The Devil's Queen

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Prelude 1: Ardent

The waters of the bay were black. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence. The Selkie of the Island of Seals watched her brothers and sisters shoot out of the water as they frantically tried to make it out of the Ring of Death that surrounded the island. Patrolling the ring were the seals’ most dangerous adversary, their most ardent predators. Two-toned menaces of the deep, the Great White Bellies hunted the seals with a single-minded fervor that never ceased to amaze her.

Their own Ma’er were just as dangerous and unfortunately had the same taste for seal flesh as their brethren. The Selkie also knew that her flesh was on the menu as well. Ma’er, Selkie, Harpy, . . . They were all still a part of nature and nature’s maxim: kill or die. She also had to make her own sojourn out into the waters of the bay in order to gather food. She would soon have to make her own trek through the deadly waters.

She hiked back up several rocks until she reached the promontory that she called home. Neatly folded on the sharp rocks was a single fur. She shook it out and wrapped it around her torso like a sarong. Her feet elongated and webbing appeared between the toes. Her legs fused from groin to knee. In addition to her physical modifications, the power of her skin would protect her from the water and make her appear a seal to all but other Guardian Creatures. The skin would also give her greater strength and stamina, but she would still be vulnerable to the might of the Great Whites and their Ma’er.

From her promontory she leaped into the water. The water rushed over her head as she propelled herself through it like her brethren. There was little visibility, and she knew that it would only get worse as the waters churned from the winds of a storm coming in from the sea. She must make her search for food quick, or else set herself up for an attack. She slid through the water, keeping a watch below her even though she knew that realistically, her chances of spotting an attacker before they had a chance to charge was small.

She was halfway through the Ring when she caught the movement out of the corner of her eye. Quickly she leapt from the water in an attempt to elude her pursuer, but it was no use. The predator’s body crashed into hers, catapulting her further into the air. She screamed with a human voice as she spun through the air. She tried to control her fall, but it was impossible. Bracing to feel the sharp teeth of her attacker, she was shocked instead to feel arms enfolding her before they both slammed into the water with bruising force.

Her usually gentle, but now terrified brown eyes swung up to meet the gloating, death black eyes of her captor. His face was a nightmare for her kind. A mouth full of sharp, honed teeth glinted at her, framed by the pale skin covering his jaw and lower cheeks. His upper face was the characteristic charcoal gray mask of his kind, with the delineation running from the tip of his straight nose, curving just under his cheekbones, down around his jaw, and continuing down his neck serving to further separate his dark back from his pale front. His eyes were large, but the shape was not the circle of his brethren. Rather, they were set beneath a prominent brow and almond shaped. His dark hair floated about his face with some of it gathered into several braids threaded with bone and shell beads.

The expression on his face was distinctly gloating, but there was another edge to it. He held her close to his body, his greater size enfolding her, encircling her. His smile became merely parted lips, his eyes scanning her face with a gentle touch. She was entranced by those eyes, those lips, realizing that while he hungered for flesh, perhaps it was not in the way that she originally assumed. He was holding her the way she’d once glimpsed the male half of a mating pair of Sharptooth Ma’er holding his mate.

At once she began to catalog what all of her senses were telling her. He smelled faintly of death, but it wasn’t a completely unpleasant scent. She and her brethren were not the top of the food chain, but she was still a predator. That faint whiff of death told her that he was a successful hunter. Along the bare skin of her arms and the thick fur of her lower body she could feel the heat of his body. It was that heat that made her relax, made her more pliant in his grasp.

For the first time, she spoke. “What do you want of me?”

His eyes closed in distinct pleasure as he listened to her quiet question. She could only wait as he seemed to savor the sound of her melodious voice. She jumped when his body began to grow smaller. Many of the larger Ma’er had the ability to shift size, but she’d never been smothered by one when he decided to use his power. He also began to swim towards the nearest shore. “Please,” she murmured, fear making her voice raspy.

He was the size of a bull Selkie, but his hands were still so big. He rubbed her spine gently. He drew her closer when she shivered. He didn’t answer her question, but the Selkie soon forgot her fear. It was exhilarating to be able to swim across the waters of the Bay without fear of attack. She glimpsed other White Bellies swimming close in curiosity, but they steered clear of their Brother who held her. As they neared shore, she saw the Swimming Birds flitting around them. They seemed unafraid of the Ma’er, and she even glimpsed the Swimming Birds’ Harpy waving congenially at them. The Harpy’s grin grew even larger when she saw that he was holding the Selkie.

Suddenly he swung her up, causing her to give a little scream. He had gotten smaller - so had she - and had called up his land legs. The Selkie realized that her fur had been stealthily unraveled by a Ma’er hand. Any of the Guardians could unravel the magic of another, but it was considered good manners not to mess with that – outside of dining, of course. The Ma’er strode up the beach until he reached a soft patch of sand. He sat her down and then plopped into the sand beside her. He just stared at her face for a moment before he finally answered her question. “You.”

The Selkie had completely forgotten about her question. She had become accustomed to his presence and no longer feared for her life. Predators did not play with their food. This, she realized, was play. “What?”

He grinned. “What I want. I want you.”

“Why?” she asked.

He didn’t answer verbally. Instead, he dropped his head into the crook of her neck. She felt his nostrils flare as he drew in her scent.

“How?” Predators and prey could not be mates.

“I don’t know. I just know that you smell good. I don’t want you as food. I want you as a mate.” He nuzzled her neck some more before gently biting the junction between her neck and shoulder.

The Selkie pushed him away, and amazingly enough, he yielded to her gentle motion. She ducked her head and rubbed her nose into his collarbone. She drew in his scent again, trying to see if the feeling was mutual.

Death. Salt. Seaweed. Male.

“How can I want you too?” she murmured. “You smell better than any bull Selkie who has courted me.”

The Ma’er stiffened. “I will eviscerate any male who dares touch you,” he growled, his voice going almost sub vocal.

She leaned into him, instinctively trying to lessen the anger of a possessive male. “No male will. Not with your scent on me.”

She knew from experience that even though she could not scent it on him for some odd reason, he also smelled of Great White- dead seal and fish. It was a subtle distinction from other Sharptooth Ma’er, and even a very small one from Selkies, but anyone who got within range would smell him on her immediately. She began to rub herself against his torso, her motion not unlike that of the waves crashing behind them. He stared at her uncertainly - Ma’er did not use scent marking. Even as sensitive as they were, the sea would not hold scent in one area. Selkies, however, thrived on marking territory with scent, not unlike their cousin Ly’en.

She pushed her Ma’er down into the sand and laid her body across his torso. She stared down into those eyes that were still death black. “Your scent is all over me now as mine is all over you. No one will dare touch me.”

“Or go near you,” he murmured. “You’ve gotten the enemy’s scent on you and not a scratch. They won’t believe that you got away by chance.”

She shrugged. Seals and Selkies lived in colonies for protection. Selkies did not usually go loner, but they sometimes did. “You can be my colony,” she said.

He searched her eyes and nodded. “I forsake the depths and you forsake your kind.”

Knowing what she did of the Ma’er, she realized that his sacrifice was as great as hers. “Then it is settled. I am your mate until the time comes to part.”

He shook his head. “Forever.”

The Selkie cocked her head. “You’re sure of that.”

He smiled as he leaned in to kiss her neck. “What is your name?”

She shook her head. “Among my kind, we don’t receive names until our tenth year. I’m only eight.”

“Then can I name you, mate mine?” he asked, nuzzling her jaw.

She blinked. “If you like,” she murmured. “I have no ideas.”

He took a deep breath. “Ayl’at would suit you, but you’re not a Great White.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck. “Ayl’at will be fine. By being your mate I will have to give up my kind. No Selkie would tolerate me after being with you.”

“I have a question for you,” he murmured. “You acquiesced to me very easily. Why?”

“You’re the first male that has courted me to my liking,” she admitted.

His eyes blazed with unholy fire. “Then I will be the first, last, and only.”

She smiled. “What is your name?”

“Set’at. I am Set’at.”

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