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KNIGHT MAGIC -An Otherworld Novelette-
A Nightqueen Enterprises LLC Publication Published by Yasmine Galenorn PO Box 2037, Kirkland WA 98083-2037 KNIGHT MAGIC An Otherworld Novelette Copyright © 2017 by Yasmine Galenorn First Electronic Printing: 2017 Nightqueen Enterprises LLC Cover Design by Earthly Charms ALL RIGHTS RESERVED No part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any format, be it print or electronic or audio, without permission. Please prevent piracy by purchasing only authorized versions of this book. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, or places is entirely coincidental and not to be construed as representative or an endorsement of any living/ existing group, person, place, or business. A Nightqueen Enterprises LLC Publication Published in the United States of America
Table of Contents Cover Page Title Page Copyright Table of Contents Introduction Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Biography
Introduction Ever wonder if the monsters under your bed are real…? Meet the D’Artigo Sisters—three half-human, halfFae, wild and sexy members of the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. Camille, a witch, Delilah, a werecat, and Menolly, an acrobat extraordinaire turned vampire, are sent Earthside, where they end up in the middle of a demonic war. Together with friends and lovers, they must put a stop to Shadow Wing, the Demon Lord, as they attempt to save two worlds, one monster at a time. This novelette takes place after MOON SHIMMERS and before HARVEST SONG. I want to thank my usual team: Samwise, my husband, who is also my formatter and my support system. My assistants, Andria Holley and Jenn Price, neither of whom I could manage without. Thank you to my furry Galenorn Gang who make writing more fun and difficult, with their purrs, meows, hissy fits, and blankie-attacks. Most reverent devotion to Ukko—Lord of the Wind and Sky, Rauni—Queen of the Harvest, Tapio—the Hunter of the Forest, Mielikki—my bright Goddess of the Woodlands and Dark Fae Queen. To Brighid,
Goddess and Muse. And to the Fae, both dark and light, who walk this world beside us. Thank you to my Moon Stalkers—my fans and readers—for your support and enthusiasm. You can find me on the net at my website Galenorn.com. To make certain you get all updates on new releases, please sign up for my monthly newsletter. Bright Blessings, ~The Painted Panther ~Yasmine Galenorn
Chapter 1 I SAT ON my throne, staring at the man in front of me. He fidgeted as he told his side of the story, which was such a snow job that it made the golden September day seem like winter. After about ten minutes of going nowhere fast, I finally put on the brakes. “Enough. You really expect me to believe that bunch of bullshit?” I leaned forward, glaring at him. I found it the best way to intimidate someone who was too cocksure for his own good. After all, I was the Queen and he was supposed to be a loyal subject in my Barrow. Flustered, he tried to backpedal, but after a moment or two of gibberish, he came to a complete stop. Looking embarrassed and a little angry, he met my gaze and waited, silent at last. “Look, just admit what you did and we can be done with it. You stole three of my dresses—though how you ever got through to the laundry to do so, I have no idea. You sold them on Fae-Bay, and you made out like a bandit.” I motioned to the guard standing to my left. “Bring the head of laundry up here, pronto.” “Yes, Your Majesty.” He bowed, then dashed out of the throne room, pressing his fingers to his lips where I could see the beginning of a smile. As
he rounded the corner, I heard a distinct snort. Yeah, he was getting a laugh out of this, all right. The thief—his name was Jacq—hesitated, then let out a long sigh. “Yes, Your Majesty. I stole your dresses and sold them. What can I say? I’m an opportunist. Your laundress didn’t do anything wrong. She didn’t even know I was in there.” He flashed me a roguish smile. “You have to admit, I’m nothing if not resourceful.” “You’re nothing if not a thief.” I sat back, shaking my head. Part of me just wanted to dismiss the case. After all I had seen over the past few years, stealing a few dresses was on the lowest level of my grievances. But I couldn’t establish a precedent of allowing scoundrels and bandits to thrive in my Barrow. “Jacq ob Frer, I hereby exile you from my court. You are to immediately return to Otherworld, on a permanent basis. The guards will help you pack, just to make certain you don’t try to sneak out with anything else that you’ve managed to pilfer. You are hereby banished from Talamh Lonrach Oll and I don’t ever want to see your face around here again. In addition, all the money you have in your possession will be donated to the Seattle Shelter for Homeless Women.” The guard returned at that moment, the laundress in tow. After I verified that she had nothing to do with the theft, I turned back to Jacq.
“At least you didn’t lie about her. All right. You’ve received your sentence. Guards, I want him out of the Barrow and through a portal to Otherworld within two hours. Inform Tavah down at the Wayfarer so she’ll know that he’s on the list of those barred from re-entering Earthside. Court dismissed.” As they took Jacq away, I let out a sigh of relief. He was the only case I had to deal with today, and I could take off my royal cloak and… I paused. I had almost thought, “Get back to my real life,” but this was my real life now and for the foreseeable future. As I stepped down from the throne and left the room to enter the preparation chamber, my personal maid—whose name was Lexi—lifted the heavy cloak off my shoulders and carried it away to wherever it was stored. Finally, I was free for the rest of the morning. I hustled out of the throne room, followed by the pack of guards perpetually glued to my side.
“CAMILLE? CAMILLE—WAIT up!” I turned to see Morio dashing toward me. As he darted by people milling in the hallway, they bowed and curtsied, trying to do so before he slipped by. The Barrow was still getting used to us. I wasn’t sure what formalities Morgaine had instituted in her time as the queen, but from the way people acted,
they had been strict. She always was one for pomp and circumstance, but I was the opposite. It still annoyed me that people fussed over me so much, and that I couldn’t go anywhere without the everpresent retinue that seemed to gather behind me. Aeval assured me that I’d get used to it but until then, life as a queen wasn’t proving to be all it was cracked up to be. I skirted around the guards who were at my back and held out my hands. “Thank gods. Get me out of here. I’m going stir-crazy.” “Let’s go walk in the gardens.” He lowered his voice. “There’s news, and I don’t trust any place within these walls to be secure.” Morio took my hand and, followed by the guards who frantically tried to keep up, we jogged out to my private garden. The garden was one big positive in a world with a lot of negatives. It put my old garden back home to shame. At least, at what had been my home, I thought with a wistful sigh. I had insisted on a private place in which to walk, and less than two weeks after I had taken the throne of Dusk and Twilight, the garden-witches had it ready for me. A full acre in size, the plot was walled off by a row of hedges on all sides. Two archways offered access, one to the north and one to the south. Somehow, in the space of two weeks, the gardeners had managed to create a wonderland of flowers and
trees. Lilac and rowan trees offered shade along with cedar and fir, and an oak and a bushy holly. Hydrangeas and spicy mums filled the air with their fragrant scents. The roses were done for the season, and the hydrangeas didn’t have long left, but they were still blooming, their stems drooping with the weight of their huge blue heads. A patch of wildflowers added a feral touch. In one corner, raised beds held the magical herbs I had brought with me, and an enclosed gazebo offered shelter from sun and rain. All-weather benches were scattered around the stone walkway that wended through the garden. Morio led me over to a group of benches beneath a tall cedar tree, where Smoky and Trillian were waiting. My three husbands, I thought, each of whom I loved deeply, and each bound to me in a ritual that connected us on a soul-level. I was surprised to see Derisa standing beside them. The High Priestess of the Coterie of the Moon Mother back in Otherworld, she had taken my oath as I pledged my life to the Moon Mother so many years before. She had stood witness as I became the Earthside High Priestess of the goddess. And most recently, Derisa had been there for my coronation. She was one of the few people I fully trusted. “Camille, well met.” She curtseyed as I
approached. I still felt weird about that—that she would kneel to me—but it was protocol and she was a stickler for proper behavior. I nodded to her, then quickly kissed each of my men. Finally, I settled on the bench next to them, and let out a long breath. My personal guards waited by the entrance to the garden. I had worked out an arrangement with them. Jal, Whistle, Roan, and Lars promised to stop at the entrance to my garden after a quick scan to make certain it was free of anyone lurking in the shadows. They also stayed out of my bedroom. I leaned against Smoky’s arm, grimacing. “I’m not cut out for this.” “You’d better learn, and learn quickly,” Derisa said. “You’ll adapt. It’s just a different way of life, and you’ve managed change before.” I wanted to whine about the fact that it seemed ridiculous I had so much less freedom as a queen than I had before, but stopped. I had given my oath. I straightened. I was first and foremost a soldier’s daughter, always prepared to carry out my duties, even when I didn’t want to. With a soft laugh, I shrugged. “Yeah, I know. It just takes time. I’ll get the hang of it.” “You need to make the office yours. Make the crown your crown. It can’t be done abruptly. Thousands of years of tradition go into your role as a Fae Queen. There are some aspects you’ll just
have to accept, but you can alter things slowly. Make the changes that you need to make, and eventually people won’t remember the way things were. They’ll come to accept the way things are.” Derisa winked at me. I sighed once more. “Yeah, I need to be patient. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.” “Actually, that’s what I came to talk to you about. You are taking a trip. But we’re waiting on Aeval and Titania. They need to be here before we talk about it.” She gave Smoky a glance that told me he, Trillian, and Morio already knew what she was going to say. “As usual, I’m the last to know.” I felt grumpy and out of sorts. “There are reasons for that,” she said. I forced a smile. “That sounds ominous.” “It’s not going to be a walk in the park, I’ll tell you that,” Smoky said. Just then, my guards announced the arrival of Titania and Aeval. The two Fae queens entered the garden. Aeval, the Queen of Shadow and Night, had jet black hair like mine. While my eyes were violet, hers were the color of glittering ice. She was tall, as was Titania—both were over six feet—and wore a flowing charcoal-colored gown. Stars dappled the sheer fabric. Titania, the Queen of Light and Morning, was as golden-haired as Aeval was dark,
and her dress was as green as the leaves at high summer. Her eyes were warm brown, with silver flecks in them. They joined us on the quartet of benches that surrounded a small fire pit. I shifted, uneasy. Everytime we gathered together like this, it usually meant I was headed into danger. I decided to skip the pleasantries. “I know something’s up. You aren’t here just to ask me how Court went—which, I will tell you, was three hours I’m never getting back. Why can’t we just appoint judges to take care of petty matters like dress thieves and drunken louts?” “Because you are the final authority. All major decisions must come from you. Someone steals a dress—a minor infraction and the guards will take care of it. But a thief who dares to steal from the queen? He steals from the kingdom itself and must be punished appropriately.” Aeval grinned. “Wait till the Hunter’s moon in November, or rather, the morning after. The day after, the court will be filled with all sorts of weird cases. It never fails.” “Oh, joy. I’m looking forward to it ever so much. Not only will I have an energy hangover from running with the Hunt, I’ll have to deal with all sorts of loonies.” I frowned, giving her a long look. “Okay, so tell me. What’s going on?” Titania let out a slow breath. “The stars have aligned in the right position. It’s time for you to bind your Keraastar Knights.”
I stared at her, wondering if I had heard her correctly. I had eight of my knights, but so far, the ninth had eluded me. “But I haven’t found the last one. I can’t very well unite a troop that isn’t complete.” “That’s part of the final component of the ritual. The Merlin has been studying the Maharata-Verdi and Maharata-Vashi since the day you took the crown. Last night, he broke the last of the code. The ritual must be performed in Otherworld. Up in the Golden Wood near the Silver Falls, there is a set of ruins called Erastel’s End. They only appear one night a year, and that night is coming up. You are to go there with your Keraastar Knights, and the ritual will uncover the last knight, who is frozen in time. When he is freed, you will be able to bind the Keraastar Knights into the force they’re meant to be.” I sat very still, my heart beating a million miles a second. “Then it’s really time?” Aeval nodded. “Yes.” Destiny had led me down a path to where I was in charge of a group of warriors, each wearing one of the nine spirit seals that kept the worlds apart. If unified into one piece—as they were before they were broken apart—the seals would implode and all three worlds, Otherworld, Earthside, and the Subterranean Realms, would all come crashing back together in a natural disaster the likes of
which had not been seen since they were first ripped apart. The Keraastar Knights were an integral force in both keeping the portals between the worlds balanced, but also in our war against Shadow Wing, the Demon Lord. Somehow, the care of the knights had fallen on my shoulders. I wore the Keraastar diamond, and I was their queen and leader in the final push to destroy Shadow Wing. I had, over the past couple months, found all my knights save one. Apparently, it was time to discover the last one. “When is the ritual supposed to take place?” “On the night of the new moon, before the equinox.” Aeval paused. A chill ran down my spine. That was in two nights’ time. Suddenly, I felt like a very small force in a very big world. “I have no clue of what I’m supposed to do. I’m afraid, to be honest. What if I botch it up? What if I’m not strong enough to manage this?” Titania reached over and patted my hand. “Take heart. You will be strong enough, and you will do everything you are meant to be and do. And more beyond that. Destiny chooses her subjects carefully. If you weren’t capable of handling this, you wouldn’t be here now. Take heart, Camille, and marshal your courage. You’re going to need it.” And with that, we headed into the Barrow to
find the Merlin and discuss the journey.
Chapter 2 ONE BY ONE, the Keraastar Knights gathered in the meeting room. Luke had been Menolly’s bartender at the Wayfarer years ago when we first started our Earthside adventure. Now, he wore the aquamarine spirit seal. Amber was his sister, and she, too, had been claimed by one of the spirit seals —the topaz. Venus the Moon Child had been the shaman of the Rainier Puma Pride and he bore the fire opal. Chase Johnson had been the head of the Faerie-Human Crime Scene Investigation team, but he had left the job he loved to join my ranks, and I had given him the amethyst seal when he took his vows. Others had quickly come to light since I had claimed the Keraastar diamond. Tanne Baum, our friend from the Hunters Glen Clan, now wore the emerald seal. To my chagrin, Bran had ended up with the Smoky quartz. I wasn’t thrilled that Raven Mother’s son was among my knights, but I couldn’t counter the will of the seal. Two others had come into the fold: Clyde, a bearshifter, and Lisa, an FBH—a full-blooded human. They bore the citrine and the sapphire seals, respectively. Only the ruby seal was left unclaimed. We gathered around the circular table. My sisters, Delilah and Menolly, were there, as well as
Smoky, Trillian, and Morio. Shade was also there, and Nerissa, Menolly’s wife. Rozurial and Vanzir were in attendance, and Aeval, Titania, and the Merlin. Aeval’s belly was swelling—her pregnancy was showing now, and Vanzir was doing his best to learn how to be a proper baby-daddy in preparation for the event. I took a long breath. “As you know, the Merlin has translated the ancient scrolls and we know what our next step is. We’re heading to Otherworld. Once we find the last knight, we will be able to bind together in the way the prophecy foretold. I don’t know exactly how, so please don’t ask. We’re going in on faith, because faith is all we have.” Faith, and a bumpy road map that had been written during the Great Divide. Chase was the first to speak. “I admit, when I was first called into service in the Keraastar Knights, I was devastated. But I’ve had time to adjust. I’ll stand with you…Your Majesty.” I held his gaze. He meant it, I could see that in his eyes. He meant every word and he would back me up to the end. Chase might not have been happy about what happened, but he would be my staunchest supporter now that he was involved. “Chase speaks for all of us,” Luke said. “We stand at a crossroads in history. Whatever we can do to help, we will.” They knew what we were up against.
Shadow Wing was the Demon Lord ruling over the Sub-Realms. He had been waging a war against the portals for the past few years now, attempting to break through so that he could take over both Earthside and Otherworld. My sisters and I had found ourselves on the frontlines of the war. Recently, we had lucked out, managing to gather all of the spirit seals. We also had others on our side, including Trytian —a daemon—and his father’s army, who also were moving against Shadow Wing. But in the end, the only thing that mattered was that we stop the Demon Lord in whatever way possible, as quickly as we could. I looked at each of my knights in turn, holding their gazes. They stared back steadily, unblinking, willing to follow me into the depths of hell if necessary. “That’s it, then. Tomorrow, we leave for the Golden Wood. The ritual must take place under the new moon, which falls two nights from now. We only have a short window of time before then.” I turned toward Myrddin. “Would you take over?” “We’ll be making for Erastel’s End,” the Merlin said, spreading out a map of Otherworld on the table. He pointed to the Golden Wood, which lay north of Y’Elestrial, my home city-state. “Erastel?” Chase asked. “Who or what is that?” Aeval fielded that question. “Erastel fought
against the demon hordes in the long past. She was one of the ancient Fae. Actually, one of the Great Fae warlords. She was a warrior queen during the Great Divide.” The Merlin nodded, using a pointer to tap a place on the map. “Aeval is correct,” he said. “Erastel was the one who insisted that when the Spirit Seal was broken, the pieces be given to the Elemental Lords. As time went on, she saw that they were losing track of the seals, and she undertook a vision quest. She foresaw the rise of Shadow Wing and what would transpire, should he manage to get his hands on the seals, and he would break through the portals. The other Fae Lords laughed at her fears, so she acted on her own.” Titania cleared her throat. “After the Great Divide, Erastel left the cities and went to live in the Golden Wood. Erastel’s End was her fortress. She lived alone for the most part, though her descendants still walk those forests. She had three children, and they spread out, uninterested in keeping up her lineage.” “What happened to her?” Amber asked. Aeval frowned, shaking her head. “Without the other Great Lords to stop her, over time Erastel fashioned a spell. She had grown strong with her magic, strong enough to bind time and history with her weavings. She created the spirit of the
Keraastar Knights. She then sought out the center of the seal—which wasn’t considered one of the nine stones. The diamond was the stone that connected all the others, but its power was focused on binding things together, and Pentangle had taken possession of it at that time. Pentangle listened to Erastel’s concerns, and she agreed that the vision was real, and gave her the diamond.” “Pentangle is the Mistress of Magic,” I said for the benefit of those who might not have heard of the Elemental Lady. I had met her several times and each time, she had left me speechless with her power. She was magic incarnate. “Erastel bound the diamond to the spirit of the knights, then wove the gem’s destiny tightly to the other seals, uniting them all into a single focus. When she was done, she fashioned two scrolls—the Maharata-Verdi and the Maharata-Vashi. Both were created to guide a future Fae Queen to the diamond, which she hid in the Tygerian Mountains. Erastel entombed herself with it. She never really died, but faded into a ghostly guardian. When Queen Camille faced her, she won the gem and became the long-awaited warrior queen.” I caught my breath. I hadn’t known about the background of the diamond, or how everything had fit together. The gem and the scrolls had been in hiding for thousands of years. “Erastel’s End is what remains of her home. The
ruins are all that’s left. Once a year, on the new moon nearest the autumn equinox, the stars align and it’s said that she returns to her home to see if anyone has come to claim the destiny. And once the Fae Queen arrives on that day, the final knight will come forward.” Aeval fell silent. I looked at the calendar. “The night after tomorrow is the new moon. We have to leave at daybreak, and travel through the portal that stands on the outskirts of Erastel’s land. Smoky will come with us, as will my sister Delilah and her fiancé, Shade. Menolly won’t be able to, given we’re traveling in daylight. I don’t know how long the ritual will take, or how it will unfold, but we’ll return once we’re done.” Amber frowned. “My daughter—I don’t want to take her into danger. She doesn’t have to come, does she?” Amber had been pregnant when she first had found her spirit seal, and the magic had changed the child’s DNA, though in what ways, we weren’t sure of yet. “No, the nursemaids will take good care of her while we’re gone.” I held Amber’s gaze for a moment, and she nodded. “Are there are any other concerns?” “Is anyone else coming with us?” Delilah asked. “I will not, since I am pregnant,” Aeval said. The Merlin cleared his throat. “I’ll be coming along. Since I was able to translate the scrolls, I
might be of use if you find anything else there that needs translating.” There were no other questions, so after a long discussion on what to pack and what conditions we’d be facing, we adjourned.
Chapter 3 DAWN HAD BARELY as we started for the portal. I hadn’t even known this one existed, but it was hidden deep in Talamh Lonrach Oll, behind a cedar grove used for seasonal celebrations. As we headed toward the grove, the guards followed in back. Smoky and Shade walked together, and Merlin was leading the Keraastar Knights. I looped my arm through Delilah’s as I glanced at the early morning sky. The day promised to be cool but clear, and the sun was streaking the sky with faint streaks of lemon that filtered in long fingers across the pale blue. Wispy clouds would burn off, but before long, the autumn rains would come and sunshine would be a distant memory. The Seattle area was well known for its gloom-and-doom cloud cover, and with good reason. While we had an occasional heat wave, most of the year tended to be cool and damp. “So, are you ready for the trip?” Delilah was dressed in a tunic and trousers—clothes she had brought over when we first came Earthside. She was wearing a pair of Doc Martens and had her dagger strapped to her side. A pack slung across her back made her look like she was ready for a day hike into the mountains. I envied her. While I had tried to get away with
wearing the cat suit I had adopted for when we took trips, my maid had been adamant and refused to let me out of the Barrow without wearing a calflength skirt, a strikingly embroidered bustier, and my crown. Apparently, going around crownless was a big no-no for Fae Queens. “I think so. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I’ll figure it out. I’m looking forward to getting away from the Barrow for a few days, though. I’ll tell you that.” I lowered my voice. “Playing queen isn’t nearly as fun as you might think. I was ready for some tough challenges, but I wasn’t prepared for the sheer bulk of bureaucracy that’s involved,” I grumbled. “I know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, but honestly, Kitten, I miss living back home. I miss Maggie, and I miss my old life, where I didn’t have to answer to anybody.” “You always had to answer to the Moon Mother,” she said. “True, but…” Delilah laughed. “You remind me of Menolly. You were always so stern about us doing our duty, but right now, you sound exactly like her. At least you’re a queen. She’s stuck with being a princess.” At that, I snorted. Using the words “Menolly” and “princess” in the same sentence felt like an oxymoron. “True, and at least I don’t have to live around a bunch of vampires. Living with Menolly?
I had no problem with that. She’s our sister. But I don’t think I’d fare well living at Roman’s.” “At least Nerissa takes it in stride.” Delilah fell silent for a moment, then let out another laugh. “I just thought of something—you’re part of the Triple Threat now!” I groaned. “Don’t remind me.” I had come up with the term years back, when our distant cousin Morgaine had joined Aeval and Titania as the Queen of Dusk and Twilight. But now that she was dead and I had taken her place, the nickname didn’t seem quite as funny as it had. “Your Majesty, can we carry anything for you?” Luke asked as he and Amber passed by. They were walking with Chase. The other knights were also strolling along. None of us were in a great hurry this early in the day. “No, but thank you. The guards have my things.” I waited until they were out of earshot. “Chase is adjusting remarkably well. There are a lot of babies for Astrid to play with and they seem to be accepting her without a problem.” I paused, wiping my hand across my eyes. “I would have done anything to spare him this. The seals change you. I’ve seen it in the others. He’ll change, too.” Delilah hung her head. After a moment, she said, “You did what you needed to do. What destiny intended. Chase was always meant to be one of your knights. Maybe…this will help him and
Sharah be together, after we knock down Shadow Wing. If Chase is more than an full-blooded human with a long lifespan, then maybe the elves will allow him to join her on the throne.” Sharah was queen of Kelvashan, the Elfin lands. She had been forced to move back to Otherworld— to Elqaneve—when the old queen was killed. It had torn her and Chase apart, and she had been forced to leave their daughter with him as the rebuilding of the war-torn lands continued. It had been harsh on both of them, and there were no easy answers to solve their situation. We rounded a corner and were coming up on the portal ahead. Before we arrived and the others could hear, I decided to ask the one question that I had deliberately avoided asking. “Do you ever regret breaking up with Chase?” Delilah pressed her lips together for a moment, then shook her head. “No. I loved him, and I still do—as a friend. But he needs a wife like Sharah. For all that she’s a queen, at heart she’s still a maiden who was looking for her knight. I could never be as gentle as she is. I will always intimidate Chase. Shade and I are a good match. We fit together. He adores me, but he doesn’t hesitate to call me out on my bullshit and I need that. We make each other stronger.” “I won’t ask again,” I said. “I just needed to know you’re happy. I need to know that you’re on
the path you want to be.” She rolled her eyes. “Face it, we’re all destiny’s pawns. Look at you. Look at Menolly. We’re all facing a future that was laid out for us without asking for our input. But we accede gracefully. Not just because we have to, but because it’s the right thing to do. You’ve told me that often enough. Even if I had the remotest inclination to run away with Chase, and I don’t, I wouldn’t. I’ve come to believe that you have to embrace your fate in order to be truly happy.” And with that, we joined the others. The portal was waiting. It was a wide one, large enough for two to go abreast. Two of the four guards went first to make sure everything was clear on the other side. When they reported back that it was safe, I sucked in a deep breath and—holding hands with Delilah—stepped through the portal, back home to Otherworld.
STEPPING THROUGH THE portal was like being sucked into a crackling force field. I felt twisted around, stretched and elongated, then splintered into a million atoms. Before I could panic, a magnetic force drew me back together, snapping me like a rubber band through to the other side. Jarred, with every nerve singing, I caught my breath, then moved to the side with Delilah to wait
for the others. When the Merlin came through, I was surprised to see Áine with him. She had been the Merlin’s love back before the Great Divide, and she had been a dragon shifter. She was now permanently stuck in dragon form, a beautiful serpent with vestigial wings. Her body was sea green, streaked with an icy blue. A rare mix, her heritage placed her as both green dragon and blue dragon—earth and water. Áine wasn’t exactly a baby, but she was young for her kind. Smoky and Shade came through, followed by my knights, and finally, the two other guards. We were just east of the Golden Wood, near the road leading to the Silver Falls—not the Silver Falls of the afterlife. The weather was cooler here, with temperatures in the low forties. We weren’t anywhere near the Northlands, but the difference between here and Y’Elestrial—our home city—was like the difference between being in Seattle and mid-California. The portal on the Otherworld side was unattended, buzzing between two oak trees. There was no way of telling how long it had been there, but by the look of the trees and the strength of the portal, I had the feeling it was old. There were no bigger cities around here, only small villages along the way. No city owned this area, no government claimed it. The land here was untamed. The swath
that passed for a road was wide and worn down, but even the compacted dirt had weeds growing through it. Travelers took turns rooting out the worst of the overgrowth, I guessed, but it was still bumpy going. We were facing east. The Golden Wood stretched as far as we could see, spreading out to the north and south. We weren’t far from Silver Lake and the falls, but to get there, we’d have to climb. The road ran north, leading to a steep incline. I wasn’t looking forward to the hike, even though it was mostly over dirt and grass. In front of us, in the distance to the east, we could see the foothills of the Silver Mountains. Constantly swathed in mist at their base, the peaks rose in a slow, graceful curve, but up close the forested slopes were intimidating. They were far steeper than the road we were near, which had a treacherous grade. Most caravans turned back at this point, dropping travelers off to make their own way up the slope. “Are you ready, love?” Smoky wrapped his arms around me. One of the guards scowled but said nothing. I leaned back against my dragon shifter, breathing deeply. “I guess we’d better get moving. We want to be at Erastel’s End by dusk.” I pressed my lips to his chest, then stepped away. It was time. Smoky moved to one side, and we cleared away
from him. In the blink of an eye, he shifted form, turning into his dragon self. He was huge—massive compared to Áine, who was still impressive. His scales shimmered under the light. Journeying by dragon back would be quickest and safest. Shade took his place near Smoky and he, too, shifted into dragon form. Shade was a shadow dragon, with a massive skeletal body, his brown bones creaking as he walked. Áine swept past, over beside Smoky. I realized that she, too, could carry people—at least a few. She would be harder to ride, but for those with good balance, it should be all right. We divided up. I motioned for two of my guards to join me, along with Tanne, Lisa, Bran, and Clyde. We fit comfortably on Smoky’s back, as Smoky shifted a little, helping us settle in. Delilah, the other two guards, Chase, Venus, Luke, and Amber rode on Shade’s back, squeezing themselves between his vertebrae. I wasn’t sure what he’d have to do if he needed to move his neck, but he had probably already worked that out. The Merlin swung over Áine’s sinuous form. Once we were settled, Smoky launched himself into the air and we were flying toward the top of the peak, with Shade and Áine behind us.
Chapter 4 THERE WAS NOTHING quite so amazing as being airborne on the back of a dragon. It was simultaneously scary and breathtaking. Smoky was a good flyer, and he was careful not to dip too suddenly, or to tilt his wings too abruptly. We had lashed ourselves to his back with crude rope harnesses. The worst that could happen if one of us fell was that we’d dangle below as he flew. That in itself could be a problem, but if he swept down near the ground, it was easy enough to unknot the fastening and drop the few feet to the ground below. As Smoky rose up over the side of the cliff, we could see the Silver Falls in all their glory. And they were beautiful. Silver Lake and the river feeding into it spread over the plateau with a beautiful blue sheen that was so calm, it mirrored everything around it. But the lake in turn fed into a narrow channel before the edge of the cliff, and from there, the water thundered down, churning at least two hundred feet to the valley below in a billowing cloud of mist and fog. To either side of the river and lake was a wide valley, lush with knee-high grass that waved in the constant wind. The forest stretched along the western edge of the cliff, and then, across the falls,
to the east. I wasn’t sure where the woodlands led. While I had been up to the Northlands a couple of times, they were a long, long way from here. I had no idea how far the mesa stretched, nor who lived up here. In the distance, mountains rose, cloaked in fog. Bigger and grander than the Tygerian Mountains, they eclipsed even the Tygerians’ tallest peaks. Behind me, Tanne gasped. “This is so beautiful. I never knew it would be like this.” “Not all places are this lovely, but yes, there is a great deal of beauty in Otherworld. Sometimes, I forget how much I miss it.” In a secret space of my heart, it hurt to know that I would be forced to remain Earthside for most of my days. But then, a quiet voice inside reminded me, “You never know what’s going to happen. Don’t mourn the future—it’s always up for grabs.” Tanne let out another gasp as Smoky began to circle in for a landing. “I never thought I’d ride a dragon.” “I imagine you never thought you’d be a knight in an army against a demon lord, either!” I glanced over my shoulder and smiled at him. “I knew there was something special about you, but I never really thought this would be the result.” He gave me a slightly sad look. “I miss my clan. We hunted down demons too, but I suppose this is more important. And wearing the seal, even in the
short time that I have, has… I feel it changing me. I feel different, as if I’m seeing the world in a new way. Everything seems bigger, more magnified and important.” “When you look at the universe, everything seems microscopic. But when you think of the carnage Shadow Wing’s already caused, it hits home. He’s out to destroy both Earthside and Otherworld if he gets the chance. We have a leg up on him now, but we have to keep it that way.” And with that, I turned back, facing front, as Smoky began his final circle, descending onto the grassy area near the lake, on the eastern side of it. As we touched down he gently knelt, lowering his head so we could easily slip off. Perhaps “easily” wasn’t really the term, but it was a lot easier than trying to jump down. Shade landed nearby, as did Áine, and soon we were all on foot again. The air here was chillier, even though the sun was beating down, and I realized just how high the cliff was. But the air was also clear and clean, and smelled of grass and wildflowers. I filled my lungs, then slowly exhaled. It occurred to me this would be a nice place for a camping trip. If we could find a spot for Menolly to sleep during the day, maybe we could do a big family-wide vacation before the autumn set fully in. Smoky transformed back, as did Shade. Delilah came over and stood by me, staring at the river and
the top of the falls. “It’s gorgeous.” “I was thinking, we should bring the entire family and spend a week up here. It’s so quiet, with so few people around.” I wasn’t sure what Aeval would say, but as a queen, I should have the right to go on vacation when I wanted to. If not, I was going to fight for it. “Shade!” Delilah motioned him over and slipped her arm around his waist. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gave her a long, lazy kiss. His skin glowed with a coppery brown color, and his hair reminded me of amber threads. “Yes, love?” “What do you think about this place for a honeymoon? Camille was thinking of bringing the whole family for a vacation. Wouldn’t this be perfect?” I blinked. “Isn’t the idea of a honeymoon to get away from everybody else?” Shade laughed. “The day you three ever get away from one another is the day hell freezes over. I think it’s gorgeous, and who says a honeymoon has to be private? We don’t have to share our tent with anybody. I’m all for it, if that’s what you’d like.” He pressed his lips to hers and I caught a glimpse of her expression as she molded herself against him. She was truly happy, it was apparent in
the way she stroked his arm, the way she touched his face with her fingertips. Feeling like an intruder, I quietly withdrew and headed over to Smoky for a kiss of my own. Myrddin—the Merlin’s given name—as usual, seemed impatient. “I suggest we get a move on. We have several miles to hike before we reach Erastel’s End.” “We’re coming,” I said, shaking my head. Smoky snorted. “He needs a woman,” he said under his breath. “He’s in love with Áine. And that curse on her doesn’t appear to be lifting any time soon,” I whispered back. “You don’t think anybody in the Dragon Reaches might be able to help her, do you?” Smoky cocked his head to the right, rubbing his chin as he thought. After a few moments, he cleared his throat. “Possibly, but I can’t say for certain. I’ll look into it. Don’t say anything to them until I find out for sure. No use getting their hopes up.” “Right.” I swept through the long grass to Myrddin’s side. “We’re ready. Which way do we go?” He motioned for us to follow him northeast. We walked parallel to the river, which flowed out of the forest. As we journeyed in silence, the swishing of the grass in the wind lulled me into a
quiet reflection. I drifted, listening to the drone of lazy bees and to the sound of birdsong filling the air. When I really thought about it, Talamh Lonrach Oll wasn’t unlike this mesa. Oh, the land was well tended, and there were a number of Fae living there, and yes, the feel of the worlds was different, but there was that same feeling of wildness. I had long thought that the woodlands of Earthside were more feral and primal than those of Otherworld. They were at war with human development, and that made the trees angry and made the Fae tending them bitter. But out at the Fae Sovereign Nation, the trees were calmer. Any harvesting was done with reverence and care. They responded in kind, growing faster and keeping watch along the paths and walkways for any signs of intruders. We were about twenty minutes from the eastern edge of the forest. Myrddin led us to a pathway that was overgrown, almost obscured from sight. The forest took over immediately, choking out the long grass with its own undergrowth. Like the forests of the Pacific Northwest, the woodlands here were thick with waist-high ferns and berry brambles and shrubs. The scent of water lingered in the air, and the trickling sounds of a stream tinkled along like wind chimes. The stream was hard to spot, but when I found it, I saw that it flowed to the
southeast, parallel to the path. “How far to Erastel’s End?” I welcomed the respite from the sun. The branches of the tall timber wove together over the path to provide a canopy that filtered out a good share of the sunlight. Even though the temperatures here were cooler than they would be down in the valley, the heat still prickled more than I’d like. “Not far. About a mile in. Very little haunts this forest. The few who are up to no good may enter, but they seldom leave,” Myrddin said. He paused, shading his eyes as he looked up at the canopy. “There are shadows in the trees that watch for those who enter with hostile intent. There aren’t many who can fight them off.” “Are they ghosts? If they were, I think I could see them.” Delilah glanced up, squinting. She had developed the ability to see spirits. It was one of her newly acquired powers from being a Death Maiden. “No, not ghosts. Protectors. Guardians.” Myrddin lowered his voice. “It’s not safe to even discuss them. They listen and watch and they’re drawn to those who pry too deeply. We’re relatively safe, as long as we mean no harm to this place, and don’t arouse their hunger.” Shade scanned the trees. “They come from the Netherworld. I know of them. The Stradolan race makes use of them at times.” His voice was even,
but the words were charged. Shade had lost his half-Stradolan self in an attack around eight months ago. He had adapted, but he was still smarting over the loss. “What can you tell us about them? They may not be bothering us now, but I’d like to be prepared in case they change their minds.” I had had my fill of creatures supposedly on our side who turned against us. “They’re volatile. Whoever set them to guard this place was a powerful mage. They bend their knee to few, and yet I see that they are all marked to guard, and have been here a long time.” He shrugged. “You can’t really kill them, just banish them back to the Netherworld.” “Wait,” Delilah said. “You can see them? I thought you had lost all of your Stradolan powers.” Shade froze, a wash of bewilderment crossing his face. “I did. I shouldn’t be able to see them.” He turned to Myrddin. “What is this place?” Myrddin paused. “I think…that someone else can explain this better than I can.” He stood back and then, placing two fingers in his mouth, he let loose with a sharp whistle that echoed through the woods. A moment later, there was a movement in the bushes. Delilah and I turned, ready for a fight, but the next moment I let out a cry and raced forward, throwing my arms around the neck of a large white
unicorn. “Feddrah-Dahns! I’m so glad to see you!” Feddrah-Dahns was the prince of the Dahnsburg Unicorns. He had been our friend for a long time now, and had helped us more than once. We had met on the street in front of my old bookstore, the Indigo Crescent, when he was being chased by three lowlifes. He had been hunting for his servant, Mistletoe—a pixie. Now, Mistletoe flew up behind Feddrah-Dahns and over to land on my shoulder. “Mistletoe, how are you?” Mistletoe inclined his head. “Your Majesty.” He giggled at me. “It seems strange to say that, but fitting.” Feddrah-Dahns knelt on one of his front legs, dipping down, then stood again. “Lady Camille. Now you, too, wear a crown. Well met, my friend.” Myrddin cleared his throat. “Feddrah-Dahns wanted to talk to you, so he will walk with us a ways.” “Feddrah-Dahns is always welcome,” Smoky said. The unicorn let out a gentle whinny and nuzzled my dragon lover, who laughed. Mistletoe settled on my shoulder as we continued into the forest. Shade seemed subdued, glancing around him every few minutes. I wanted to ask him what was going on, but Delilah shook her head when she saw me watching him. Obviously, something was up, but I decided to keep
my mouth shut. We had gone another mile or so when a sudden hush fell over the woodland around us. Myrddin stopped, and then motioned to me. The path was only broad enough for two abreast, so I wove my way through the guards who were in front of us to the ancient magician. His red beard and hair peeked out from beneath the hooded robe he wore, and he gave me a discerning look. Leaning down, he whispered, “We’re near Erastel’s End. From here, we must walk softly and quietly. There are guardians—far darker than those who haunt the treetops—who wait in the shadows. We’re being watched.” He motioned for me to stay put while he turned and walked through the line of those following us, spreading the word. I wasn’t sure why the silence was necessary but I wasn’t going to contradict him, and I wasn’t going to test his reasoning. I had learned the hard way that when somebody warned me of danger, there was usually a good reason for it. But another noise coming from the bushes startled me and I quickly turned, hoping that whoever it was they were at least as welcome as Feddrah- Dahns had been. Another moment and the bushes parted and, for the first time, I was actually relieved to see Raven Mother step out from the brambles. Then, before I could say a word, another figure joined her and I found myself staring up at the
Black Unicorn. He was back, alive, and breathing smoke from his nostrils.
Chapter 5 THE BLACK BEAST. A creature of myth and legend, come to life. A creature I had sent to his death at his own command, who was now returned in a new body, young and running free. He was the father of the Dahnsburg Unicorns, the only one of his kind. He was Raven Mother’s paramour, and together they had engendered Bran, who was forever a thorn in my side, but whom I had grudgingly come to trust and finally given in and made one of my Keraastar Knights when the seals demanded it. The Black Unicorn trotted toward me, his silken black mane fluttering in the breeze. His horn was crystal, around a foot and a half long, and threads of gold, silver, and black ran through it. I knew it very well, because I had one of my own—from one of his former lives—hidden inside the inner pocket of my cloak, specifically designed to fit the eighteen-inch weapon. It had been a gift, along with a cloak made from his hide, and they were worth a king’s ransom. I curtsied deeply, saying nothing. For what could I say? I had killed him, albeit at his request, and in that way we were forever linked. He had chosen me to be his assassin. Once every thousand years or so, the Black Unicorn shed his skin like a phoenix
and was reborn anew. “Rise,” his voice echoed in my head, and I knew everyone else was hearing it as well. “So, you are the Queen of Dusk and Twilight, now?” “Yes, Lord of the Dahns,” I whispered, barely able to look him in the eye. “You have journeyed far from where we first met. And now, you return to the world of your birth in order to make the next step of the journey.” He paused as Raven Mother slipped in beside him, rubbing his muzzle with her hand and kissing him lightly on the side of his cheek. “Camille, Queen Camille, you stole my son, though not the way I fancied you might.” She glanced past me, gazing at Bran. “The Moon Mother steals my sparkles and you steal my blood. But it works out, works out it does, and all works for the better good. I do not begrudge you. Now my son takes his place among the heroes as well as the Elemental Lords.” Raven Mother spoke in circles. She was an Elemental herself, cunning and dangerous, and she had taken an interest in me from the very beginning. She was tall and curvy, with a wasp waist and broad shoulders. She wore a plunging gown of black, her breasts crowning the top. Her cloak was made from feathers, and her eyes were painted like the mask of a raccoon. Her teeth, needle sharp, glistened as she smiled with ebony-
stained lips. Raven Mother had been jealous of the Moon Mother as long as anybody could remember, coveting the brilliance of the moon. And she envied all that the Moon Mother owned, including her witches and priestesses. More than once, she had tried to lure me away to follow her. I stared at the odd couple, thinking that they were two of the most dangerous spirits I had met who weren’t absolutely fucknut crazy and out for blood. Neither the Black Unicorn nor Raven Mother could be contained. They were all that was wild and feral, all that was primal, and they reveled in their chaos. In some ways, they personified love untamed by social mores. “What should I do?” I prayed the answer was something easy enough. I had been through so many trials that I wasn’t sure how many more “transformations” I could handle. “Bring your knights into the woods. Gather at Erastel’s End. And there, wait for the Guardian to join you.” And with that, both the Black Beast and Raven Mother turned and vanished back into the thicket. Delilah tapped me on the arm. “What’s wrong?” “I’m tired of riddles. I’m tired of puzzles. Just once, couldn’t somebody hand me a memo with a clear checklist of what I needed to do on it? I’m tired of following the trail of bread crumbs. I guess…I want to relax. I want to sit back and enjoy
my life.” And then I said the words I never thought I’d hear myself say. “I’m tired of doing what I should. I just want to kick off my shoes, curl up on the sofa, and watch an old movie. And eat chocolate. And you know I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.” Delilah wrapped her arm around me. “I’ll join you, if you do. We can leave now, if you want. Camille, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.” I leaned against her shoulder, torn for just a fraction of a second, and then kissed her cheek, patting her arm as I straightened up. “It’s a lovely dream, but you know as well as I do that’s all it is. Come on, let’s get moving.” I paused, then added, “But thanks. Thank you for offering me the option. For not doing what I always do by playing the cheerleader.” “You know I don’t look good in a short skirt and pompoms,” she said, laughing. “All right, here’s the deal: We get this over with and then you come over and spend the night and we watch TV all night and eat cookies. I won’t even make you watch Jerry Springer.” “Agreed!” I let out a long breath, then, squaring my shoulders, turned back to Myrddin. “All right. You’re in charge, it seems. Where to now?” He held his finger to his lips, nodding toward the canopy. “Remember, we’re being watched. Come,
not far now.” And off we went, into the early afternoon haze compounded by the drone of insects and the echoing calls of the birds.
TWENTY MINUTES LATER, the forest thinned out as we entered a clearing. The meadow was round, about the size of a bowl-shaped football field. The grass was short here, unlike what it had been when we started. In fact, it wasn’t grass at all, but moss, short and plush against the ground. At the center was a pile of stones in varying shapes and sizes. I suspected the ruins had been a house at one time, but it was difficult to tell from the distance at which we were standing. In the distance, I saw a series of Barrow Mounds. “What do we do now?” I looked around. We had until tomorrow night. “For now, we prepare. Set up camp while we can. The area grows shrouded with mist at night and it will be difficult to see. Sleep as much as you can tonight, for you must begin the ritual near midnight tomorrow.” Myrddin gave me a long look. “All right, so we set up camp.” I glanced around. “Is it all right to build a fire to cook over?” “I don’t know what will happen, but go ahead and try. I’d suggest building a campfire ring, but bring stones from the forest. Whatever you do,
don’t use any from the remains of the house.” He moved forward, to talk to the guards. Feeling oddly out of the loop—I felt it should be me directing this show, but honestly, if I didn’t know what should happen, how could I be in charge? I contented myself with helping out. Delilah and I raided the packs for food. We had hot dogs and buns, marshmallows and the fixings for s’mores, so I’d get my chocolate after all. There were apples, bread, peanut butter, jelly, potatoes and ham, and bags of chips. It wasn’t haute cuisine, but it was hearty and easy to fix. While Smoky and Shade carried stones from the edge of the clearing over for a fire pit, my knights hunted down wood for the fire at the edge of the treeline. Delilah and I prepared sticks to use for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Then we set up the pup tents and rolled out bedrolls inside them. Two of the guards brought buckets of water from the river and set them on a makeshift table—a log that Smoky had rolled out and taken an axe to in order to level one side for a flat surface. Shade found a few other smaller logs and rolled them over to the camp to use as benches. Within two hours, we were set up and ready to go, and a merry fire was crackling. I decided to take a look at the ruins, and Myrddin didn’t stop me. When I reached them, I found the remains of a
stone cottage. It had been about the size of a small bungalow—I estimated three decent-sized rooms’ worth of space. The roof was long gone, but I could make out the rough shape from how the stones had tumbled down in places. The foundation had been dirt, but oddly, no plants had overgrown the space. As I knelt by one of the moss-covered rocks and pressed my fingers to it, a tingle ran through me, as though I had plugged myself into a generator that was still just barely working. I touched the rock again and closed my eyes. Flash. I was standing at the center of the valley, staring up at a triple moon. One moon was blood-red, the second had a silver tinge to it, and the third, a luminous blue glow. Three moons, one for each world. Three moons from the same core, and yet each had its differences. Three moons, for three worlds driven apart by a magic so old and ancient, nothing could counter it. I saw her, then—the Guardian from the cave in the Tygerian Mountains. The spirit from whom I had claimed the Keraastar diamond. Her wings were ephemeral, tattered feathers in bat shape. Her eyes were black with a swirl of snowflakes in them, and her skin, the color of burnt umber. She turned to me, a feral smile on her face. “You have returned.” She cocked her head to one side.
I nodded. “I’ve come to finish the prophecy. To unite the Keraastar Knights.” “Then look for the key. The doorway awaits.” And then, as quickly as the vision had come, it vanished.
I SAID NOTHING as we lingered near the fire. But after my knights went to sleep, and Myrddin had also bedded down for the night, Shade, Delilah, and Smoky remained with me around the campfire. Shade was about to take his place at the edge of our encampment to keep watch. We stared into the flames, as overhead, the stars flared to life. Without electricity over here in Otherworld, on clear nights they spread out in an expanse that I had almost forgotten. I had told them about the vision. “I wonder what sort of key I’m looking for.” “I don’t know,” Delilah said. “But I think it’s important to think outside the box.” “Good gods, I hate that expression. It’s so cliché.” “Maybe because it’s true.” Delilah smirked. I sighed. “You may have a point. What did you mean?” “Not all keys are physical in nature. I’m not sure what I’m saying, but something tells me that the key you’re looking for may not fit on a keychain.”
She shrugged. I mulled over what Delilah had said. Surely, if there was a key lying around, by now somebody would have found it and made off with it. Erastel wouldn’t have been so shortsighted as to leave it around. But what could be the key? Over to the right, where my knights were all sleeping, Venus made a noise that sounded like a strangled scream. Concerned, I hurried over to his side and gently knelt beside him. I knew better than to wake him up abruptly. He was a trained fighter as well as a shaman and I didn’t trust him not to wake with his fists out. I gently whispered his name. “Venus? Venus, wake up. You’re having a bad dream.” Blinking, the old shaman shook out of his night visions, slowly rolling to a sitting position. He squinted, staring at me, and then cleared his throat. “Are you all right?” He nodded, looking fuzzy. “I had a dream. I dreamt that we were gathered inside of the ruins, all of us—the knights, that is. You were there, and we joined hands, forming a circle. We were summoning something… Someone. I don’t know, but we were hand to hand, and the energy racing through us was so strong that it almost lifted me off my feet.” A thought struck me. “Did it feel like a dream to you? I know that sounds odd, but—”
Venus cocked his head to the side. “No, not odd at all. I know what you’re asking. I’ve worked out on the astral far too many times for me not to understand a question like that. The answer is, both yes and no. I wasn’t actually participating in something, but it feels like… A premonition. Does that help?” I nodded, standing. “Get some sleep. You’ll need it tomorrow night.” As I headed back to the campfire, I knew what we needed to do. I glanced up at the sky. Tomorrow night would be the new moon. An energy from the diamond was flowing into me, and everything felt right. Delilah and Smoky were waiting for me, looking expectantly. “I know how to proceed,” I said. “We’d better get some sleep, because tomorrow is going to be a long day, and tomorrow night an even longer night.” With Shade watching over us, we bedded down for the night near the fire. I wasn’t sure I could sleep, but the moment my head hit the pillow of my bedroll, I was out like a light and didn’t wake till morning.
Chapter 6 WE WOKE WITH the sun. During the night, the air had grown so chilly that I didn’t want to get out of my bedroll. I tucked my head under the covers, warming my breath before braving the cold. I wasn’t whether Smoky and Shade had slept, for they were both sitting by the fire, warming their hands against the flames. Several of my knights were up—Venus, Luke, Tanne, and Chase. They were busy making breakfast. Lisa, Bran, Clyde, and Amber were still sleeping. Delilah was returning from a nearby thicket. She was carrying a roll of toilet paper, so I knew what she had been doing. “Good morning, sleepyhead,” she said with a grin. “Get up and face the day.” “Bring me coffee and I will,” I said. As I crawled out of my bedroll, the full chill of the morning hit me and I wrapped myself in my cloak, fastening it snugly around my neck. “I seem to have become a tenderfoot in our time spent over Earthside. There’s certainly something to be said for central heating.” Delilah laughed. “I totally agree. I’d like to find a nice big sunbeam and roll around in it.” I took the toilet paper from her and headed toward the thicket. It wasn’t my first choice for a bathroom, but it was our only option. After I
finished, I headed back to camp and dipped my hands in the bucket of hot water that someone had thought to heat over the fire. The soap and warmth were comforting and I lingered as my hands absorbed some of the heat. Finally, I joined the rest of them around the campfire, where Smoky handed me a plate of fried potatoes and ham. Delilah brought me a cup of coffee with cream in it, and I eagerly accepted. “What do you need us to do today?” Chase asked. “I had a vision last night. Venus cemented my thoughts on the ritual. I need to meditate today, but I know what we’re supposed to do. I would like for you and the rest of the knights to spend the day in meditation. Gather your energy. I need you all at full strength by evening. I’ll explain then, but for now, try not to overexert yourselves.” I knew I sounded vague, but I couldn’t pinpoint anything more exact. I turned to Myrddin. “Do the scrolls say anything else? Anything at all that I should know about?” Myrddin paused, then held my gaze for a moment. “Only a warning. I translated the last bit this morning,” he said softly. “But I think we should speak of that in private.” He gave a nod toward the knights and my guards. I understood. “After we eat breakfast, let’s take a little walk. Can Smoky, Shade, and Delilah come
with us?” “I think it’s important they do.” And with that cryptic remark, he went back to his food. I drank my coffee, and then a second cup, and finished my ham and potatoes. It felt odd, being back in Otherworld. Especially in a remote location where the silence was so acute. Even in a park, or out at Talamh Lonrach Oll, there were sounds of civilization. But here in the Golden Wood, it felt like we were a million miles from the nearest encampment or city. The only sounds up here were the sounds of the wind, the rustling of the grass, and the sound of birdsong. It was comforting, in a way. The gentle susurration of the ever-present breeze flowed through like background music. It both calmed me and yet,unsettled me. I realized that I had become acclimated to living over Earthside. I wasn’t sure if I could ever get used to Otherworld again. Maybe it was a good thing that I was destined to stay in my mother’s home world. When we finished breakfast, Myrddin, Smoky, Shade, Delilah, and I took a walk a few hundred yards away from Erastel’s End. Once we were out of earshot, we settled down in the grass. By now the chill had burned off, leaving behind the crisp tang of an autumn morning as the sun beat down golden, but not hot. “So what did you want to tell me?”
“There’s a warning in the scroll. I managed to decipher it this morning. The meanings eluded me until now. It was the only piece of the puzzle that I hadn’t been able to solve before we left.” He frowned. “I take it you had an epiphany about the ritual itself?” I nodded. “Erastel came to me in the vision I mentioned. I know what I need to do. I know how to proceed. So what was the warning?” “There’s a chance that…” He paused, then shook his head. “Apparently, the Great Fae Lords knew what Erastel was up to. The warning was added onto the scroll by someone after Erastel died. I’m not sure who wrote it, but I certainly wouldn’t dismiss it.” “There were probably those who were on her side about this. Someone had to hide the MaharataVerdi.” Smoky frowned. “Is there some guardian or danger that will appear when Camille starts the ritual?” Myrddin nodded. “Yes, there may be. Apparently, after Erastel died, one of the Fae Lords volunteered to go into stasis to prevent the ritual from taking place, and he was secured near here. The ritual will probably wake him up, and if so, you know he’ll do his best to put a stop to it. I have no clue as to how powerful he is, but if he’s anything like the Fae Lords that we fought during the Great Divide, he won’t be easy to take down. Even with
three dragons at our disposal.” I bit my lip. I was no match for one of the ancient Fae Lords. But then, I had a weapon nobody knew I had brought. My fingers traced over the unicorn horn, safe in its long pocket within my cloak. “We have to prepare. But how can we prepare against an enemy we don’t know? Is there a way to find him today? If he is secured near here and in stasis, can we go hunting for him? He must be close by if there’s a chance he can interfere with the ritual.” I paused, then my gaze fell on the series of Barrow Mounds. “Those mounds. Could he be in one of those?” Smoky shaded his eyes, looking out over the expanse. “You might have something there,” he said. “The great kings of old were interned within Barrow Mounds. With the ego of the ancient Fae Lords, I wouldn’t be surprised that they would choose to follow suit. It makes sense. There, they would be secured from the weather and from raiders.” “I won’t have my knights hunting with me. They need to stay in meditation today. However, I’m quite capable of going alone. So don’t try to dissuade me.” I knew Smoky. If he could prevent me from putting myself in danger, he would. But this was too important. And I had the feeling that if there was
one of the Great Fae Lords hiding around here, I’d be able to find him easier than the others. The Keraastar diamond was changing me, slowly but surely. I could feel it working on me—just like the spirit seals had been working on my knights. I felt more aware of everything around me, and when anybody who had anything to do with the spirit seals was near, I could sense them even before they announced themselves. There was a connection between me and the Keraastar Knights that went beyond friendship, beyond allegiance. It was as though the webs of our lives were now woven together, and our common destiny had settled into the very bones and cells of our body. I had the feeling that a common threat would put us all on alert. Delilah was watching me closely. “Where do you think this will lead?” “What do you mean?” I knew she wasn’t talking about the hunt for the Fae Lord. “Once we’ve defeated Shadow Wing, where will the Keraastar Knights go? What will happen to them…and to you?” I had thought about that question quite a bit over the past few months. Ever since I had taken the Keraastar diamond, I found myself playing with thoughts of the future. We were bound by a destiny that I could only hope would soon be over, but beyond that, it felt like there were new playing
fields that awaited. I couldn’t see them, not yet. But I knew they were there. Defeating Shadow Wing would not be the end of the Keraastar Knights. We were all evolving together, in both our personal lives and together, as a unit. “I’m not certain, but I know we have things to do in the future. I think, though, we should focus on one step at a time. I don’t even want to talk about Shadow Wing yet, because the thought of facing him fills me with terror. Regardless of how much help we have on our hands, fighting him is going to be one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.” Delilah mulled over my answer. “I’m not sure I agree,” she said. “I think one of the hardest things we’ve ever done was when we were sent over Earthside. We didn’t know what life would be like. We didn’t know how long we’d be there. There was so much of the future left in question. At least now we know I’m a Death Maiden, and you’re a Fae Queen, and Menolly… Well, Menolly is a vampire princess. Of all three, that would be the last one I would have seen coming.” She laughed and I laughed with her. “I still can’t get over the Princess Menolly title. But perhaps you’re right. So much has happened since we were assigned over Earthside. So much water under the bridge, so many people we’ve lost, and so many people who’ve entered our lives.” I glanced at Smoky. My mother’s home world
had brought two of my loves into my life, and had brought my first love back to me. The intervening years had been so full that I hadn’t taken the time to think about the past, to follow the path that had brought us here. “Do you think that we live several lives within each lifetime? We had our lives back in Otherworld, before Mother died. Those years are hard to remember because we were so young, but they were a life in their own. And then, we had our lives as we grew up and joined the Y’Elestrial Intelligence Agency. That time ended when Menolly died. When she was turned, another chapter started—another lifetime. And then for me, when I met Trillian. And when we were sent over Earthside. It’s as though we live these miniature dramas within the bigger scope of our life. How many transitions have I been through? And you? And Menolly?” Myrddin was listening to us closely. “All good philosophical thoughts, but if we’re going to hunt for the Fae Lord, we’d better get started. Why don’t we split up into two teams? Shade and Delilah, you look together, and Smoky, Camille, and I will look together. We can cover more territory that way. Why don’t we start with those two mounds over there, the ones closest? And Camille, the reason I didn’t want your guards to hear what I had to say, or the knights, was because
we have no idea if any of them have been influenced by anybody else. We can’t chance that they’re safe to confide in.” “What you mean? You can’t mean you distrust my knights?” I could see him distrusting the guards. They might swear an oath of loyalty, but it was easy to mouth words, and it wasn’t like we administered a truth serum to them. “During the Great Divide, the Fae Lords were incredibly powerful. They split three worlds asunder. You can’t do that if you don’t wield enormous power. It isn’t so far-fetched to think that even now, one or more of them might still be awake and working against us. Mind control isn’t that difficult. And until the last of the Keraastar Knights is found, your circle will not be complete. I think once it is, you will know the loyalty of your knights.” My mood plummeted. He was right. And when I thought of the power it took to split part the worlds, it underscored just how easy it would be for one of the Fae Lords to reach out and twist the mind of one of my knights. “I see what you mean. Very well, I’ll tell them to stay at the fire.” We walked back to the campfire. All my knights were sitting in a circle, meditating, as I had instructed them to. Telling them one more time to stay in meditation, and telling my guards to stay
with them, I joined Smoky and Myrddin to head for the Barrow Mounds.
WE HUNTED AROUND the first mound while Delilah and Shade took the one next to us. The mounds were even, sloping up in a circular fashion, as though the ground had grown perfectly formed breasts. They were obviously formed not by nature, but through some magic or careful engineering. We looked for any sign of a door, any magical nuance, and then I leaned against the earth, pressing my hands to the side, searching for something to tell me that what we hunted might be buried within. At the first mound I sensed an ancient energy, but it was quiet and steady, and felt alien to me. I wasn’t sure what the Barrow contained, but it wasn’t a Fae Lord—of that I was certain. Twenty minutes later, we moved on to the next. “Shouldn’t I…feel the ones that Delilah and Shade are searching as well?” While Delilah’s ability to sense energy had increased exponentially with the advent of her being able to see ghosts, that was no guarantee that she’d be able to suss out the particular energy I was looking for. “If we don’t find anything by the time we searched through all of these mounds, then you can go back along the ones she and Shade have looked at. There appear to be thirteen mounds in this
area.” Myrddin shaded his eyes. The sun was fully up now, and while the day wasn’t warm, it was bright. “That sounds good to me. I think we should be able to work our way through all of these by early afternoon, if not sooner.” We moved on to the second set, and then the third. By the time we came to the fourth set of mounds, I was getting tired. Each mound seemed to contain a force of some sort, an energy that I could almost recognize, but not quite. I motioned for Delilah and Shade to join us as we rested for a moment. “Have you been able to sense anything?” She nodded. “There are ghosts within the ones we have looked at. The dead walk in there, they aren’t sleeping, and they sure as hell aren’t resting. I have the feeling that they were entombed here for a reason and not allowed to move on to the Land of the Silver Falls. They make me feel uncomfortably nervous, just like the sword did that Daniel found. The one with Einar in it.” I groaned. The last thing we needed to face was a Viking ghost who was out for trouble. Fighting one had been problematic enough. But it helped that if they hadn’t been dead, she wouldn’t have been able to sense them. Which meant that, most likely, none of the Barrow Mounds that Delilah had looked at was the one I was searching for. If,
indeed, the Fae Lord was entombed within one of them. “Well, that gives us something to go on. I suppose we should get back to the search. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can go eat lunch.” My stomach was rumbling. Delilah pulled out two candy bars, handing one to me. “I thought we might get hungry.” I bit into the Snickers bar, smiling as the chocolate and caramel melted in my mouth. “Bless you, and remind me never to complain about your sweet tooth again.” After we finished eating, we split up again, and headed toward the seventh and eighth Barrow Mounds. We were about three yards away from the mound when a sudden headache hit me, so blinding that I stumbled, falling to my knees. It felt like someone had taken up a sledgehammer and was pounding on my skull. “Camille, love, are you all right?” Smoky knelt beside me, wrapping his arm around me. I fought through the throbbing pain, trying to speak. “I don’t know. I’m not sure what happened, but my head hurts so bad all of a sudden I can barely think.” I pulled away from him, resting on my knees with my forehead pressed against the earth. My head was awash in a haze of confusion, and my stomach lurched, queasy from the pain.
As I crouched on the ground, a rush of anger swept out from the Barrow Mound in front of me, shrouding me like a blanket. By this point I couldn’t even open my eyes. I felt as though I had tumbled into a deep pit, freefalling at a rapid drop. I let out a cry, and the next thing I knew, Smoky had picked me up, carrying me in his arms. I tried to open my eyes, but couldn’t manage. I pressed my head against his shoulder, trying to shake off the attack. It felt as though there were waves of pain, lashes of anger aimed directly at me, coming from every direction. I tried to get the words out—to tell them what was happening, but my mouth wouldn’t work right. “I have to get her out of here,” I heard Smoky say. Myrddin said something in response but I couldn’t understand what it was. And then I heard Smoky speak again, but it was a jumble of words that made no sense. I grabbed his jacket in my fists, holding on for dear life as my world spun around me. The next moment, everything came to an abrupt stop. I felt like the rug had been yanked out from under my feet. I tried to catch my breath, but Smoky held me tight against him, and when I opened my eyes, I saw we were surrounded by a haze of mist and cloud. Everything felt odd, as though our world had shrunk to a narrow bubble
enclosing Smoky and me. Then I realized what had happened. He had shifted us over into the Ionyc Sea. I clung to his neck, not trying to speak, just grateful that the pain was gone and the confusion was subsiding. I’m not sure how long we stayed there, but it was long enough that I started to get sleepy. I yawned, resting my head back against his shoulder. As I relaxed, once again we shifted. I blinked as the sunlight blazed on my face again, and realized we were back in the Barrow Mounds, standing just outside the place where I had been hit. “What the hell happened to you?” Delilah ran over. Smoky carefully set me down, and I steadied myself on his arm. “I believe we found what were looking for,” I said, pointing toward the Barrow Mound. I told them what had happened. “Even if he is in stasis, the anger against Erastel is still there, and I believe it’s acting like a guardian force. I don’t know if I can get close enough to go in.” “You can’t go in,” Myrddin said. “We can’t risk losing you. Let the dragons take this on.” He looked directly at Smoky. “You and Shade have to destroy the Fae Lord. And try to prevent him from getting out of the Barrow. I should take Camille back to Erastel’s End. If the Fae Lord gets free, it doesn’t matter where she is. He’ll hunt her down
and try to kill her.” “Gee, you’re so incredibly comforting,” I said, sticking my tongue out at Myrddin. “Well, we have to deal with him before I start the ritual tonight. I’m not budging. I’d rather make my stand at the top of this Barrow.” Myrddin tried to cow me with his gaze, but I stared him down. “Infernal woman, how on earth have you stayed alive all this time?” “Through an incredible amount of luck, help from my friends, and pure stubbornness. I’ve never backed down from a fight and I’m not about to start now. It doesn’t matter whether I’m over at the fire or here, if he comes out of that Barrow looking for me, he’ll be able to find me. But I’ve got something he won’t expect.” Slowly, I reached within my cloak and pulled out the unicorn horn. Delilah blinked. “I didn’t know you brought the horn with you.” “This is probably one of the most important missions I’ve been on. I wasn’t about to come here unprepared. Given we have three dragons with us and one of the ancient Druids, along with all my knights and my guards, I figured I’d be safe enough from anybody trying to pilfer it.” I held it out, closing my eyes. Within the unicorn horn lived a jindasel—a creature similar to a djinn but who was an avatar of the horn itself—and four
of the prime elementals. They were there, waiting to do my bidding. I dropped into trance, and within the blink of an eye, found myself inside the horn.
ERISKEL WAS WAITING for me. He was in his usual form, that of a man with brown skin, wearing large hoop earrings to die for. He was handsome, but I knew that he was, in reality, an energy being. He was sitting at the table in the center of the room. To each direction was a large monitor on each wall, like a massive TV screen. I slowly walked up to the table and pulled out a chair, sitting down and resting my hands on the table. “Lady Camille, welcome. What can I do for you?” Eriskel had quite a sense of humor, but he seemed to sense that today wasn’t the day for jokes. “We’re about to take on what I believe is one of our bigger enemies. One of the ancient Fae Lords from the Great Divide is lying in stasis out there, waiting for me to begin the ritual to complete the Keraastar Knights. If I begin that ritual, he’ll wake and tried to stop me. We mean to put a stop to him before he tries to put a stop to me.” “That’s a large order,” Eriskel said. “What do you need?” “I’m not sure what the Elementals can do for me, but they need to be ready. Especially the
Master of the Winds. I may need his lightning. Remember when you shot the lightning bolt at me?” At one point, when he was testing me, Eriskel had nearly fried me with a lightning bolt sizzling with over one hundred million volts. Eriskel laughed. “Indeed I do, and I remember how quickly you dissipated that lightning.” “Don’t remind me. Anyway, I need a bolt like that ready for my use. I doubt if one of the ancient Fae Lords could survive being skewered with that.” I paused, realizing how casually I was sitting here, discussing destroying another person. But said person was out to get me, and out to stop something that would help save the world from the demons. I couldn’t allow myself to have any mercy or compassion, it was only the end finish that mattered at this point. “We will be ready, Mistress Camille.” Eriskel gave me a gentle bow, and I opened my eyes to find myself standing back by Smoky’s side. I motioned to Delilah. “I’m ready. Let’s head up to the top of the next mound so we can prepare ourselves if he should escape. Smoky, Shade, go on in and don’t let him kill you, whatever you do.” As they headed toward a dark spot on the Barrow that could only be a door, Delilah and I prepared ourselves. Myrddin was whispering under his breath and suddenly Áine showed up, swirling
around him. I sensed that she, too, was preparing herself for battle.
Chapter 7 SMOKY AND SHADE entered the Barrow. As we waited, I did my best to avoid linking into Smoky’s energy, not wanting to get hit again with the backlash of anger. It felt like we were there an interminable time, standing on that hilltop. Delilah reached for my hand and I squeezed her fingers, but then quickly let go, wanting to be fully prepared for whatever might happen next. A storm was coming in from the east, the thick bank of dark thunderheads traveling swiftly. The horn began to vibrate, and my hand tingled as I sensed the lightning approach. Then, as it began to jump from cloud to cloud, the storm approached, massive clouds billowing toward us as it overtook the area. Nervous, I realized just how prominent targets we were for the crackling forks that broke through the sky. We were living lightning rods, and as the thunder began to rumble, Delilah lowered her dagger, looking around nervously. Áine was shifting around Myrddin, spiraling quickly as she glanced at the sky. A movement caught my eye from down near the edge of the Barrow. Smoky and Shade came running out, separating as Smoky ran to the left and Shade ran to the right. They turned to face each
other as they transformed into their dragon selves, filling the space between the Barrows with their size and form. Smoky let out a loud roar, his head weaving back toward the sky. Shade’s skeletal wings extended, and he took flight, hovering over the Barrow Mound. I caught my breath, focusing on the space from which they had exited. There was a hole there, door shaped, and as I watched a figure emerged. He was glowing, a faint bluish color surrounding him like a nimbus. From here it was hard to make out his features, but the immensity of his power hit me full force and the pain came knifing back into my forehead. I struggled to drive it away. At that moment, he looked up, directly at me. The ancient Fae Lord lifted his hands, as if to cast something my direction, but at that moment, Smoky lashed against him, slamming the Fae Lord broadside with his giant head. As the Fae Lord stumbled back, my pain subsided and I brought up the unicorn horn. But Smoky was in the way and I couldn’t take direct aim. I wasn’t about to chance hitting him with a lightning bolt. Smoky raked at him, trying to grab hold of him with one of his giant claws, but the Fae Lord managed to dodge to the side, rolling on the ground to come up on his feet once more. He held out his hand again and this time, he let loose with a massive energy bolt. It was hurtling my way.
Delilah must have seen it, too, because she grabbed me and rolled, pushing us both to the ground. The orb of energy sailed over our heads, missing us by inches. I pushed myself to a sitting position, once again fighting through a haze of pain. But I managed to fumble for my unicorn horn. I brought it to bear, aiming down at the Fae Lord. Once again, though, Smoky was in my way. Again, he tried to grasp the man in his claws, to carry him aloft like an eagle might carry a rabbit, but once again the Fae Lord eluded him. As Smoky soared up to circle around, Shade darted in, gnashing his skeletal teeth. But our opponent was nimble, and his slumber seemed to have left him well rested. He dodged Shade’s attack, laughing, and his laughter echoed through the mountains. “I can’t attack him from up here,” I said. “I have to get closer. Otherwise, I’ll hit either Smoky or Shade.” Delilah frowned, then grabbed my hand and began dragging me down the side of the Barrow, her sword out in front of her. We were halfway down when the Fae Lord sent another attack our way, this time a ball of fire. Once again, Delilah pulled me down and we landed face first on the ground. I still had hold of the unicorn horn, though, and I managed to rise up on my knees. Shaking, I held it out as the Fae Lord began to head in my
direction. “Attack me and you kill us all.” His words echoed through the air, as charged as my unicorn horn was. “Stop what you’re doing. Don’t go through with it. Don’t destroy our work.” I was panting with both fear and exertion. “If I don’t carry through with my task, the demons will break through the worlds. Can’t you understand? This is a different age, a different time, and what you began with the Great Divide no longer works. Everything’s breaking down.” “I can’t believe that. Our plan was infallible. Erastel was a traitor.” “You don’t understand. You’ve been asleep for thousands of years. The world has evolved, and so have the portals.” I kept talking, mostly to give myself time to aim at him. He hadn’t seemed to notice the unicorn horn, and I wanted it to stay that way. “I tell you, you cannot do this and expect the world to survive!” He paused, suddenly focusing on my hand and the horn. “What’s that?” It dawned on me. The Black Beast was a creature of Otherworld, not of Earthside. The Fae Lords may never have heard of him, nor heard of the unicorn horns. A shiver of doubt raced through me, but then I steadied myself. I had to believe that we were doing the right thing. I had to believe in what
Grandmother Coyote had told me, and the work Queen Asteria had done on our behalf. Mostly, I had to believe that my part of the prophecy was integral to the world’s survival. I focused, steadying my hand. Smoky and Shade were holding off, backing away so that I could do what I needed to do. The Fae Lord was continuing to march up the Barrow Mound, and the closer he got, the worse my headache became. I sucked in a deep breath. Then, slowly exhaling, I whispered to Eriskel. “Now! Call down the lightning.” A lightning bolt of incredible proportions sailed out of the unicorn horn. It rocked the meadow, lighting up the sky as it pierced the Fae Lord’s chest. The light was so intense that it blinded me, the reverberation ricocheting through me like that of a gunshot. I dropped the horn, my arm blazing with fire. As I crouched forward, caught in a dark haze of pain, I prayed that it had been enough to stop the Fae Lord in his tracks.
“CAMILLE? CAMILLE, ARE you all right?” Delilah was by my side, gingerly lifting me into a sitting position. I glanced at my right arm. The pain echoed through my skin and muscle, and the flesh was a blistering red. I looked like a lobster ready for the
melted butter. Blinking, I choked back the tears. It was worse than the most severe sunburn I had ever had in my life. I moaned, blinking. “Where is he?” “There’s not much left except a pile of ashes,” Delilah said. “The lightning struck him in the chest, and he practically exploded into dust. Reminded me a lot of a vampire, actually, even though I know he wasn’t.” “Motherfucking pain.” I groaned and instinctively reached for my arm, shrieking as I touched the reddened skin. My cloak was behind me—somehow, it’d been blown off my body. And my sleeve was nowhere to be seen. It was as though it had melted away. The unicorn horn was on the ground and I picked it up in my left hand, calling for Eriskel. “Eriskel? Are you there?” A faint echo sounded in my mind, and I could hear him whisper that he was there, but the horn was so drained he couldn’t reach out to talk to me. The horn fell silent again. I would have to charge it come the new moon. I sat back, tears stinging my eyes as the burn on my arm deepened. Delilah shouted for Smoky and Shade, and they quickly turned back into their human shapes and raced up the Barrow Mound. Smoky took one look at my arm and blew on it, an icy chill from his breath calming the heat.
Myrddin dropped to his knees. “Well, that went better than I thought it would. But I suppose not much can survive a couple million volts of electricity. Good thing you brought that along, or we would have had a much worse fight on our hands.” He examined my arm. “I can’t fully healed this up, but I can take away some of the worst of the pain so that you can focus. Once you get home, you need to have it looked at.” He began a low chant as I held out my arm. As he traced his fingers through my aura, the pain began to subside, moving from a searing burn to a dull ache. The redness faded into a pale crimson, and finally I was able to breathe. “Thank you,” I said. “If I hadn’t had the unicorn horn with me, I’d probably be dead.” “Trust me, before that would have happened, I would have bit him in half or devoured him whole. Whatever it took to save you.” Smoky stroked my face. “Love, are you all right?” I nodded, thinking about what the Fae Lord had said. “I wonder if there’s any truth to what he was saying.” Quickly, though, I dismissed it. “I can’t let myself doubt. If I let myself doubt, then we’ll never get anywhere. We have to take the chance.” “I wouldn’t worry too much.” Myrddin helped me up to my feet. “The Great Fae Lords didn’t want any competition. And there are things about the Spirit Seal that they themselves never knew,
even though they were the ones who created it. Sometimes a creation outstrips its master, and I believe that’s what happened here. I suggest that you rest until evening. You’ve just been through a major shock and you still have a long ritual to face.” Smoky carried me back to the camp. The knights glanced my way, but went back to their meditation. My guards, of course, were upset, but Myrddin calmed their fears as Delilah spread out my blankets. Smoky lay me down on them. As I curled up in the bedroll, before I could even begin to process what had happened, I drifted into a deep sleep.
DELILAH WOKE ME in time to eat a light dinner, and as we huddled around the campfire I realized it was far colder tonight than it had been the night before. I glanced up looking for the Moon Mother. She was in her shadow phase, new and riddled with secrets, which meant my power was at its peak. Although I was still tired from earlier, I felt an odd sense of alertness. I looked over at the ruins. They were glowing. “We’ll have to start soon, before midnight,” I said. “I’m not certain what’s going to happen, but I know how to proceed.” When we finished eating and, once again, rested by the flames, I gathered
my knights around me. Venus the Moon Child gazed up at the moon. “It’s time, isn’t it?” I nodded. “Erastel is waiting for us.” Even the knights who had joined me most recently—Tanne and Bran, Clyde and Lisa—could feel it. Bran motioned to me. “Camille, can I speak with you?” I held his gaze. It still galled me that he was one of my knights, but I was going to have to get over it. “Whatever you have to say, it can be said in front of everyone.” He gave me a considering nod. “We’ve had our differences, and we have been at odds ever since we met. But I want you to know, my pledge as one of your knights stands. I will guard you and follow you wherever needed.” I let out a slow breath. “Thank you. I needed to hear that, especially from you. Let the past be in the past, Bran, as we move forward.” I motioned for them to follow and we headed over to the ruins. The others waited on the outskirts, watching. I led my knights through the remnants of what had been a wall, stepping onto the barren dirt that had once formed the floor. As I motioned for them to join me in a circle, images from my vision flashed through my head. “Join hands.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, focusing on the energy. As it began to build, it flowed through our hands, racing in a circle, amplifying as it went. A circle of power, a circle of electricity, it was moving so quickly that there was no beginning and no end. It flowed from hand to hand, a constant stream. The ruins were glowing, and I could see the ghostly walls of the house rise again. Erastel herself was suddenly standing beside me, leaning over my shoulder. She whispered in my ear, telling me what I needed to do. At her bidding, I directed the energy to spin faster and faster, and we were suddenly running in a circle, holding hands as we whirled, dragged by the currents of energy. Song. I needed a song. Then the words were on my lips, tumbling out in a stream of song. Nine seals, eight knights, eight guardians shining bright. Nine gems, nine powers, a stream of star showers. A queen rises, an era falls, as she sends out her call. One seal stands unclaimed, one more gem to tame, I wake the living, I wake the dead, As we seek to forge the road ahead. I send my call out through the mists of time,
Midnight comes, twelve times the clock chimes. Seeking through the darksome night, I call forth my final Knight. O final Knight, come to me, Come forth on bended knee. As my voice came to rest, a brilliant flash split the night as the energy leaped from our fingers to fill the center of the circle. Smoke billowed as we fell and sprawled back. As the mist began to lift, I turned my gaze to the center of the circle and gasped. There, crouching in the centermost point, was someone I thought I would never see again. Someone I had thought forever lost. Shamas, my cousin, had returned from the dead. He knelt in the middle of the circle, naked, and as he raised his head, his eyes were glowing with a ruby light. Slowly, without a word, I reached in my pocket and pulled out the last spirit seal. The gem began to pulse, the ruby matching Shamas’s eyes. I stepped forward. Shamas continued to kneel, staring up at me. As I placed the seal around his neck, there was a soft hush, as if a door had shut. I had found my last knight. The circle was complete. The Keraastar Knights stood ready.
“DOES HE KNOW he was dead?” Delilah asked. We were gathered around the campfire, preparing to go home. Shamas was sitting next to Shade, wearing a pair of trousers and a shirt that one of my guards had provided for him. He looked confused and hadn’t said much, but he was eating like he had been starved for months. Which technically was true, given he had been dead for quite some time. But here he was, breathing, for all intents and purposes alive again. I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it. I nodded. “I’m sure he does. He runs with the hunt, and he recognizes me each time.” I wasn’t sure what else to say. “This is going to be an interesting journey. I wonder just how much he remembers of his former life.” “I have no idea,” Delilah said. “I don’t envy you, though. I admit that this makes me nervous. The dead are supposed to stay dead.” “Well, obviously some necromancers disagree with you. But Shamas is no ghoul, nor is he a zombie. He’s alive, all right. I can’t begin to tell you how it happened. I asked Myrddin, but he had no explanation, either. Perhaps Shamas wasn’t supposed to die? Maybe he died too soon and was supposed to become one of my knights from the beginning? I have no clue how much of this was predestined. Maybe destiny makes it all up on the fly? But if you’ll notice, his eyes have changed.”
Instead of the beautiful violet eyes that matched my own, Shamas’s were now almost burgundy, but they weren’t the crimson of an angry vampire’s eyes. Otherwise, he looked just as I had remembered him. I didn’t want to inundate him with questions yet, but once we were back home, we’d have to have a long talk. Actually, I thought as I looked at him, I wasn’t sure just how much of Shamas was in there. He looked like Shamas, he recognized me, but I had a sinking feeling that he wasn’t the cousin I remembered. “At least the circle is complete,” Delilah said. “You have your knights, they all have their spirit seals, and you have the diamond. Now, we have a fighting chance against Shadow Wing, given the Keraastar Knights are supposed to be integral to his destruction.” I nodded, but under the dark moon, sitting next to Erastel’s End, all I could think about was that facing the Demon Lord had just taken another step toward the all-too-real. “I suppose we better head for home come morning. Your wedding is coming up, and you still have to make so many plans for it.” I laughed, trying to focus on happier things—on things I understood. Delilah let out a chuckle. “I know you think we’re crazy for doing this on the wing. But that’s
the way Shade and I rock. Whatever our wedding turns out to be, it will be the wedding we’re meant to have. The important thing is that we get married soon.” She paused, as if deciding whether or not to say something more. I waited, but finally, she pressed her lips together and stared at her feet with a smile. But there had been something there, something in that all-too-long pause. All thoughts of Shamas fled my mind. “Delilah Maria D’Artigo. Are you trying to tell me what I think you’re trying to tell me?” But she merely shrugged and started to hum. As the night deepened, I realize just how much again our lives had shifted in the space of two days. Nothing ever stayed the same. Life evolved. And either we evolved with it, or we threw ourselves under the bus. “Fine, you can keep your secret for the moment. I won’t pry.” But inside, I couldn’t help but smile.
The newest Otherworld book—MOON SHIMMERS—is available now, and the next, HARVEST SONG, will be available in May 2018. You can preorder THE SILVER STAG, the first book in my new urban fantasy series, The Wild Hunt. Ember Kearney was born with the mark of
the Silver Stag. A water witch pledged to Morgana, she is recruited for Herne’s squad of elite bounty hunters to preserve the balance between the Fae Courts, so the chaos doesn’t spill out into the mortal realm. If you love the Otherworld Series, check out all the fun adventures of the wild and magical residents of Bedlam in my Bewitching Bedlam Series. Series reading order: BLOOD MUSIC, BEWITCHING BEDLAM, BLOOD VENGEANCE, TIGER TAILS, MAUDLIN’S MAYHEM, SIREN’S SONG and WITCHES WILD. If you prefer a grittier series, try my postapocalyptic romance—the Fury Unbound Series: FURY RISING, FURY’S MAGIC, FURY AWAKENED and FURY CALLING. If you like cozies with an edge, try my Chintz ‘n China paranormal mysteries. The series is complete with: GHOST OF A CHANCE, LEGEND OF THE JADE DRAGON, MURDER UNDER A MYSTIC MOON, A HARVEST OF BONES, ONE HEX OF A WEDDING, and a wrap-up novella: HOLIDAY SPIRITS. For information about all of my work, including upcoming releases, see the Bibliography at the end of this book, or check out my website at
Galenorn.com and be sure and sign up for my newsletter to receive news about all my new releases.
New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestselling author Yasmine Galenorn writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance, and is the author of over fifty books, including the Otherworld Series, the Fury Unbound Series, the Bewitching Bedlam Series, and many more. She’s also written nonfiction metaphysical books. She is the 2011 Career Achievement Award Winner in Urban Fantasy, given by RT Magazine. Yasmine has been in the Craft since 1980, is a shamanic witch and High Priestess. She describes her life as a blend of teacups and tattoos. She lives in Kirkland WA with her husband Samwise and their cats. Yasmine can be reached via her website at Galenorn.com. Indie Releases Currently Available: The Wild Hunt Series:
The Silver Stag Bewitching Bedlam Series: Bewitching Bedlam Maudlin’s Mayhem Siren’s Song Witches Wild Blood Music Blood Vengeance Tiger Tails Fury Unbound Series: Fury Rising Fury’s Magic Fury Awakened Fury Calling Otherworld Series: Moon Shimmers Earthbound Moon Swept Knight Magic Otherworld Tales: Volume One Tales From Otherworld: Collection One Men of Otherworld: Collection One Men of Otherworld: Collection Two Moon Swept: Otherworld Tales of First Love For the rest of the Otherworld Series, see Website Chintz ‘n China Series:
Ghost of a Chance Legend of the Jade Dragon Murder Under a Mystic Moon A Harvest of Bones One Hex of a Wedding Holiday Spirits Bath and Body Series (originally under the name India Ink): Scent to Her Grave A Blush With Death Glossed and Found Misc. Short Story Collections: Mist and Shadows: Short Tales From Dark Haunts Once Upon a Kiss (short story: Princess Charming) Silver Belles (short story: The Longest Night) Once Upon a Curse (short story: Bones) Night Shivers (an Indigo Court novella) Magickal Nonfiction: Embracing the Moon Tarot Journeys For all other series, as well as upcoming work, see Website