opening she could see a glint of metal. And even from where she sat on the couch, she could smell the the burn of oil and solder.
“Papa,” Ana said, giving her father an attempt at a warm smile, “you can still make people things. Just maybe not weapons.”
Harvarde looked down at his youngest daughter, no hint of a smile on his own face. “Do you know what happens to weapons smith after a war?” he asked.
Ana gave a slow shake of her head. His tone was inquisitive, but beneath it she could hear an edge she couldn’t quite place. Not fear, precisely. It was more like he was steeling himself for a verbal onslaught that hadn’t yet been formed. She’d heard similar tones at school, when kids were in the middle of being caught in a lie that they knew they’d never actually pull off. But her father hadn’t ever shown a hint of of uncertainty that she could ever remember. And a lie? Surely not.
“They are ilamera,” he said, the Fae language of his home rolling easily off his tongue.
“Disgraced,” Ana translated out of instinct more than real understanding, long days of drilling through that impossible language burned into her mind.
“Outcast,” Harvarde agreed. “It will not happen right away, perhaps. But at some point, they will decide that the real person to blame is the one who supplied the weapons. And on this they will be able to agree wholeheartedly.”
Ana knew that the Fae and human forces did not have much in common, but all of their weapons bore the name Lochland. Harvarde had been diplomatic to a fault, careful to stay in the good graces of the humans while still fulfilling his obligation to the Fae as a weapon’s master. And both sides, it seemed, had allowed it because without Harvarde Lochland on their side, there was no hope of winning.
Ana looked back at the television. On a raised dais, the human Prime Minister and the Fae High Lord were seated at an oval table that seemed far too big considering the setting. The faced each other across a chasm of deep mahogany inlaid with Fae runes, twisting curves of golden and bronze. Ana spotted the sign for the falyorn, a winged bird that was said to have feathers the color of jade and was the size of a child’s leg, but the camera cut away before she could read what story might be laid out across the table.
A high priest of the Fae goddess Imli was speaking, which struck Ana as strange. True, Imili was a goddess of peace, but not of the Seelie. And the priest’s red hair marked him as a Seelie Fae just as surely as it did for the Lochland clan. But Imili was the UnSeelie’s favorite goddess of peace, for her name more closely translated into the goddess of waiting. The peace that occurred right before a war.
As the priest spoke in rapid Fae, a translation crawling across the screen, Ana watched the faces of both leaders, Prime Minister and the High Lord, each with a fixed smile full of too many teeth. “But Papa, don’t you want peace?” she asked. “The war is terrible. It has caused more destruction than any other in the history of our worlds.”
“You are parroting your teachers, Ana,” he chided. “This war is no worse than any of the wars the humans had already been locked in. We just changed the rules a little.”
The camera cut from the flame haired priest to a human dignitary who was carrying a tray upon which sat a single white sheet of paper and two pens.
“How quaint,” Harvarde murmured. “They are going to write the it down on actual paper.” He tilted his head back as Ana leaned forward, trying to get a good look at the pens. She’d never actually seen one used before outside of films. “Charlise! Evean! Adela!” Harvarde yelled, earning himself a reproachful groan from the other room as the singing, blissfully, cut out. “Come and watch this. Your teachers are sure to talk about it tomorrow at school.”
Three pairs of feet were stomped disagreeably toward the living room. Ana’s sisters, each a year older than the next, ending with Charlise who was 15, came to a stop behind the couch wearing identical scowls and crossing their arms so that they looked almost like a Fae army themselves. If the Fae army had worn their hair in fashionable curls and sported enough reflective fabric to blind the sun.
The high priest was speaking again, arms outstretched like a man who might be able to lift the roof off the building if only he tried hard enough. The news caster was still speaking as both leaders signed the paper, fixed smile still in place. But the translation scrolled across the bottom, and Eliana read the crawl, brow furrowing. The text read, “And may the dark be forever banished, a distant memory long forgotten by two peaceful nations.”
But that wasn’t what the priest was saying at all.
Harvarde sat forward, eyes suddenly sparking with life.
“Papa,” Ana said, confused. “They aren’t translating that right.”
With a low thrum that shook Ana’s collarbone even through the television’s speakers, the air behind the dais illuminated, a bright blue light schisming down like a lightning bolt suspended in mid air. The line cracked, each side pushing outward, first a slow motion and then a sudden surge, the air renting in two. On the other side of the tear, there was darkness broken only by stars and a strange orange glow, like a night sky polluted by the light of a city.
Before Ana had a chance to process what she was seeing, a figure emerged. A man. A Fae, the tips of his ears glinting with silver rings. His black hair had a ragged, choppy look to it, like it’d been cut by unsteady hands. The camera had been zoomed in on the exact spot he emerged from, and for a brief moment, he looked straight at the camera, eyes a dark pool with no iris or cornea, just pure black. Expressionless. Already dead.
He had a dagger, jagged and gleaming, gripped in one hand. With the other outstretched, he lunged right for the Prime Minister. The knife was buried to the hilt before anyone had a chance to react, red blood seeping into the cool cream color of his shirt.
Behind her, Charlise and Evean screamed. Harvarde was on his feet now, eyes riveted to the screen where the camera still showed the Prime Minister, slumped forward, blood pooling onto the peace treaty. The Fae, too, was dead, a bullet-wounded brain. His blood was darker, almost purple, and it mixed with the bright red of the Prime Minister’s, covering the sigils inlaid in the table, falyorn lost beneath the dark liquid.
“What’s happening?” Adela yelled. “What’s happening?”
Ana looked to her father, heart pounding not just because of the horror playing out on the screen. No, it was her father who scared her more.
He wore a smile. Broad and gleaming. When he spoke, the words were almost a purr.
“We’re back in business.”