Mei wiped the sweat from her brow and dusted her hands on the front of her pants. Leaning over, she grabbed the darkling by the cuffs at the small of his back and hauled him to his feet. The muscles in her arms flexed with her exertion to keep the thing still.
He sniveled and growled but with the magical cuffs on his wrists, he wasn’t able to use his dark powers against her. Truth was, she’d had it to hell and back with scum like lesser demons and her hatred was what had kept her victorious over them for the last several thousand years.
“Brimstone. I hate brimstone.” She wrinkled her nose in distaste and sifted them both to the Donovan’s antechamber.
“Ah, lovely Mei.” Carl Donovan, a man of indeterminate age despite the appearance of a fortyish college professor, smiled at her as he approached. “Successful as always, I see. This is the lesser we sent you after last week? Quick work.”
She handed him the paperwork that gave her permission from the council to hunt and capture the darkling she’d brought back. “It’s him. I caught up with him in Boston.. Had to chase his stinky ass back to the eighth level. There were three bodies in his squat. Card is there cleaning up.”
The Donovan, as most referred to him, looked over the paperwork, burned his signature into it, and with a flick of his wrist the darkling and the papers disappeared.
Mei conjured herself clean clothes and felt much better. Until the Donovan spoke again.
“Darling girl, I have an assignment for you.” He indicated that she sit on one of his couches with the tip of his jaw.
She did of course. One didn’t do anything else when a god gave an order, even disguised as a request. The room was beautiful and classic, dark oak furniture, sumptuous fabrics in deep color. A series of desks and small seating areas seemed to flow through the space. Mei had never been anywhere outside it and he’d always diverted her when she asked what lay beyond the frosted glass windows behind the big desk.
“Of course. I’m at your service.”
The Donovan simply raised one eyebrow slightly and sat across from her, crossing one leg over the other. “We’ve got a problem. A big one of the oh no, if you don’t stop this the world will end variety.”
“How very Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
He chuckled. “Yes. Nonetheless, you’ll have to go a bit farther afield for this one.”
“I was just in the eighth circle of hell. What’s farther afield than that?”
“Tir na nOg.”
She exhaled sharply. Only the thousand years of discipline that kept her alive as a prisoner in a darkling hellhole kept her from jumping up.
“I know you are averse to any dealing with the Fae but it can’t be helped. This problem needs a solution and you’re it.”
“I’m it? Come on, Donovan! I’m not the only warrior in your service. There are many who are much stronger than I am. More magically talented. Why not them?”
“They aren’t you.” He said it like it made sense.
A sound much like a growl trickled from her lips. “You know how I feel about them.”
“I do. And I know why. However, the time has come to tell you that you don’t know the whole truth. The truth is more complicated than that.”
She threw her hands up in the air. “Oh save me from complicated! Complicated is what you god types use when you fuck with the rest of us like puppets.”
“That may be so, but you don’t know the whole of it.”
“Because my mother wouldn’t tell it to me. I went back. After I managed to escape you know I went back to Tir na nOg. My mother had a lackey tell me that my father had been killed along with my brothers and that my title and property had been taken from me. I asked for the fucking truth and they exiled me. So pardon me if I’m a little hesitant to go back there and help them out when they fucked me over so royally.”
Donovan sat, fingers steepled in front of his chin, pensive. “Mei, have I ever done anything to harm you?”
“No. Of course not. Without you I’d still be in Carthau.”
“I am asking you to trust me on this. It is complicated. But things are different now and I believe the truth you seek is easier given now for a whole host of reasons. This is important. So important I can’t stress it enough.”
She closed her eyes for long moments. “Okay, Donovan. Because you ask I will go.”
“Thank you, Mei. I’ll come with you. Freya will meet us there.”
“Freya’s in on this too? Okay, so it is fate of the known universes important.”
He stood and shook his head, amused. “I’m so glad it’s Freya’s name that makes you snap to attention and not mine. Now you need a different outfit.” With one of his dramatic wrist flicks she was transformed.
Transformed into Mei NiaAine, direct descendant to the line of queens. Her golden-blonde hair was swept up, wrapped in silver cording as it cascaded down her back in long strands. Her jeans and boots had been traded for a gown in midnight blue with the same silver cording at the waist, pushing her breasts up and her cleavage out the wide keyhole neckline. It was backless and floor-length with side slits to the waist. A band circled her upper arm on each side, bearing her familial sigil, three concentric circles.
“I…” She blinked back tears and tried to swallow the emotion as she caught her reflection in the mirror across the room. “I’ve been forbidden to wear these symbols. I haven’t worn my familial colors in over two thousand years.”
“They’re yours to wear again and don’t ask any more questions because I can’t answer them. Not right now. I make you my promise to tell you all I can when I can. Even I have to obey some rules, darling. Now, head up, you’ll be the queen someday. We’re off.”
“To see the wizard,” Mei mumbled and she heard the whisper of his laughter as they sifted into her mother’s antechamber.
It was just as Mei remembered. The beauty of the space, of her memories of growing up there at her mother’s right hand. Of the joy of discovery of her powers, of wonderful moments with her family and friends. Of finding real love.
Then the pain. The pain of being told Nessa was her father and realizing a man she’d always liked and respected was her brother! Wanting so much to tell him so but having to keep it quiet because Nessa didn’t know and neither did Conchobar or Finn. So she’d instead become close friends with Con and watched her father from afar, aching to know him. And because of her friendship with Con she’d fallen for Jayce. Pain and loss sliced through her heart as she remembered his laugh, the way his hands had felt on her body. His voice as he’d called her name when they’d been captured by the Dark Fae. And when she’d come back, broken and needing comfort most, the Fae had exiled her. First she’d lost Jayce and then she’d lost her father and brothers without having had the opportunity to tell them who she was. And then she’d lost her very identity. For thousands of years she’d been a woman without a country.