From the opening pages of FAERY…
WE’D SAVED THE HUMAN WORLD, not that it showed. The whole city of Houston, Texas: a burnt-out shell of its former self. The office towers downtown looked like a bomb had gone off—steel frames bent and twisted, glass windows shattered all over the streets and sidewalks, concrete crumbled. Most of four-and-a-half-million people vanished without a trace. They were the lucky ones. The ones who remained became everything they feared in their darkest heart of hearts that they might become. They hurt each other. Killed each other, and themselves.
All because of a girl named Melody I went to high school with. She had the kind of family you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. A drunken stepfather who liked to use his fists and a mother who took his side because she’d rather be bruised and broken—or dead—than alone. Melody discovered one important fact about her real father that she clung to like a life jacket in a storm at sea. Her real dad was a Demon. She’d inherited his fiery, destructive powers.
She thought that made her special, better than the rest of us. She never understood that better wasn’t the point. Us was. We lived or died together. We had each others’ backs.
Melody learned all the tricks to summon the Demon and did it, damn the consequences. She’d rather be wanted and loved by someone even if that someone meant to destroy the world.
We stood in front of the remains of her house, debris littering the perfect lawn, the roof caved in. Her family, dead. Melody dead, at seventeen. Whether she’d paid a fair price for her actions didn’t matter. All that mattered was that she was gone and nothing would bring her—or any of the others who’d died—back to life. I hated what she’d done.
I grieved for her anyway, as did my friends—fellow Demon fighters. They stood on the lawn in various states of disbelief and horror. I blinked, realizing that the world had gone blurry because smoke and water filled my eyes. My heart felt like a gaping wound. I rubbed the heel of my hand across my chest, trying to ease the pain. I tasted smoke in the back of my throat. I didn’t think I’d ever taste anything else again.
We’d saved our world, but nothing had changed. The suburban neighborhood with the beige, cookie-cutter houses and neat, over-fertilized lawns cringed under the cloudless sky. Flocks of grackles filled the branches of the oak and ash trees that lined the block. The air smelled like overcooked meat, as if someone had a roast chicken in the oven, forgotten to take it out, and left it to burn, baby, burn.
Simone squeezed my hand. “Kev? We need to go.”
I looked at her. Her very human eyes had softened from their original violet to doe-brown, with dark smudges hugging the real estate underneath. Deep furrows creased her forehead. The feathered edges of her peacock halter ruffled as she moved, her black leather pants and motorcycle boots scuffed all to hell. A smear of soot and blood traveled the length of her right arm, shoulder to fingertips.
She’d said we had to go. “Now?” I asked.
“You can feel it, can’t you? The need?” she asked. “I know it’s there because how could it not be? But I can’t actually feel it anymore. It’s awful. Like a word on the tip of my tongue that I can’t remember.”
A few days ago, she’d been fae. Wings and magic. A member of the species that lived inside the planet and commanded the deep, abiding forces that governed fate. Then the Demon had turned our world upside down, tipping her nature toward human, playing on her greatest fear—that she’d lose her powers and her ability to help us.
The realm of Faery needed us now. The edges of my skin, the marrow of my bones, pulsed with a need that didn’t belong to me. The need spoke to me—not in an out-loud voice, but one I heard like a whisper along my nerves: URGENT the realm’s on the edge of dying something’s killing us URGENT.
I shouldn’t be able to feel or hear that. A few days ago, I’d been human. Granted, I’d had a little magic of my own, and a job I didn’t want as the go-between among fae and humans, but still. Now, white-feathered wings grew out of my back and when I looked at the world I lived in, I felt emotions that should’ve brought me to my knees: Despair. Terror. Grief. All of them with the volume turned up to ear-splitting, mind-numbing, heartbreaking.
I’d always thought the fae had hearts of stone, Simone aside. Now I knew differently. If I felt a featherweight more, I’d explode. I’d die from it. So I locked it down as best I could and held on for dear life.
Simone rose up on her toes and talked at someone over my shoulder. “Yes, we need to go. You have your own work to do, seer. But Kevin and I have got to go to Faery. There’s trouble there that whatever you do won’t fix. It’s up to us.”
I blinked again and followed her gaze to see my best friend, Rude, walk over, the hem of his Hawaiian shirt flapping in the breeze. A thick layer of soot hid the color. Ditto with his shorts and sneakers. And, really his everything. Except the bright orange of his buzz cut. That shone through the dirt just fine. His eyes were black. All iris, no whites. He wasn’t his usual class-clown, lucky-beyond-belief, too-cool-dude self either. He was a faery seer, the magical law in the human world. He kept the peace. Or made war when necessary.
“How long will you be gone?” he asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Simone said.
Rude laid a hand on my arm. To keep me here? Or to tell me to be careful?
“Tell my dad. Take care of Amy,” I said. The two people I’d be leaving behind who wouldn’t understand why I had to go. Dad had bad history with the fae. Amy was—had been—my girlfriend. More heartbreak there, but it couldn’t matter right now. It couldn’t change what Simone and I had to do.
As sure as I knew the urgent need of Faery, I understood that Simone and I had to meet it. Others would try, and others would die. We might, too. But if we didn’t go, it meant more than the end of that realm.
The realm of Faery determined the fate of all the worlds. The end of Faery meant the end of everything and everyone I’d ever loved.
THE TWILIGHT felt charged, electric enough to raise the hairs on my arms. Doug fir and hemlock, their enormous trunks furred with moss, stretched higher than I could see. The crow that had been following me cawed on an overhead branch, taking off in a flutter of feathers and a shower of sap and needles. Its shadow flowed over me like water, then wheeled away to the north, leaving me alone in the Faery wood, the Forest of Dreams.
I wanted it to come back. To land nearby and let me ask it questions. Maybe it would act friendly and answer. Then again, it might threaten to pluck out my eyes and eat them for dinner instead.
I shoved my hands in the front pockets of my jeans. They’d been clean once upon a time, just like my white T-shirt and my jean jacket. My sneakers had been white once, too. We’d been too long on the run, with more important things to deal with than laundry.
Faery was dying. It was doing its damnedest to take us with it.
Simone had gone to get water an hour ago, leaving me to set up camp. She hadn’t come back when I expected. Or ten minutes after that, when I officially started to worry. Or twenty minutes after that, when I started to panic. So I’d gone searching. But the loam under my feet held no trace of footprints. No broken or bent branches stood out in the wild undergrowth.
I should never have agreed for her to go out alone.
The wind gusted from the west. It smelled like salt and impending rain. Last thing we needed: to end up soaked to the skin with night on the way and the temperature dropping.
I sucked at this whole tracking thing. Ten to one I’d get lost and Simone would have to find me. If she was all right. If she wasn’t dead in a glade with her throat cut, or face-down in a river, her skin turning cold and white and wrinkled under the water.
Nice. Way to freak out.
I took a deep breath. It didn’t stop my heart from racing. It didn’t stop my hackles from rising. Fact of the matter was, there were worse things than straight-up death here in Faery. There were…things.
This was my life now. In my former life, I was a senior at Houston’s own Cardinal High School, except I hadn’t been there since September something-or-other. Time moved differently here than in the Human world—faster, more fluid. By my reckoning, we’d been trying to save Faery for a handful of weeks, but weeks here could mean months back home. It might be spring break in the human world by now. Or summer.
I could go crazy thinking about that. I couldn’t think about that.
In all our time here, we’d never made it to the Court to talk to the King or the Queen. Every time we tried to head straight there, we ended up somewhere else, ambushed, fighting, or running for our lives from Fae who’d turned sick and much worse—homicidal. It’d turned into a straight-up survival game with all comers playing for keeps.
It felt as though any second, Faery would eat us alive. Swallow us whole. We’d never escape.
Faery sucked me into its orbit a couple of years ago when the Faery King had kidnapped my father for leverage because he needed something from me. I’d been nobody—just some kid with a dead mom and an alcoholic dad, who wanted nothing more than to scholarship my way out, go to school as far away as possible. Instead, I came down with a magical ability. I could hear other people’s thoughts if imminent mortal danger was involved.
To rescue my father, I needed help. Enter my best friend, Rude Davies, faery seer, enforcing the peace among humans and faeries and demons and God only knew what else, going on five years. And enter Simone, who lived in an old yellow school bus parked in a downtown alley behind an empty warehouse. Graffiti spray-painted on the brick walls, broken bottles, the whole works—and this girl’s bus had four good tires that mysteriously remained un-stolen, windows filled with strings of Christmas lights, seats populated with stretched canvases she’d painted on, air smoky with patchouli incense, and a whole wardrobe of hippie and leather wear hanging on a rack in the back. Oh, yeah. Also, the girl had very large, very delicate wings sticking out of her back.
She used to sing in a rock band. She sang so well, in fact, with a magic in her voice that could make anyone who heard it feel whatever she wanted, that the Faery King wanted her for himself. So he cast a spell to turn her from Human to Fae.
She gave me her name the first night I met her. She’d never given it to any other human. Having her name would give them the power to call her to them, and she’d have no choice but to show. She couldn’t have those kinds of strings. Except with me.
Everyone else called her the Singer. Including me, if I had to refer to her in conversation with other people. I’d never give up her name after she’d trusted me with it. Not ever.
Simone and Rude and I teamed up with a couple of other friends to face down the Faery King and take back my dad. No matter what kind of hot mess the man was, he was still my father. I went up against the King and surprisingly survived, sane. I got my dad back and I got a new job I didn’t want as a go-between for the Human and Faery realms.
Through all of that, Simone fell in love with me. I fell right back, hard. But I had a girlfriend, Amy, who I also loved and didn’t want to let go.
We tried to work it out through magical misadventures and then with a full-blown apocalypse bearing down on us, one that’d turned us into our own worst nightmares. I’d become Fae, losing my humanity. Simone had become human, unable to lend us her magic. We’d stopped a Demon from destroying the world. Simone and I had come here to try to save Faery before our world righted itself, but Rude had seen to that—we knew he had because Simone and I had shed our nightmare skins and gone back to normal selves. She was fae once more, and I was human. Normal for us.
I’d bet money that Rude had made everything and everyone else right if he could, but I had doubts that extended to Amy. When I last saw her, Amy was living in a bayou back home as some kind of mermaid. She wanted nothing to do with me. We were over. No talking. No closure Just over. I dreamed about her sometimes, and when I did, I saw her in the water, alone and lonely, and at least some of the fault belonged to me.
I couldn’t help her—not from here, not now, if she’d even accept my help. But I could help Simone. I hoped.
A branch cracked. Loud like a gunshot. Very near behind me.
I fought the urge to freeze. My first instinct. One that would get me killed one of these days.
Instead, I ducked behind a fir whose trunk was more than wide enough to hide me. I listened with every fiber of my being, because my life depended on it.
A twig snapped. I flinched.
A drop of rain landed on the bridge of my nose and slid down slow, trickling off the tip.
I heard three heavy, stumbling footfalls crunch on fallen needles. Underneath that sound, a moan of pain in a familiar, mesmerizing voice.
A single word in the same spell of a voice bloomed in my mind like a poisoned flower. Knife.
It was a thought, and not mine. It belonged to Simone. She was in danger. Mortal danger.
I broke cover in time to watch her stagger out of the brush and fall face first into the dirt, her long purple and black hair fanned out like a lion’s mane, her wings folded up tight against her peacock-feather halter. Blood dripped from thorn scratches on her arms. Her black leather pants were sliced through at the right thigh. More blood welled through the tear—made by something other than a thorn. Something bigger, sharper. I leaned close and caught the stink of fear beneath the copper-penny scent of her wounds. Her fear turned mine up a hundred notches.
She grabbed at my shirt collar and whispered. “Kev.”
I spoke low in her ear, scanning the woods for any movement. For anything at all. “What happened?”
She opened her mouth to answer. Nothing came out. Her eyes closed. Her body went limp. She’d passed out.
I slipped my hands under her arms and dragged her toward the shelter of the fir, the toes of her boots carving grooves in the soil, making it easy for whoever had hurt her to follow. I couldn’t carry her and cover our tracks at the same time.
For the thousandth time since we’d arrived in Faery, I cursed my lack of offensive magic. No spells. No skills. No way to fight off an enemy. Only the possibility that I might hear them coming.
We couldn’t go on like this. Something had to give. I hoped to God it wouldn’t be us. I wasn’t ready to give up my life. Or hers.
Simone came to halfway to the tree, struggling against me until I sat her down with her back against the rough bark. I hunkered down beside her and brushed her hair away from her face. She turned her head to look at me, a crease forming down the center of her forehead. She narrowed her eyes, focusing hard on my face. The violet color of them darkened to something stormy and unpredictable.
“Kev, there’s a—”
Lightning pain exploded in my shoulder. The world turned grainy for a split second, then spun into razor-sharp focus. I ducked and spun and—whoosh—something cut the air where my head had been. I couldn’t see anything except two wiry legs and a blade arcing into a blur, aiming low for me.
Simone couldn’t fight. She was hurt. Vulnerable.
I went for the clumsy tackle—only chance I had. I hit the wiry legs hard enough to knock the breath clean out of me. I sucked air and coughed and wrapped my arms around them tight as we went over. The owner of the legs struck the ground with a grunt. A heartbeat later, I piled on top.
I braced for the blade to come down hard and slice between my shoulder blades. But it didn’t. The knife’s owner went absolutely still.
I pushed up on my hands and gazed down at them—her—a girl whom I’d have pegged to be thirteen if she were human. Tangled waves of brown hair brushed her freckled shoulders. The tips of her ears were pointed, and the gauzy tops of wings stretched at a disjointed angle above her head. So, not human.
She wore a short, brown silk dress. The soles of her bare feet were thick with callouses. Her skin was so pale, I could see the black fae blood that ran in her veins. In her right hand, she held a carving knife with a yew handle. Black and red smeared the blade.
Simone’s blood. And mine. The girl had stabbed me in the shoulder.
She didn’t appear to be breathing. I reached for her throat to check for a pulse, but found none, only a final stillness. The girl was dead.
Before my eyes, the black blood in her veins brightened to white. Vivid markings rose to the surface, the same bright white. Spirals. She had the demon disease that had invaded Faery. Simone and I had come here to stop it from spreading. Clearly, we were far too late.
Why hadn’t I noticed before? Why did the markings come up only now, after the girl died?
I stopped wondering for a long minute, because something else happened right in front of me. As I watched, the girl wasted to almost nothing. As if she’d starved to death in seconds. What the ever-loving hell?
I pried the blade from the girl’s fingers and wiped it on her dress. Smearing the silk with blood made me want to throw up. But the knife was better than anything we had back at camp.
I sat back on my haunches and glanced back at Simone, who leaned far to her right, balancing on her elbow.
She met my gaze and finished the sentence she’d started. “There’s a girl. With a knife.”
I white-knuckled the blade. “Not anymore.”
“Better her than us,” Simone said.
I had to agree, but that didn’t stop my gut from churning. I swallowed hard. “Did you see what just happened?”
“From flesh and blood to skin and bones in the time it took me to blink?” She nodded. “I’ve never seen that before.”
Usually, if the disease was advanced, it was easy to spot. But this girl—something was different. I could only think of one reason for that. Magic.
“Someone cast a spell on her,” I said.
Simone mulled that for a minute. “She was sent to kill like all the others we’ve encountered, but somebody camouflaged her, trying to give her a better chance to get close to us.”
“You can’t see death coming, you don’t know to get out of the way,” I said.
I looked at the girl. The nausea in my stomach built to a fever pitch. The girl had been someone’s kid. Someone’s friend. She hadn’t died by my hand, but I’d have killed her, no question. If necessary, I’d have died trying.
Simone blew out a breath. “Did she hurt you bad?”
“My arm still works, so I don’t think she cut anything vital.” I couldn’t feel the wound in my shoulder much. Adrenaline, maybe. If so, that would change in a minute, as soon as my body realized the immediate threat had passed.
I took red bandana stuffed into the back pocket of my jeans and walked on shaking legs over to where Simone rested and lowered myself to the ground beside her. “Need your help.”
“Pressure on the wound,” she said.
She obliged. I sucked in a breath and hissed between my teeth.
“Lean back against the tree,” she said.
She kept the pressure up as I did, moving her hand only when we were sure I’d have a good seal against the bark.
“We should bandage that before we move. Can’t have you leaving a blood trail all the way back to camp.”
“Pot calling the kettle.” I gave her my good shoulder to lean on.
She rested her head there. “She seemed okay when I first saw her. Said she wanted to help if she could share a fire with us tonight. She said she knew who I was and why I was here. She wanted to meet you. Specifically. She asked about you, Kev.”
“Not good,” I said.
There was no reason for the girl to ask. I mean, I did the liaison job, which meant I wasn’t a nobody anymore. But I only talked to Simone or the King. I didn’t know any other fae. I didn’t interact with any of them. If one of them happened to run into me, I’d just be another human, at least at first glance.
Simone winced as she sat up straight. “The girl said that there are people looking for us. Like, out to get us. She could help us hide from them. I figured we could question her. See what she was about. She got behind me, though, and attacked me halfway back to camp. She knew where I was headed. Not so hard to follow my trajectory straight to you.”
The disease that’d infected the realm destroyed the body and the mind. It left its victims completely out of it. The girl had the sickness, a spell masking extreme fatigue, the rise of the veins toward the surface of the skin, the bleaching of the blood.
Faery biology was different than the human kind. Their black blood was actually liquid faery magic, if we defined magic as the potential for the unexpected to happen. Magic was like a promise that hadn’t been carried through yet. It held all the wishes that went along with the promise—for good fortune or ill, for uplifting or for revenge, for blessing or for cursing. It stayed just that—a promise—until the fae who carried it pointed it at someone or something and set it loose.
The disease affected faeries’ magic. The disease took control of it and used it against them until they died. Whatever magic remained after that was done just disappeared. No one knew where it all went. Everyone was too busy just trying not to catch the sickness, trying not to die.
The girl who’d cut Simone and stabbed me had been hunting us, just like the others. She’d almost succeeded in bagging her prey.
I asked the question I’d asked all the times before, but this time with more panic. I’d assumed that the disease had turned the sick fae into hunters and that they’d gone after us because of the sickness, but now it’d suddenly become personal.
“Why would someone want to kill me on purpose?” I asked.
Simone laid a hand on my leg. “I can’t think of a reason, Kev.”
Which made things more worrisome. I dragged myself to standing, gritting my teeth at the sharp throb in my shoulder. “We need to get patched up.”
Simone reached out a hand. I helped her up and didn’t let go until she tried her legs out and they decided to cooperate, but grudgingly. The wound on her thigh saw to that.
“We won’t be running anywhere soon,” I said.
“We might need to,” she said. “There’ll be others in the woods, tracking us. Whoever helped that girl.”
My thoughts exactly. “So you don’t think she was on her own either?”
Simone shook her head.
We wouldn’t be safe here, then, not that we’d been safe before. But there was a difference between general danger and targeted danger. We—or I—had a bull’s-eye on my back. “We’ve got to get out of Faery.”
“I want our stuff,” she said.
That meant going back to camp and hoping we didn’t get ambushed. “You sure? We can always get more stuff.”
“No,” she said. “We can’t.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What’s that mean?”
“Means I left something there that we can’t replace.”
“What kind of something?” I asked.
“Later,” she said. “Okay?”
Except we’d be risking our lives for whatever it was. And knowing Simone, she would tell me in her own good time or not at all.
“Hold still a sec.” She pulled the wadded bandana away from my wound, stretched it out lengthwise, and tied it around my shoulder while I gritted my teeth.
“Better,” she said. “Less bleeding.”
“Great.” I wished I could see the cut. I wished I knew whether I’d need stitches, and whether I’d live long enough to endure them.
My hands were smeared with red. I wiped them on my jeans, for all the good it did.
“It’s not the end of the world, Kev.” She bit her lip halfway through my name, and we both knew why.
“Hell yes, it is,” I said. “Let’s go.”
Simone’s first step was a limp. She stretched her wings to full length so that they extended five feet from the back of her body. The muscles that extended them jumped under her skin. “Balance,” she said.
“Right.” I held the blade I’d taken from the girl in my best fighting grip. I tried not to swing my arm on my wounded side.
We walked for a few minutes in silence. I kept my physical ears peeled for sounds that shouldn’t be there. The huff of someone else’s breathing. The rustle of brush or branch between gusts of wind.
I kept my psychic ears primed, too, imagining them like satellite dishes waiting to pick up any semblance of a stray thought that didn’t belong to Simone or me.
I didn’t hear a thing.
The campsite looked just like I’d left it. A small clearing with even ground, the small mound of stones I’d stacked as a monument to the realm as we’d known it, which had ceased to exist.
Moss and fallen leaves and needles carpeted the ground—good to sleep on. The wood I’d gathered remained where I’d stacked it, neatly to one side of where I’d planned to build the fire. The long, brown leg of a spider scratched the surface of the lowest log. I saw it, and it knew that I saw it. It didn’t bother backpedaling to hide.
It wouldn’t talk to me. None of the Faery creatures talked to me except the blackbirds. Back in the human world, we’d fought a Demon. During the most desperate hour, our friend Stacy the Witch had marshaled the local blackbirds to help us humans pass messages back and forth telepathically. Which was brilliant and wicked cool. The surprise was that even after the emergency ended, I could still understand the grackles and crows and ravens, and they could still understand me.
I didn’t know whether or not to feel weird about that. I only knew that it could come in handy sometime in the future. Therefore, I refused to look that particular gift horse in the mouth.
Spiders, though? That would have to be Simone.
Besides the magic that she had in her voice and her blood, which was hers and hers alone, she could tap the powers of the Faery realm. Which meant she could travel through the earth, and draw up the gentle glow of the twilight, and talk to animals and trees and bodies of water. She could hear voices in the wind sometimes.
If she had great need, if it meant everything in the world to her, she could bless or curse. Once, she’d stolen the air right from my lungs because I made her feel breathless. That had been an accident. She’d felt terrible about almost killing me. I think she understood in that moment the consequences and responsibility of power. It couldn’t—or at least, it shouldn’t—be about what you wanted. It had to be about what was best for the people or the realm or whomever or whatever you served.
She was bound to Faery by honor and obligation. The King could control her like a puppet if he wanted. When she’d lost her humanity, she’d lost her ability to feel and love the way humans did, as if a wall of ice separated her from all of that messy, mortal stuff. She could reach for it, but she couldn’t quite touch it.
Except where I was concerned. Then all bets were off.
It was confusing and hard and she hated it, and she alternated between accepting her cold fate and doing everything she could possibly think of to hold on to whatever last shred of humanity might hide in the deepest, darkest corners of her being.
She served whoever sat on the throne of Faery because she had no other choice. In her heart of hearts, though, Simone served the forces of life. She was on the side of all living beings and the powers that kept the world turning, blood pumping, hearts beating.
I glanced at her, then cocked my head toward the intrepid arachnid. “Anything?”
She stared at it. “No one’s been by.”
“That’s not the only news,” she said. “The throne changed hands.”`
“Changed hands? That’s a strange way of putting it.” Either the King had died—if that was even possible—or he’d stepped down. I couldn’t imagine him doing either.
“He was affected by the disease. He couldn’t rule anymore,” Simone said.
“You got all that from the spider?”
“The way we haven’t been able to reach the Court to speak with the King, the way we haven’t been able to find any place safe to make a home base—it’s not just because of the disease. It’s because something else had changed, too. The King abdicated his throne. The Queen went with him. There’s a new Queen now.”
Better or worse than the old one? “Who?”
I stared at her.
Simone and I had run into Silver when we first found a way into Faery—for the first few days, we hadn’t been able to find a way in. The gates were supposed to be open to us, but the gates, just like the population, were living, breathing beings with intelligence that’d been warped by the disease that’d devastated the realm. It was impossible to ride to the rescue when you couldn’t get close enough to matter.
So we looked for chinks in the realm’s armor—its borders—and hid out, breathing the sulfur-stained air, avoiding the others who hid there, too. It’d taken two weeks to find the first crack in the border. And one week after that to slip through without getting dead. Silver was the first fae we met who didn’t try to kill us, and she looked more like a rebellious human than any creature born of Faery.
She wore rings in her eyebrows and had short, silver, spiky hair. She dressed like a punk and had an attitude to match. The last thing people expected from the Queen’s daughter, the King’s stepdaughter.
Like Simone and me, Silver had tried to heal the sickness infecting her world and her people. Silver’s solution to the problem involved the ultimate sacrifice. She’d taken all of it into herself.
I’d never met anyone that brave. One thing to offer up your help, another to offer up your life. And not just for someone you loved, but for a whole world. Silver had done that. She’d done it willingly and without even thinking about the consequences to herself—if that was the only way she could help the people and the land she loved, it was a no-brainer, not worth a moment’s doubt.
I didn’t know if I’d have the guts to do that. I suspected I didn’t, and it made me feel embarrassed. Humbled.
Silver wasn’t just some girl who’d tried to keep her head down and have a normal life and then took the short straw, like had happened to me. She was a powerful, magical faery being. She was the only heir to the Kingdom. The Queen and King were sick and not capable of naming another heir in her stead. It took magic to do that—pure, untainted magic, which they no longer had. So when Silver died, Faery would fall into chaos.
It would only be a matter of time before the realm itself went under from infighting. War would break out. The people would vie for power and whoever smashed the others would win. In trying to save her world, Silver had doomed it.
The King exiled her because it was the only punishment that made any sense to him, sick and rule-bound douchebag that he was, and Silver needed help to try to fix what she’d screwed up. She asked us for help. We’d sent her to our Witch friend in the human world, and they’d gone to Malek, and somehow Silver had ended up not only still alive, but Queen of Faery?
“How did that happen?” I asked.
Simone shook her head. “No idea. But she’s a friend. An ally. We got lucky.”
Maybe. It was tempting to think so. “Not counting my chickens.”
“Before they hatch,” I said. “She’s the Queen, but that doesn’t mean she’s the Silver we remember.”
Simone bit her lip. “Power changes people.”
“Not that much, Kev. They are who they are.”
She wasn’t just talking about Silver. She was talking about herself.
I’d never known her as one-hundred-percent-human, back when she’d had a regular life and hopes and dreams that didn’t involve mayhem and destruction. I couldn’t say what being turned fae had changed in her; only she could.
“Okay,” I said. “But if Silver’s the Queen, why hasn’t she let us into the Court? It’s up to her, right? Even if she kept most of the realm out, she’d be letting some people in. We should be on that list.”
“Point taken,” Simone said. “We can add that to our list of mysteries to solve.”
At least the campsite turned out to be free from mystery. The backpacks and canteens we’d picked up in the In-Between, that space between the Human world and the Faery realm where people went to get lost, they were still there and untouched.
“There’s a cave pretty close,” Simone said. “We could hole up there. One way in, one way out. A lot easier to defend.”
“A lot easier to get caught in with no way out, and we don’t know how many accomplices that girl had. All we need is a horde of them to descend on us.”
She wrinkled her nose. “You want to go to the In-Between because it’s safer than the cave.
I hate the In-Between.”
It stank of sulfur. Predators lurked in shadowed corners. I hated it, too. But I didn’t see another choice. Not if we wanted to live through the night.
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