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Welcome to my Fantasy WIP!

I miss the days when I wrote fanfiction chapter by chapter and people would comment, so please feel free to do so at the end of each chapter. I've decided to just post whenever I have a chapter finsihed, so check back. 

Note: This is a work in progress and therefore unedited and subject to errors and to change before publication. As you read along, you are becoming a part of my creative process. I appreciate your being here! For updates on chapters published, please subscribe to my newsletter.

Also: All pictures posted here are AI-generated for funsies. No AI-generated illustrations will be used in publication.

One more thing: This novel includes m-preg, which you probably figured out when you read the promo.

Shall we begin?

Prince Ayrie, AI generated for entertainment purposes only

Prince Ayrie of the Fae

Fae seal Zambesi family, AI generated for entertainment purposes only

The Zambesi Crest

Chapter One: Ayrie

The Great Divide

While dozens of industrious hands placed the last of the wildflowers in the rich soil, Nero, a sylph who worked within the king's court, continued his outrageous story about a confrontation between a griffin and a nimblebug.

Doubled over with laughter, Ayrie gasped. "Stop! I'll be so weak from laughter, Ote will have to carry me back to the castle on his horse."

"I doubt I would even notice you there, my prince," Ote teased. "You're no bigger than a glimmermouse." He grinned when his best friend shot him an annoyed look.

Born only three days apart—Ayrie to the king's consort and Ote to one of the king's trusted advisors—the boys had grown up like brothers. They most definitely bickered like brothers, but they were also fiercely loyal to one another. When they weren't fighting.

 

A clod of freshly watered dirt landed squarely in Ote's face and dripped off his narrow face with its chiseled jaw.

Nero burst into light, tinkling laughter, the only kind a beautiful, ethereal creature such as the sylph could produce. "Good aim, sire," Nero said from where he appeared to be lounging on air, propped on one elbow with ankles crossed several feet above the ground.

Wiping the muddy mess from his face, Ote shot an incensed look at Ayrie.

"You!"

"Ah-ah-ah, Ote! You cannot threaten our prince!" Nero crowed.

Turning on the sylth, Ote gritted out, "That's Lord Vanderbusen to you. And thank you for the reminder, oh Annoying One. Then perhaps you won't object to me taking out my ire on you instead!"

 

He took off after Nero, who zipped up the mountain on a puff of air, no doubt to hide in one of the caves until Ote's renowned temper cooled.

As the group began packing up the pruners, trowels, and other equipment, Ros, one of the king's stable boys, bounded up to Ayrie. Barely one hundred years old, the boy already stood as tall as the prince and would soon surpass him in height. Physically, Ayrie took after his father, Eldrin of the Drago-Fae, an ancient race of dragon tamers. Smaller than average and very agile, the Drago-Fae could climb mountains, enter a dragon's nest, then mount the offspring and fly back home to domesticate the creature for mining gemstones. In temperament, Ayrie took after the king, imperious and hot-headed, but also empathetic and kind.

"They're beautiful, aren't they, your majesty?" Ros looked over the rows of wildflowers the group had planted along the hillside to replace those that had been overrun by thornthrottle.

"Yes, they are. Let's hope they last this time," Ayrie said, his gaze drifting to the Fringes in the distance when he thought of the Umbral and the havoc it was wreaking in his realm.

"Oh, I'm sure they will, my liege," Ros said confidently. "We were very careful to get every bit of the thornthrottle out of the bed before planting."

Over the past fifty or so years, the invasive species of plant had crossed into the Ephemeral realm, home to all creatures of light, from the Umbral, where all dark creatures resided. The thornthrottle spread quickly, choking out the indigenous flora and taking up the space with its ugly and painfully sharp nettles. Ayrie had heard whispers that the unusual appearances of fauna and flora from the Umbral realm were a sign that the prophesied End Time was at hand. His fathers refused to discuss the subject with him, but Ayrie had caught bits of conversation, which had led him to look into the Prophecy.

Sometimes he wished he hadn't. The future looked bleak for the Ephemeral realm, and Ayrie soon took on the attitude of the majority—that when the time came they would fight, but for now they would live in the moment and not fret about what was to come, as they couldn't do anything about it.

"I'm sure you have managed it this time, Ros," Ayrie said kindly, only to take a quick step back when the boy suddenly lunged at him, shoving the Prince of the Fae hard, sending him toppling to the ground at the same moment that bright light flashed, followed by a tremendous boom.

One moment the prince was standing in the sunlight talking to Ros, and the next, the world had darkened and he was rolling down the hillside. At the bottom, he slammed against an outcropping of rock, breath knocked out of him. Another great crack of thunder shook the earth, and, for a moment, Ayrie was confused. Had the End Time arrived? He panicked when he realized he didn't have his bow and arrow with him. Would he have to face their enemies with a shovel and trowel?

"Ayrie!" Ote called over driving rain, fear lacing his voice.

Lying on his back, Ayrie watched, through the deluge, the trees above him thrashing violently. Carefully, he pushed himself to a sitting sitting position and turned to see Ote skidding down the hill towards him, reddish-blond hair plastered to his head from the rain.

He fell to his knees next to where Ayrie sat on the ground. "Are you hurt?"

"I don't think so," Ayrie said, blinking against the rain. He would have bruises, but otherwise he didn't think he was injured. The storm had come out of nowhere, but that was happening more and more lately. The weather had been changing for decades, becoming more and more violent as the Great Divide between the realms dissolved. The days of gentle showers were long gone.

"Lightning hit the great oak you were standing beneath. Had you not moved at that moment, you would have been crushed under its weight," Ote said, helping the prince to his feet.

"Ros pushed me out of the way," Ayrie realized.

"Saving you and forfeiting his life," Ote reported solemnly.

Heart falling, Ayrie looked toward the hill before starting up it, Ote at his side. As they got closer, Ayrie could see the mammoth oak tree, smoke tendrils rising through the rain from its blackened halves.

The sky had grown so dark, it seemed more like night than day. Another loud crack of thunder shook the earth as the two men arrived at the scene.

Looking down at the dead boy's face, Ayrie thought morosely that perhaps Ros was lucky to have escaped the dismal future. He hated to be so fatalistic, but the more signs of the End Time that occurred, the more he had to face the fact that when the two realms overlapped, there would be war and bloodshed, and those who survived would live a life much different from what it once was.

Abruptly, the driving rain turned to hail as big as crab apples.

Ote yelled, "Everyone to the caves! Lyles, the prince!"

A member of Ayrie's guard and sworn to protect the prince, Lyles was built like an ox and determined to do his duty. Taking Ayrie by the arm, he shouted, "Come, my prince!" When Ayrie didn't move, the big man unceremoniously threw the prince over his shoulder and sprinted for the mountain.

"Put me down," Ayrie cried out, words drowned out by the whomp of the hail balls hitting the earth.

Set on his feet in the shelter of the nearest cave, Ayrie gave his guardsman an earful. "I am not a child to be hoisted over your shoulder like a sack!"

 

But the prince's protests were quickly squashed when wind picked up, sending hail bouncing off the floor and walls of the cave. Lyles pushed Ayrie and Oat backward against the cold, damp wall, shielding them with his bigger body. They stood like that for several moments, listening to the storm rage, until the sky suddenly lightened and the hail and wind stopped.

At the cave's entrance, Ayrie looked out at the broken tree limbs, flattened grass, and ruined flower beds. Once, rain in the Ephemeral realm had meant no more than a gentle wash that quenched the parched earth and then faded into sunshine—nothing resembling the terrible storms of recent days that came quickly and laid waste to the beautiful landscape the Fae worked so hard to nurture. It was becoming difficult to see the point in reconstructing when the breaks between weather catastrophes were getting briefer and the damage they wrought growing ever more pronounced.

"Let's go home," the prince said wearily.

Ote gave the call to round up the horses, and everyone scurried to do so.

The bedraggled group rode toward the palace walls, Ros' body strapped to a hastily-woven mat and dragged behind those in the rear. As they approached the castle walls, the members of the king's guard rode out to meet them. Upon seeing the body on the mat, the lead guard gave a signal to those in the back, and the throaty bellow of a horn echoed off the mountains around them.

"Ayrie!" Eldrin rushed toward his son, who was creating a puddle of rainwater on the foyer floor.

The sight of his birth father broke Ayrie, the horror of the last couple of hours sinking in. "Papa," he choked out as Eldrin embraced him. "Ros died—he saved my life."

Eldrin made a sympathetic noise, murmured a prayer to the elementals, then led Ayrie into a small room where a merry fire was dancing in the grate. Within seconds, half a dozen servants bustled in to take care of the prince, getting him dry and in fresh clothes in record time. Eef, a sprite who tended to the prince's daily grooming, began combing out and re-braiding his long hair with nimble fingers. Only royalty wore their hair past mid-neck, and Ayrie's had never been cut—only trimmed. It fell in a raven cascade down his back. Braiding it was the only way to keep it out of the way, and Eef was a master at it.

Surrendering himself to her ministrations, Ayrie's mind went back to the events of the afternoon and what they meant. Sightings of horrific creatures on the Fringes were being reported more and more. Ayrie had seen the shadows—dark beings who were said to suck out souls for sustenance—lurking there many times in recent years. Just last week, while riding in the forest, Ayrie had come upon a unicorn mangled by something that had to have had jaws like steel traps and rows of sharp teeth—nothing like any of the creatures who lived in the Ephemeral. Of all creatures of the light, the dragon was most fierce, and dragons usually stayed in the mountains. They also tended to singe their victims with fire before flying them to their nests to devour them. Ayrie wondered, with the Great Divide coming to a close between the two realms, and the dark and light realms began to overlap, were unicorns and griffins popping up in the land of shadows? Did pegasi soar in their darkened skies alongside great bats and flying monkeys? Ayrie shuddered. Those beautiful creatures did not belong in that place, but it wouldn't be long until all would exist together. Then, it was just a matter of who survived.

"Come, my son," Eldrin said when the sprite had finished with Ayrie's hair. He held out his hand. "The king has asked to see us."

On the way out of the room, Ayrie glanced in the mirror on the wall. His hair was neat with intricate braids at his temples and the rest falling in two long braided ropes. His features looked sharp and pale, and he pinched his cheeks and bit his lush lips to bring some color into them before following his father through the door into a passageway leading to the king's private rooms on the other side of the castle.

As Ayrie followed his birth father along the corridor lit by the occasional orb of faery light, he recalled what Ote had said to him a few nights ago as they'd lain together on the roof outside the prince's chamber window and stared up at the black sky dappled with constellations, many of which hadn't been there a decade ago.

"It isn't fair, Ayrie. Damn the Umbral and its selfish ruler. If that vampire king would only cooperate." He stopped, cleared his throat, and said, "Look, what's that one supposed to be?" He pointed to constellation that appeared to have a curled tail.

Ayrie had been studying books about the Umbral for years. "I believe it's a feverfly. It's bite induces a fever so high the victim burns from the inside out."

"Lovely," Ote said dryly, letting his hand fall to rest on his lean stomach. "Do they not have anything beautiful in the Umbral realm?"

"Ote. What did you mean about the vampire king not cooperating?"

When Ote didn't answer, Ayrie rose onto his elbow and looked down at his friend. Lately he was beginning to wonder if something was purposefully being kept from him. Too many times, he'd caught his fathers mid-conversation only to have them change subject when they realized he was near. With his father in close counsel with the king, Ote very well might have overheard something that Ayrie didn't know.

"As prince, I demand that you tell me everything you know about the Prophecy."

Ote made a face, letting Ayrie know what he thought of having rank pulled on him, but his sour expression faded quickly, turning sad and scared.

"Your fathers haven't told you anything?" he asked.

"If they had, I wouldn't be asking you."

The words tumbled from Ote's mouth in a rush. "That vicious vampire king's the reason whey the alliance hasn't been made between realms."

"An alliance is possible?" Ayrie asked, confused. "If that's so, why would the vampire king refuse to comply?"

"He probably thinks he'll come out on top when the two worlds collide, but the Prophecy says otherwise. Both our worlds will languish in the end time if we can't make a way to live together peaceably and move into the Continuum." He looked Ayrie in the eyes, his own alight with yearning. "Just think, Ayrie. We could live our lives. Mate. Have families." As suddenly as it had appeared, the light in his eyes vanished.

 

Although Ayrie tried and even threatened, Ote wouldn't say anything else about the subject.

Now, as Ayrie followed Eldrin out of the passageway and into his father the king's offices, his determination to ask about this alliance strengthened.

"There you are," the king said tersely from the other side of his desk, which was fashioned from the smooth white bones of the red dragon Eldrin had slayed years ago. His sage, Ygris, stood at his right elbow, a tall, watchful man.

Despite his husband's harsh tone, Eldrin approached Innis and kissed him on the cheek. With the small stature that Ayrie had inherited, Eldrin looked almost like a child next to the tall broad-chested king. who patted his husband's face and looked at him with concern. "Are you all right? I told you to get some rest."

At those words, Ayrie took a second look at the man who gave birth to him. "Papa, are you sick?"

"No, I'm fine," Eldrin said, turning to his son with a smile.

Innis turned to Ygris. "Go have dinner, and close the door behind you." When the man was gone, Ayrie fancied that the room got lighter, as though someone had pulled back the curtains and opened a window.

"Has something happened, Innis?" Eldrin asked.

Opening the middle drawer of his desk, Innis took out a paper and passed it to Eldrin, who bent his head to read it.

"No!" he burst out when he had finished. "Innis, no!" He looked horrified, eyes wide and pleading.  He looked on the verge of collapse, so Ayrie rushed to his side and put a hand beneath his father's elbow to support him.

Innis came around the desk and helped Eldrin into a chair. With uncharacteristic gentleness, he knelt at his mate's feet.

"It is our answer, El."

"It will kill him, Innis. Our bright light."

"He will have no future otherwise. None of us will."

Eldrin's lower lip trembled, and Innis pressed a kiss to his consort's cheek before getting to his feet again.

"This has to do with the Prophecy, doesn't it, Father?" Ayrie said, holding the king's gaze. "And with me."

Innis nodded somberly. "It does."

"Please tell me, Father."

"We have received an invitation from Marona Belladonna for you to go to the Umbral realm and be wed to her son, Prince Lauden, as soon as possible. This will form the alliance that can save us all."

"So, that is the foretold alliance. The princes of the realm must marry." It made sense but was not spelled out in any of the documents he'd been able to find on the Prophecy. "Why was I never told before?"

"King Haver Belladonna has always refused to entertain the idea of our two races merging, even if death and destruction were the only alternative. Without his compliance, it could not be done. There was no reason to worry you with it when it was an impossibility. But King Haver is on his deathbed, and his mate Marona has used his seal to send this missive. She and her son want to go ahead with the marriage. You are to go there and wed Lauden immediately."

Innis picked up the letter and showed it to Ayrie. At the bottom of the hand-written correspondence was a black ink seal of a wolf's head with a belladonna plant formed into a wreath around its neck, its deadly dark berries visible among the leaves.

"You can refuse," Eldrin said, standing.

"Eldrin!" Innis warned.

"Well, he can." He turned back to Ayrie. "You would have to live there, Ayrie. In that dark place. And you would have to produce an heir with that…that…abomination. He will drink from you. I can't bear it!"

Ayrie couldn't suppress the shudder that ran through him, more at the thought of the Umbral realm and its suffocating darkness than its prince.

With a sigh of resignation, the king stepped forward, placing his hands on Ayrie's cheeks. "My darling child. If you don't want to go to that terrible place, that's the end of it. No matter the consequences."

"But I could save us all if I go," Ayrie said.

"Maybe," Eldrin got up from his chair. "We don't know that for sure. And you would have to produce an heir with him, Ayrie. That horrible man. It could kill you--a prince of the light coupling with something so dark and bearing his offspring."

The words stirred the willful stubbornness in Ayrie. "You forget, Papa. The Fae may be beautiful, but we are not weak."

"He is right, Eldrin," Innis said.

"I agree to this alliance, Father. I will marry the prince of the vampires, have his child, and usher us all into the Continuum."

Clearly stricken, Eldrin turned away. Ayrie understood. He would be stupid not to be afraid. But with this decision, something lightened within him. He could finally do something about this gloom hanging over them.

"You are permitted to take two people with you," Innis said. "I suggest Lyles be one of them. I'll let you decide the other. You leave in three days."

Ayrie nodded. Now that he had made up his mind, he would prefer his departure to be sooner rather than later.

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