We’re the D’Artigo sisters: savvy half-human, half-Fae ex-operatives for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. My sister Camille is a wicked-good witch with three sexy husbands. My sister Delilah is a two-faced werecat and Death Maiden. And me? I’m Menolly, a jian-tu turned vampire in love with a wildly hot werepuma. Unfortunately, life is about to get very, very nasty…
Nerissa and I can’t decide on what we want to do for our promise ceremony and we’re bickering like an old married couple. My sisters and I head to Otherworld for a meeting with Queen Asteria. Once there, we discover that Shadow Wing has dispatched Telazhar—a malevolent necromancer—to reignite the Scorching Wars. And as soon as we return back home, we find Gulakah, the Lord of Ghosts, waging a battle to control the magical beings over Earthside. Caught between two terrible enemies in a battle spanning two worlds, we can only hope we’re in time to stop all-out annihilation.
I hadn’t been home to Otherworld in a while—not for any length of time. As we stepped through the portal into the barrows near Elqaneve, the Elfin City, the brilliance of the night sky hit me, untainted by the light pollution running rampant in Earthside cities. Over there, even in the country, the stars sparkled more faintly, muted and dim. But here . . . I stared up at the heavens, stunned.
Had I really been away long enough for me to forget how beautiful my home world was? And yet . . . and yet . . . the Earthside city lights that watched over the nighttime landscape called to me. The hustle and bustle of Seattle had worked its way under my skin, and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to return home for good, even should we be offered the chance.
We arrived in Otherworld just shy of seven P.M., and the darkness of the spring evening was spiraling over the sky. My sisters were relieved to see the chill weather begin to break, but I preferred winter, when the sun set earlier and rose later. During summer, the long sleep of daylight claimed too much of my time. But the wheel must turn, and now spring held sway. The vernal equinox was due in a week, and along with it, my promise ceremony with Nerissa.
We still hadn’t settled on details for the ceremony, and time was running short. As was my girlfriend’s temper. It irked her that I couldn’t come up with ideas for a concrete plan. My continual stream of “whatever you want” was wearing thin, but the truth was, I had no clue what I wanted. When Dredge had turned me into a vampire, I’d let go all hope and plans for love and weddings, and now I couldn’t remember what I had dreamed about before I’d lost my life.
But thoughts of Nerissa and home and rituals drifted to the back of my mind as Trenyth approached. The advisor to Queen Asteria, he was meeting us to escort us back to the palace in the center of the Elfin city.
“About time he got here. I’m freezing.” Delilah mumbled as she blew on her fingers.
Camille jabbed her in the ribs with an elbow. “I’m cold, too, but be nice. He probably got held up by something important.”
“He can’t hear me from over there.” Delilah glared at her, then shrugged and jammed her hands in the pockets of her jeans.
“Don’t bet on it. Elves have extremely sensitive hearing.”
“Shut up, both of you. Whining about the cold won’t do anything to warm you up.” I felt a little guilty barking at them. After all, I was immune to the chill. Vampires didn’t feel much in the way of weather changes unless it was extreme, one way or the other. I knew my sisters and our escorts were freezing, but I didn’t want Trenyth’s feelings hurt.
We’d divided up the manpower, making some of the guys stay home. Accompanying us were Trillian, one of Camille’s husbands; Shade, Delilah’s half-dragon fiancé; Chase, the human detective with a touch of elf in his background; Rozurial, an incubus; and Vanzir, a demon who worked with us. That left us with a fighting contingent, but still enough manpower over Earthside to protect the house. And protecting our home there was an absolute necessity, especially now that Iris and Bruce were back from their honeymoon, and Iris was pregnant.
Trenyth looked tired, and for the first time, I noticed a few tiny age lines around his eyes. Elves seldom showed their age. Time passed for them differently, leaving them untouched and unperturbed. And most exhibited a patience that defied understanding. Unlike some of the more volatile denizens of Otherworld, that Elfin quality seemed to grow with the centuries.
Standing medium height, Trenyth was thin but not gaunt, was elegant to a fault, and carried himself with a regal air. Decorum incarnate, his manner wasn’t a façade, as it was with some members of the royal courts.
“Welcome back to Elqaneve, girls.” He sounded rushed and kept glancing back at the carriages behind him.
“Trenyth!” Delilah apparently had forgiven him for letting us stand out in the cold. She stepped forward to give him a hug.
Trenyth blushed lightly, awkwardly returning the embrace. “Delilah, blessings to you and your house.” He turned to Camille and held out his hands. “And you, my lady. How are you doing?” A look of concern washed over his face as she took them and pressed them to her heart for a moment before letting go.
“Are you . . .” His words slipped away.
Camille ducked her head. “It’s going to take a while, but I’m making progress. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same. You can’t be, not after something like that. But it helps that Hyto is dead and that I saw him die.” Her smile turned to ice. Camille had become harsher since her ordeal, darker in nature, but it seemed to suit the transitions through which she was going.
“Camille’s right,” I said quietly. “What she went through with Hyto . . . what I went through with Dredge, traumas like that change you forever. But it doesn’t mean you can’t find happiness, or grow stronger than before.” Life had a way of forcing you to either take charge or knuckle under, and neither my sisters nor I were the knuckling kind.
Trenyth nodded. “And the two of you have gone above and beyond what I’d expect of anybody, under the circumstances. Now, come, please. We have much to discuss—events are transpiring that you must know about. And although spring is on the way, the night is still cold and the carriages are waiting for us.”
And, quick as a cat, we were tucked into the carriages with blankets spread over our laps and heading toward the castle of Queen Asteria.
Elqaneve was a city of cobblestoned streets that wound through beautiful gardens, surrounding low-rising houses. Windows glimmered, illuminated by the soft glow of lanterns. The town was simultaneously elegant and cozy, and while I appreciated its beauty, it felt too gentle for me. Though perhaps gentle wasn’t the right word. Elves weren’t gentle. They could be dangerous and terrifying when roused. No, perhaps the word I was looking for was subtle.
The Elfin race wasn’t known for being in your face, and that’s exactly the type of person I was. I hadn’t always been like this—take no prisoners, my way or the highway. I’d been a loner when I was younger, and only in the past twelve or thirteen Earthside years had I turned into the fury that I could become.
When I’d become a vampire, I’d come out of my shell . . . once I managed to climb back into my mind. Sanity had been sporadic for the first year—I didn’t remember much from that year—and it had taken the Otherworld Intelligence Agency a lot of patience and training to teach me how to function in society, and not turn into the monster Dredge had planned for me to become.
I glanced over at Camille. She seemed lost in thought, gazing out the window, leaning her head against the side of the carriage. Trillian sat next to her, holding her hand, stroking it lightly with one finger. The jet black of his skin glowed against her pale cream, and for a moment I thought I saw a swirl of silver race from his fingers to hers.
Chase sat next to me, and he, too, stared quietly out the window. Delilah, Shade, Rozurial, and Vanzir were with Trenyth, in the carriage behind us.
“Hey, you get lost somewhere in there?” I spoke softly, but Camille’s eyes flickered and she shook her head.
“No, not really. I’m just wondering what Queen Asteria wants to see us about.”
She was lying. I knew it. Most likely, she was thinking about our father. It was hard not to, now that we were back in Otherworld. He’d disowned her, and as a result, we’d disowned him. Everything was convoluted into a horrible mess, compounded by his lack of sensitivity. At this point, we could probably qualify for an Otherworld episode of The Jerry Springer Show. No doubt that would thrill Delilah to pieces, as long as the ringmaster himself hosted it.
With another look at her face, I let the subject drop. We’d hashed and rehashed the family drama to the point of no return. It was moot. Father didn’t approve of Camille’s choice in husbands—Trillian in specific—nor her pledging herself as priestess to Aeval’s Court. But she’d had no choice. Love doesn’t always give you a choice, and neither do the gods.
As a result, we had said “buh-bye” to both Dear Daddy and the Otherworld Intelligence Agency, and now we worked for Queen Asteria.
“Why do you think Queen Asteria summoned us? And why ask me to come along? I almost never interact with her—that’s more yours and Delilah’s department.” Being able to come out only after dusk had its drawbacks.
“I was wondering why she asked me to come along, too.” Chase frowned.
“You are a distant relative of hers, you know.” I gave him a poke in the ribs, careful not to shove too hard. Sometimes I forgot how freakishly strong I’d become. It was easy to hurt my friends and family if I wasn’t careful.
“Doesn’t track. She made it a point to invite me, and I doubt familial bliss has anything to do with it.” He played with the buttons on his new blazer, fastening and unfastening the bottom one until I thought he was going to rip it off. “You really like my new jacket?”
Camille and I exchanged looks. This had to be the twentieth time that he’d asked since we started out for the portal at home.
“Yeah, it’s nice.” I wasn’t good with diplomacy, but Chase was nervous and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Unfortunately, the pseudo-military look didn’t suit him at all. However, since Sharah—his elfin girlfriend and the future mother of his child—had given him the blazer, he was better off pretending he liked it. Humans had nothing on the elves or the Fae when it came to pregnancy-hormonal mood swings. It was in his interests of self-preservation to lie to her.
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t needle him. “So tell us, in the privacy of the carriage, you really think you can rock that look?” I grinned at him. His expression when he was under fire was priceless. And by now he knew when I was serious and when I was just blowing smoke. Though it had been more fun when I could scare the crap out of him just by tickling his neck.
He squirmed. “Do not do this to me, Menolly. Don’t put me on the spot.” But his eyes twinkled and he laughed. “Only you would force me into a corner.”
“I only torture the people I love.” With a snort, I folded my arms and leaned back in my seat. “Don’t answer. I can tell you don’t feel comfortable in it. But we promise we won’t tell Sharah. Or her aunt. The Queen.”
That sparked another ripple of fear in his expression. Queen Asteria happened to be the aunt of his girlfriend. And therefore, the great-aunt of his child. I had to admit, I wouldn’t want to be caught up in the web of politics Chase was facing.
Another thought struck me. “Does Asteria even know Sharah’s pregnant?”
Camille swiveled her head, glancing at Chase. “She doesn’t, does she? You’d better come clean, because you don’t want us saying something stupid to her.”
Chase shifted uncomfortably. “Um, well . . . the truth is . . . no. She doesn’t know. Sharah wanted to wait. We haven’t decided what we’re going to do yet. I’ve asked her to marry me, but she turned me down.” He sounded morose. “She said we aren’t ready.”
“You aren’t ready.” I stared at him. “You know that. She knows that. Why rush it?”
“She’s carrying my child—” He paused, then let out a long sigh. “I guess I’m thinking about it from Earthside morality. I’d be a scumbag if she wanted to get married and I said no.”
“She isn’t asking you, though. And she’s not cutting you out of the baby’s life, either.” I cocked my head. “Wait. She hasn’t cut you out, has she?”
“No, it’s not that. Sharah said I can be as much a part of the baby’s life as I want.” He looked so uncomfortable that I couldn’t help but wonder what the root of the problem was.
“So tell me again what’s the problem? You in love with her?”
He blushed this time and Camille broke in softly. “Perhaps the issue is that Sharah offended him by insinuating he might not want to participate.”
Chase shifted in his seat, and glowered. “Exactly! I’m not my father. I’m no deadbeat and I’m not going to vanish on my kid. And since she’s choosing to have the baby, I damned well plan on being there to make sure the child knows his—or her—heritage.”
The words poured out so fiercely that at first I thought he might be pissed, but the hurt that flashed across his face spoke volumes. Chase was afraid someone would even think he might consider abandoning his child. He couldn’t take being seen as a carbon copy of his missing father—the father he’d never known. His childhood had left him with deep emotional scars. The situation with Sharah must be triggering fears and resentments from his own past.
I sheathed my fangs. “We know you’d never abandon your child, Chase. And Sharah knows that, too. Nobody who knows you would ever think you’d bail.”
I was about to reach over and pat his hand but stopped. I simply wasn’t the comforting type, and he knew it. I opted for catching his gaze and holding it. I silently focused on him, willing him to relax. It wasn’t polite to use Fae glamour on our friends, but sometimes we chose to do what was necessary over what was ethically correct.
After a moment he relaxed, breathing softly, and leaned his head back against the rocking carriage.
“Don’t think I’m unaware of what you just did,” he said softly. “But thank you. Delilah knows that Sharah hasn’t told anyone yet, so she won’t say anything, either. We talked about it last night on the phone.”
Chase and our sister Delilah had been involved in what was a downward spiral of a relationship. Now, they were both with other people, both a lot happier, and they’d saved their friendship.
At that moment the carriage shifted and Camille peered out into the evening street. “We’re nearing the palace.” She smoothed her skirts and pulled out a compact, peeking into the mirror to make sure her makeup was set.
“Me, too?” Not for the first time, I wished I could check my own damned makeup, but that wasn’t ever going to be a reality, so I sucked it up and asked for help. She leaned close, brushing my face with a quick sweep of powder.
“You’re good to go. You look great.” She winked. “Not that the Queen’s going to care, but . . .”
“But it isn’t politic to visit royalty looking like a slob.” The carriage lurched to a stop and the door opened, the driver reaching in to help us down. “I guess we’d better see what bad news is in store for us now.”
“I don’t even want to know.” Camille flashed me a wry grin as the driver put his hands on her waist and swung her down from the carriage step to the rain-slicked path below. “But I guess we don’t have a choice.”
Once Delilah and the others stood next to us, Trenyth led us into the palace to meet the Elfin Queen.
Overhead, the stars glimmered. They were beautiful, but all I ever saw were the stars and the moon and clouds against the night sky. Sometimes it seemed like sunlight had become a myth—a dream I’d once had, a dream that was beautiful but fleeting. For me, only the starlight existed.
The palace of the Elfin Queen rose in gleaming alabaster. Simple, elegant lines mirrored the symmetry of the city in general. Amid a flurry of gardens, the royal courts were clean, quiet, and decorous. They were nothing like the Court and Crown of Y’Elestrial—our home city-state, which was a hotbed of lush opulence and debauchery.
The cul-de-sac ended in front of the entrance to the palace, and as we quick-stepped up the path behind Trenyth, Camille sighed happily.
“What is it?”
She clasped her hands under her chin and whirled around, her skirts swirling in the breeze. She stared up at a tall tree. The faintest hint of green leaves were beginning to show among tiny starlike white flowers that covered the branches.
“The scent of the untahstar tree . . . we’re really home.” A catch echoed in her throat as she gazed up at the vine-laden tree that grew only in the northern reaches of Otherworld. I could see the war waging within her. She loved being Earthside, but this was her home. She was more wistful now than ever, since Father had exiled her from Y’Elestrial.
Delilah followed her gaze and smiled softly. “It smells like childhood, doesn’t it?”
Our father’s home—the house of our youth—had two untahstar trees growing in the front yard. Their branches had wound together and Mother used to joke that the trees reminded her of their marriage. Two trees, on opposite sides of the path, reaching together across a void.
I allowed myself a quick breath. I didn’t have to breathe and by now I was out of the habit, but when I wanted to smell something, I could force my lungs to take in air, to hold and catch the scents riding the wind.
The spicy floral fragrance swept me back through the years, to days long gone and dreams that belonged to my former life—the one I would never, ever be able to reclaim. Disconcerted, I shook them off, not wanting to be caught up in memories. Memories were dangerous for me, even now.
Trenyth motioned for us to get a move on. We followed him into the alabaster palace, leaving old dreams and lives behind.
Asteria, ancient queen of the Elfin race, wore the tire tracks of age on her face—which meant she was probably older than anyone we would ever meet with the exception of the dragons, or the Hags of Fate.
She had been queen before the Great Divide, before the Great Fae Lords split the worlds apart and Otherworld was forcibly shifted away from Earthside. She had been old when Titania and Aeval were young and new to their thrones. As she swept into the throne room, she ignored the throne hewn of oak and holly and crossed to a marble table standing to the side. As we waited, she gave us an impatient look and motioned for us to join her.
Trenyth’s mood had gone somber. It was clear we weren’t here for a potluck or a game of Monopoly. Something bad had gone down, and whatever it was, the fallout filled the throne room.
Camille gave me a cautious look. She shook her head and mouthed, Bad.
Delilah edged her hand into Shade’s as they glanced around the room. Trillian, Vanzir, and Rozurial moved in closer. Even Chase seemed ill at ease. As for me, the tension set me on edge to the point of where my fangs descended in a rush, in auto–defense mode, breaking the skin of my lip.
Camille curtsied while the rest of us bowed. “Your Highness, we came as soon as we received your summons. Something is wrong, isn’t it? What happened?”
Asteria looked at us, one after another. Tension rode her face. Even in the darkest circumstances, I’d never seen this much stress on the Queen’s face before.
“Sit. There is much to discuss and we have little time.”
As we slid into the chairs around the table, Trenyth motioned to one of the elfin guards who’d been standing nearby, holding a long scroll. He brought it over and rolled it out on the table. A map of Otherworld, it filled the table, and we rolled it out and held it flat as Trenyth picked up a long pointer. Serving maids quietly offered us food and drink—they’d even filled a goblet with blood for me, though the girl’s nose wrinkled as she handed it to me.
Head down, Queen Asteria closed her eyes, her arms crossed across her chest. She looked like she was gathering courage.
After a moment, she looked up and said, “We have dire news.”
Delilah let out a little gasp. “The spirit seals are missing, aren’t they? We feared—”
But before she could get out anymore, Camille silenced her. “This is worse, isn’t it? This is far worse.”
Inclining her head slightly, with a pained voice, Asteria answered. “Yes, far worse. Although, it does have something to do with the spirit seals. At least, the two that Shadow Wing has managed to steal away from you.”
Silence followed as we waited for more news of death and bloodshed and panicked plans to descend. We’d been embroiled in this war for months now, going on a year and a half, and there was no easy way out.
“Telazhar has returned to Otherworld, the first time since we exiled him. And he’s brought the war with him.”
Her words hung like crystal in the air, then shattered into a thousand shards, raining down on us.
Telazhar . . . the ancient necromancer who had led the Scorching Wars up from the Southern Wastes against the northern cities. Telazhar, who had been banished from Otherworld to live with the demons in the Subterranean Realms. Telazhar, whom we had done our best to kill, but who had slipped through our fingers. And now, he was here. Back in Otherworld.
Everybody started talking at once, but after a moment, I jumped up on the table and, putting my fingers in my mouth, let out a shrill whistle.
“Shut up! It’s not going to do any good if we all talk at once.” In the lull that followed, it occurred to me that my spiked heels might not be the best thing for the marble table, but the queen gave me a soft smile as I leaped down and took my seat again. “You know this for a fact?”
“Thank you, my dear. I’m too weary to whistle and shout on my own. And yes, it’s true. Shadow Wing is behind it. Telazhar, wearing one of the spirit seals, has been spotted in the Southern Wastes. From what our informants say, he’s inciting the sorcerers to align with him. He’s rallying them to war.”
“The Scorching Wars.” I stared at her, barely able to comprehend what this meant for Otherworld, beyond one hell of a bad party.
“Yes. He seems to be planning to create another series of wars as bad as—or worse than—the Scorching Wars. Only this time, the sorcerers have a Demon Lord at their back. While Shadow Wing can’t gate over here, yet, Telazhar can raze half the world for him and then open up the portals if he can get hold of the spirit seals we have hidden here. I’m afraid that, very quickly, Otherworld will be embroiled in such turmoil to make the recent battle in Y’Elestrial look like chicken scratch.”
We sat, silent, digesting the news. This was far worse than what any of us had been imagining.
Camille shifted. “Will the sorcerers follow him? Do we know the extent of his influence?”
Queen Asteria moved back and Trenyth took over. He pointed to the city of Rhellah, the last city before a long stretch of desert in the Southern Wastes, where rogue magic played free and easy on the winds, bonding with the grains of shifting sand.
“We’re readying a trio of spies. They’ll head to the south, first to Rhellah to discover what’s actually going on. From there, they will infiltrate the desert communities. The cities farther south—down in the heart of the Southern Wastes—are dangerous and wild and filled with slavers and sorcerers. We don’t dare just barge in. Our spies must proceed carefully. They can acclimate to the weather in Rhellah while planning out the next step.”
“How long have you known about this?” If this had been going on for a while, then we had wasted valuable time.
Trenyth looked straight at me. “Lady Menolly, we first learned about this development four days ago. We dispatched a runner to check out the rumors at their source—over in Dahnsburg. The rumors are true. And our runner was caught. He managed to escape and made it home. Missing an arm, his tongue, and one eye.”
I shut my mouth, suddenly pissed at myself for questioning him. Although we couldn’t accept things blindly and we had to question, I also needed to remember, the elves were on our side. We were all in this together. Queen Asteria wouldn’t have stirred this in her cup for weeks before summoning us. No, if anyone was to blame for anything, this was our fault. We’d let Telazhar—and another spirit seal—slip through our grasp.
Delilah must have picked up on what I was thinking, because she leaned her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her hands. “We’re to blame. We didn’t take him out when we had the chance at the Energy Exchange. We failed.”
“Bullshit. We were overwhelmed and, if you’ll remember, Gulakah, the Lord of Ghosts, just happened to be there. Along with Newkirk and all of their cronies.” Vanzir slammed his chair back against the wall and rested one ankle across the other knee. He pounded the table with his fist. “We did what we could. Nobody’s to blame except Shadow Wing and his fucking delusions. He’s fucking insane.”
“Vanzir is right.” Camille cleared her throat. “We simply didn’t have the manpower to take them all on. And we aren’t going to do anyone any good by moaning over what we did—or didn’t—manage to accomplish. We have to focus on now. On what’s going on this instant.”
“Well said, my wife.” Trillian slid his arm around her waist and kissed her brow. They made a striking couple, and when her other two husbands were in the picture, a formidable quartet.
“Then, the question becomes, what do we do next?” Rozurial said, playing with the belt on his duster. He had an armory stashed in his coat and was forever delighting in finding new toys to replace ones he grew tired of. He made Neo from The Matrix look like an amateur.
Queen Asteria crossed to the throne. “That’s where our spies come in. I want you to meet them, because you will be working together from now on. You must exchange every scrap of information that you have about Telazhar. They will remain in contact with you while on their mission.”
As she settled into the chair, the queen arranged her skirts and let out a sigh that I heard halfway across the room.
“You’re tired, aren’t you?” I didn’t mean to speak aloud, but my words cut through the room and I cringed, realizing what I’d done.
Asteria merely crossed her hands in front of her. “Yes, young vampire. I am weary. But that does not negate my power, nor my determination. It merely means that I wear my crown a little heavier now, and lean on my staff a little harder.” She motioned to the serving woman for a glass of wine. “War is thirsty work.”
“Have you any allies here? Besides us?” Trillian let go of Camille to take a closer look at the map. “Have you talked to King Vodox?”
“As asked, so answered. As I prepare my armies for war, so do my allies. King Uppala-Dahns of the Dahns unicorns and Tanaquar have pledged to arm their soldiers in my service. I have sent messages to King Vodox, and to the kingdom of Nebulvuori. We wait for their response. And . . . another ally has pledged her service. Derisa, the High Priestess from the Grove of the Moon Mother.”
Camille nodded. “Truth. My order would be obligated to join you. The sorcerers and the sun god are our nemeses. I wonder . . . will Telazhar approach the temple of Chimaras? The sun brothers are still looking to start it up with the Moon Mother’s Grove, from what Shamas tells us.”
Queen Asteria brushed the gnarled arms of her throne. “Shamas? What does he know of this?”
We had protected our cousin’s secret since he told us the truth a few weeks ago, but now, any information he had might come in handy. “Shamas was studying with a sorcerer in the Southern Wastes. A Tregart named Feris, who was bent on waging war on the Moon Mother’s Grove. Shamas spilled the beans on him at risk of his own life.”
“Tregarts? The Tregarts were over here a year ago? Why did no one inform me of this?” Queen Asteria leaned back against her throne and cast a long look to Trenyth. I had a feeling there was a discussion going on to which we were not privy.
Trenyth sprang into action. “We have no time to spare. We must send our spies out in the morning via the portals. They can travel as far as Ceredream and from there, walk afoot to Rhellah.” He moved to the side door and opened it.
Three figures stepped in. I didn’t recognize any of them, but Trillian and Camille both gasped as one of the figures let out a low chuckle. He was a Svartan, ruggedly handsome with the same blue eyes and silverish hair as Trillian. But rather than mirroring my brother-in-law’s smooth metropolitan look, this man’s eyes were wild and he felt slightly uncivilized. He was also far more muscled than Trillian, who was no slouch in the buff department.
“Darynal!” Trillian was around the table before they’d cleared the door, hugging the man, who clapped him on the back. Camille joined them, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
“Lavoyda . . . it’s been too long. Bound by oath, bound by blood.” The Svartan held out his hand and he and Trillian performed some sort of intricate handshake.
“Bound by oath, bound by blood, my brother.” As Trillian broke away, Darynal turned to Camille and bowed low.
“Your woman, she is looking good. Camille, lovely to see you again.”
She offered her hand and he took it, kissing it gently. She reached out and stroked his face, brushing a stray curl out of his eyes.
“My husband’s brother . . . it’s so good to see you again.”
And then, I remembered who he was. Darynal was Trillian’s blood-oath brother. Pledged to back each other to the death, they weren’t lovers, but brothers on a level that was almost soul-bound.
“Lavoyda . . . I’m glad to see you here and healthy. But what are you doing with the elves?” Trillian suddenly stopped, as if aware all eyes were on them.
Camille brushed him on the shoulder. “We should let Queen Asteria tell us,” she whispered, and they positioned themselves near Darynal as the three newcomers took their seats.
Queen Asteria favored them with a brief smile. “I knew that you would be surprised, Master Zanzera, but I chose to let Darynal’s appearance speak for itself.”
Trillian cocked his head and winked at the queen. Shaking my head, I repressed a snicker. He was incorrigible, but he’d come a long way from the arrogant bastard to whom Delilah and I had taken an instant dislike. We’d been wrong about his character, for the most part. Our prejudices had blinded us.
Asteria gave no sign whether she noticed the wink, but instead, she motioned to Trenyth, who introduced the others in the trio.
“Darynal is our lead scout in this mission. You know his background, you know he’s a skilled mercenary, so allow me introduce the others. This is Quall, an undercover agent for Elqaneve for many years. He’s an assassin.”
The tall, lithe Fae stood. With pale blond hair barely cresting his shoulders, he was almost albino except for his eyes, which shimmered a startling green against the pale cream of his skin. He almost looked anorexic, but upon a closer look, I saw the tightly wrapped muscle molded beneath his skin.
Assassins were an odd breed, especially those employed by governments. They danced to their own tune, made their own rules, and usually ran outside the law in almost every way. As I looked into his eyes, I knew right then how much Quall enjoyed his job. He enjoyed the hunt, and ten to one, he enjoyed the kill. He caught my gaze and held it, an insolent sneer lurking behind the brief nod.
The third member of the team was average height, cloaked so heavily that I couldn’t tell exactly what race he belonged to. Only his eyes gleamed from within the fiery red robe.
“This is Taath. He’s one of our sorcerers.”
“Your sorcerers? But . . .” Camille looked confused.
“Yes, my dear. We have our own sorcerers. After the Scorching Wars, we vowed Elqaneve would never be caught unprepared again.” The Queen leaned forward. “Sometimes the only way to fight fire is with fire. Sometimes the only way to fight hatred is with violence. Often people think the Elfin race a passive one. We are not. We think first, but when we act, we do not hold back.”
“I’m starting to realize that.” Camille said.
“Perhaps now is the time to tell you. Your beloved Moon Mother trains her own sorcerers, although she will not call them that. They wield dark Moon magic . . . death magic. Why do you think Morio’s magic comes so easily to you?”
Camille gasped, staring at her, but said nothing, although I could see the wheels churning in her head. None of us did. That was a revelation we’d address later.
After a moment, Asteria turned to me. “I asked you here because we will need all of your talents soon. Your father requested that all of you come to Otherworld.” She held up her hand, putting a stop to any outbursts before they could happen. Delilah and Camille looked like they wanted to say something but kept their mouths shut. As for me, I could be very petty when I chose, and so I refused to ask what he wanted.
Queen Asteria looked my way. “He asked for all three of you. Do not enquire as to why. When you finish here, you will travel to Y’Elestrial, and there you will meet with your father.”
“But—” Camille sputtered, but the queen stopped her in her tracks.
“Camille, give me no mouth. We align our powers. War has come to Otherworld, on the wings of demonic forces. The same war you are fighting over Earthside. There can be no more borders. No more division.”
The room fell silent. We were facing Shadow Wing on two fronts now. I’d been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and now that it had, I realized that I’d never expected us to wrap this up easily.
From the first time Shadow Wing claimed a spirit seal, I knew—absolutely knew in my gut—that we wouldn’t make it out unscathed, or without a long, bloody battle. We’d had collateral damage so far, but this . . . this was a full-scale attack. The war had only just begun.
Asteria and Tanaquar might be able to stem the tide of sorcerers. But those who would join the sun brothers, the goblins and ogres and other malcontents, would ensure that a bloody swath would mar the landscape. Otherworld had existed in relative peace for centuries with only minor skirmishes. But that peace had been a fragile veneer. And now it was crumbling. Once again the sounds of battle would fill the air.
I stood, the ivory beads in my hair breaking the silence. “Tell us what we need to do and we’ll do it.” And just like that, we jumped from the frying pan into the flames that were brewing down south.
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