Heart of Darkness Sneak PeekBook Updates Sneak Peeks, Tags: excerpt
Hi My Lovelies,
Here is an unproofed, still in Beta version of Chapter One for the upcoming release of Heart of Darkness, coming 2022. Sign up for the Newsletter to make sure you don’t miss when it’s released and get a free copy of Blood Crescent!
A looming war between fae queens, humans, and the darkness. A knife-throwing strong female lead, soul mates, and a hidden prophecy that could end everything.
If you like fresh fae world building, mages, powerful queens, knife-throwing strong female leads, soul mates, and heart felt journeys of self discovery then you’ll enjoy the new Dark Hearts Series.
This isn’t your typical fae paranormal fantasy. One earlier reviewer said it, “(plays) off of traditional fantasy elements like elves, charms, and witches in unique and intriguing ways.”
A slow burn romance wrapped in a darkly enjoyable dive into the supernatural realms of Faery and its elitist politics. A secret prophecy the queens of the faery courts want to keep hidden. An impending war. And a darkness that could tear the realms apart. Can Nessa ever make her way back home, or has Faery changed her forever?
Another reviewer said, “It’s fun and lighthearted, very much a female lead Dresden Files, but with a younger protagonist.”
If you hate insta-love but enjoy world building and the gray zone of who’s good and evil then The Heart of Darkness is for you.
Read the first unedited chapter below:
Chapter One: Nessa
Control was always an illusion.
No one was in control of anything but themselves, and sometimes the choices I’m given are shit, so I’ve learned sometimes you have to know what’s coming to avoid being cornered.
“What do you need it for?” Chey was about to hand me a charm I was willing to beg for. She had enchanted the shard with her specialty, a ward to make my presence invisible. The charm wouldn’t actually make me disappear, neither of us were that powerful, but it would make us undetectable for a while. For the mischief I was up to it suited my purposes.
Chey was so talented with wards and charms that I had no doubt in the future she’d be more than capable of casting magic that was strong enough to trick the eye into thinking someone was invisible, eventually. Her magic was bad ass like that. To say I was a proud sister was an understatement.
Underplaying my investment in snooping I waved a hand flippantly. “You know dad, he never lets me in on anything that’s happening.” It was true, most of the time I found out about anything important, like why all the council members were gathering without a full moon, was because I happen to be there at the right time when he was talking to someone else. “You saw the regional council members arrive didn’t you?”
“Yah, they always get together for the full moon.” She wasn’t worried about the odd arrival, waving it off as we walked through our coven’s cozy dirt streets, guiding her closer to the town hall. It wasn’t until I pointed at the sky, the moon visible in the daylight, and so obviously not close to being full that she reconsidered.
They were up to something, and I had to find out what it was.
That was my curse. I couldn’t turn away blindly to what was happening around me. Curiosity, and determination to prove myself got me into trouble.
“What’s your point?” Chey folded her arms, still clutching the charm in her hands. She had snatched the small rock back before releasing it into my hands.
I huffed, realizing I’d have to convince her why she should let me have a charm I shouldn’t need unless I was doing something dad wouldn’t approve of. She was right to be concerned when my intention was to spy on our coven’s council meeting, but I’d done worse than that when I was seven, let alone now that I was eighteen.
It honestly wasn’t the first time I’d crashed a party not intended for me. I wouldn’t have to do it, if dad trusted me enough to talk to me. I could help, I knew I could. I had to prove myself before I turned nineteen, and the coven would be forced to either swear me in, or release me into civilian city life.
Pulling Chey aside, I pressed our backs against the closest brick wall of the dinning hall to avoid being seen by the hag coming around the communal bakery stand in the middle of the coven grounds.
Chey pressed close, following my lead. She wouldn’t admit it, but I think she enjoyed getting into trouble with me.
The old crone never wanted me here to begin with, and she didn’t keep quiet about how my dad should be focusing on training me to be ready to enter the real world outside of the coven. She was part of the council, and I didn’t necessarily need her permission to stay, but she was a vote… and I needed a majority.
Peeking around the corner I could see the hag actually smiling at Cooper as he handed her a fresh full loaf. I knew she had a deal with him, I muttered to myself. My mouth watered watching her stuff it into her bag. Everything was rationed, and being the grand magus’ daughter didn’t get me a full loaf of Cooper’s bread ever.
“Don’t you think it’s odd?” I turned away to whisper to Chey. “Dad seemed worried. Don’t you want to know what they are hiding from us?”
Sure, I was more determined than ever to prove the hag wrong about me, that I could help if only they told me what was going on. And getting an extra slice of bread every so often wouldn’t hurt either.
Chey pressed her lips together tightly trying to keep herself from admitting she was just as curious. Different from me, she always wanted to have dad’s approval, and the idea of going behind his back was her least favorite idea.
If anything, she’d be hard-pressed not to go running to tell him my plans. I didn’t mind if dad found out. I wasn’t really much for secrets. It was all about timing. Perhaps a delayed reveal would be enough.
I had to think fast before she’d dug her heels into the idea to turncoat on me. Appealing to her other instincts to protect, I had to remind her some things were better off seeking forgiveness than permission. Both of us were worried about what was going on with the coven. We wanted to be more useful than what the council were allowing us to be. That we could agree on.
The coven was a bit too secretive for my taste. And, in this day and age sequestering the coven away from the conveniences of the city was dumb. I’d seen casters and covens all over proudly showcasing their status as a witch to even the non-magical. Sure, most of the MOS, magically oppressed societies, didn’t truly believe that magic was real, but they were out there, and part of the world. Just as the fae were beyond the veil we kept warded on Saint Brigid’s Day.
Not that I minded secrets in general. I could keep one. Only I should be in on it, and I was nearly an adult now by anyone’s standards. Well, maybe not by fae’s standards, from my studies they lived so long that I’d still be considered a baby.
“He’ll never ask for our help, even if he needs it. We won’t know unless we find out on our own. We aren’t children anymore. If we can help, we should.”
That seemed to do the trick, Chey’s shoulders relaxed in resignation, and she unfolded her arms to shove the charm at my chest with a huff. I reached to grab the small crystal from her, but her grip on the tiny charm was still strong. She narrowed her eyes at me.
“But if we end up listening to something we can’t help with, and we have no business hearing then we confess to the grand magus,” she negotiated.
I never understood why she called dad Grand Magus, sure he was the leader of our coven, but he was our dad, and she had more reason to call him that than I did. I knew I wasn’t biologically his, as soon as I learned about DNA, and hereditary traits in school the differences were obvious, though he’d never said anything to confirm or deny our lack of biological sameness.
It didn’t take a scientist to tell me I didn’t look anything like my dad, or my sister. They both had blonde straight hair, heart-shaped faces, and well the obvious pale skin. I wasn’t anything like them. My hair was black as a raven’s feather, my face angular and long, and my skin was always darkly sun kissed even in the longest of winters. Both of them had hazel eyes, with a bit of gray in them, while mine were a recessive trait of bright green. Not that dad couldn’t have had green eyes in his ancestry, but there were too many differences to account for.
“Deal,” I agreed to her terms. It was either that or have her go running to dad to tell him before I had the chance to listen in on the council meeting. I’d be in a world of hurt for snooping without the benefit of getting any information, at least this way I’d know something before getting reprimanded.
Chey released the charm, and I happily stuffed the little shard in my pocket. Smiling at her I gave her a congratulatory smack on the back.
“You won’t regret this…” I let that sentiment trail off before I added she probably won’t regret this, in my mind. Maybe, I cringed at the very high likelihood that she would indeed regret helping me. I had trouble lying outright, but half-truths were convincing and surprisingly easy.
“It isn’t just the council that has me worried,” Chey admitted. “Haven’t you noticed mages from our Magic Arts lessons have been missing lately. We are the only ones that haven’t stopped going, and when they come back…” She cautiously scanned our surroundings, nervous someone would smite her for mentioning such a thing. “They’ve been avoiding us, and acting very awkward.” She shivered. They were acting strange lately, but most of the coven treated me differently so I dismissed it.
Being raised by a coven didn’t to do me any favors in the magic department. I still went to all the classes, even after most of the mages I started with graduated to specialist training, and my sister, Chey, the martyr that she was, stuck around to babysit. Though, I suspect it was our father that put her up to it. Which was comical considering I was older.
“They’ve always acted awkward around you,” I joked because it wasn’t her that made them act differently, but because she was always hanging out with me. Most of the coven wasn’t particularly fond of me, I was seen as being a troublemaker. They weren’t wrong…
“More than usual,” my sister seemed more suspicious than I would have pegged her for.
“I hadn’t noticed, I try to ignore how they look at me. I mean, I don’t have the same kind of magic that—”
Cutting me off she raised her hand, “Everyone has a specialty, it’s very rare for a mage to be a Morgan of all Casts.” She recited the phrase like our teacher Ms. Greyol always did, in a factual, serious kind of way. The way she defended me made me smile, even though I frequently doubted whether I was truly a mage or just raised by them.
“Says the girl who hasn’t had a cast misfire ever.” Her other casts weren’t as adept as her wards, but not once had any of them misfired. Chey had a specialty of casting wards on objects, but she was very talented, and highly praised in our coven for literally being a Morgan of all Casts.
“Your specialty is more exciting, so I wouldn’t dwell on your horrible casting skills too much,” she poked fun. I struggled to do much more than give her a warning stare. It wasn’t like I wasn’t grateful for what I could do, but my lack of magic always had me separated from the rest of the coven, feeling more other than part of something. Only Chey could get away with mocking me, it was endearing when she did it because I knew her intentions weren’t to belittle me.
“I wouldn’t call feeling people’s emotions as exciting. How am I supposed to use that to help the coven? You know everyone else is thinking it.” Throwing myself into combat training was my only hope of staying with the only home I knew to compensate for my lack of casting abilities. At least when I became old enough for the coven to consider whether I should stay or join ‘normal’ society, as they called it, I could protect the coven in a different capacity, prove to them I was useful.
If they decided not to initiate me, it’d be harder to stay in touch with Chey or dad, since they were considered integral parts of the coven. Both of them would be kept too busy to leave and visit me if I was forced to start a life in the city. No one would hire me as a bodyguard on looks alone, leaving job choices slim to none.
Much too tall and lanky, normal civilians wouldn’t believe in my combat skills without a demonstration, and most wouldn’t give me a chance. Even the council elders who have seen what I could do still remained skeptical. My ability, knowing what someone was feeling, was not always helpful considering I didn’t have the context of their thoughts to compare against for accuracy.
“You have other talents,” Chey insisted, but she doubted whether that would help me stay in the coven when I came of age. And that was coming up fast. I was eighteen already.
The only reason that didn’t hurt as much as it might have been because of how much Chey cared, and she didn’t have to let me feel any of it. Her wards were used for more than stealth, she could easily prevent me from sensing anything from her, if she wanted. That only made me love her more.
She let me in, trusted me.
“With our powers combined…” I started our motto from when we were kids. She saluted her fist over her heart, a big smile plastered on her face.
“Lewyn Sisters!” As long as Chey was by my side, we were tough to beat. Her wards protected me while my skills read people’s intentions, and my strength subdued anyone who tried to bully us. Our dad used to tell us about how even in darkness there is light, one can’t exist without the other. It was with our combined efforts that left our opponents in the dark when it came time to the Saint Brigid’s Day Tournament. We were yin and yang, light and dark. It was no secret that she was the light in our duo.
“Let’s go get into position before it’s too late.” I grabbed Chey’s hand and led her to the town hall, where all the coven elders gathered for meetings. The coven didn’t have to like me for me to watch their shadows, and one day they’d finally understand I was worth the extra headache. Mostly to protect Chey, screw the rest of them.
The council always locked the town hall and added a ward so no one could overhear them, but I doubted they would use extra magic to ward themselves. Casting on objects was easier than on people. As long as we made it inside the town hall, we would be able to listen in on the abnormal meeting that had dad so worked up.
Having scouted the town hall multiple times in the past, I already had an optimal location in mind to stay close enough to hear, but not be seen. There was a closet built into the wall that no one used, because it was already full of discarded, abandoned coats.
Scoping the closet out on multiple occasions, nothing was valuable. The coats smelled musty, holding a gross layer of dust that I pounded out, and wiped down a few weeks ago. Shutter style doors made the closet perfect for reconnaissance, if I carefully positioned the slats, I could see out without bringing attention to my location.
With the added help of Chey’s ward, no one would know someone else was in the room, and there would be no need to worry about one of the council guards looking for snoopers.
The plan was nearly perfect.
As soon as we made it to the office, the creak of the front door closing startled me. I shoved Chey into the closet and backed in, slowly closing the old wooded shutter. Chey groaned, and I prayed it was soft enough we weren’t heard over the other pairs of feet entering the town hall.
Holding my nose between my fingers, I tried to prevent the itch of dust from the coats puffing into the air. The sneeze was building and I couldn’t afford to have my not-so-dainty elephant roar ruin the wards. I guessed giving them a good thwacking the last time I was here wasn’t enough to rid them of the years of neglect.
Chey gripped my arm in a vice, and then sneezed so loud my heart leaped up into my throat.
It was over.
Whatever we could have found out about what was happening to the covens was lost to us. They would find us in the office closet, and that would be that.
Except, they didn’t.
I peered over at Chey who merely smiled, and gave me a look like she was sorry, but she didn’t seem worried. She patted her pocket triumphantly, and I hoped she had thought about noise ahead of time, and carried a charm temporarily muffling, if not completely negating, any sounds we made while it still held some juice. I hadn’t asked for that kind of ward, but I should have, only proving she was more prepared and less reckless than me, despite being a year younger.
Minutes ticked by in excruciating silence as I waited to see if we were found out or not. I chanced adjusting the slat of the closet to look out into the office. I was surprised to see someone silently searching through dad’s desk, and I couldn’t hear a sound. How did he get into the office without so much as a footstep to be heard, I questioned, since there were no more noises after the front door opened and closed. The council should’ve arrived soon to begin their meeting, but I didn’t recognize this man from our coven, and he was definitely too young to be one of the elders that arrived earlier.
The stranger was tall, with eyes so blue they seemed to glow. They were so distracting I almost missed the angular tipped ears poking out from his golden brown hair. He was breathtaking, like a dream, but the more I watched him search the room, the more the ethereal quality faded to see he was wearing leather armored bracers, a chest plate, leg coverings, and a crossbow hung from his back. He looked like a black-clad ninja warrior, or perhaps a super sexy ranger.
Chey pressed into me to get a peek at what I was staring at, and gasped. I was regretting taking her along with me when she couldn’t control her reactions, and made a noise with every revelation. Who was this guy, and why was he snooping through the grand magus’s offices? It was strange question considering I was also snooping, but I already knew why I was here, and wondered if he had also noticed something big was happening across the covens?
But he didn’t look human. Something otherworldly about how the magic clung to him in the air.
The strange warrior looked up from his search, surveying the room. I quickly ducked so there wasn’t a chance he would see my eyes through the one tilted slat. I felt a tingling sensation, and without meaning to I was reading the room. Feeling his feelings. He wasn’t scared, but there was a determination in him that bordered on obsessive.
Whatever he was looking for, he would find it, but not before the front door of the town hall squeaked on its old hinges. The shuffling of many feet that I had expected earlier, and the hum of busied chatter of the council gathering filled my ears.
Whoever the man was, would certainly be found by the council, but when I peeked through the slat again he was crouched down behind the half wall, below the windows of the office, as the council members settled themselves on the benches outside.
Didn’t they notice he was there?
The warrior held something at his neck, and I huffed realizing he must have had a charm as well. What was once something I was proud to have realized was a flaw in the coven’s meetings, was beginning to make me nervous, and irritated. They were too comfortable with the powerful wards on the town hall itself, they didn’t consider anyone coming in before they arrived. They were much to relaxed with their outside security, and now I was stuck with a difficult decision.
Did I jump out of this closet, revealing myself, and outing the intruder? Or did I wait it out, listen in, and then draw attention to him?
I mean, once they were done talking then they could prevent him from leaving, or make sure no coven secrets were lost, couldn’t they? They were the most powerful of the local covens, their casting abilities far beyond anything I’d ever hope to achieve, he shouldn’t be able to escape after, right? I tried to convince myself that there was no harm in staying hidden and learning what the meeting was about first.
Did I want to risk it because they were powerful, or do the right thing and make sure he doesn’t find out anything, as well as preventing me from doing the same. It should have been an easy answer, but it wasn’t. I was so torn, and my curiosity was so strong, but I didn’t get the chance to make the decision before the council quieted and started talking about something my curiosity couldn’t handle.
I was stuck.
“We’ve already discussed this, Nessa will continue her studies here until she comes of age,” my father said adamantly. It didn’t occur to me that was a reoccurring subject for him to have to defend me to the council, but my neck burned at the realization.
Entreating the rest of the coven elders and the local council for me to stay with the coven, until I was of age, was the last thing I wanted my dad to have to do. I thought I was safe until I turned nineteen, but it looked like I was constantly being pushed out even before that.
Chey squeezed my arm trying to comfort me, I had forgotten she was here, and it upset me more knowing she heard them say I wasn’t wanted. I had nearly forgotten a strange man was also listening to this very personal conversation, but obviously Chey hadn’t because she nudged her chin back in his direction. We both stared at him then. He wasn’t paying attention to what was straight in front of him, the slats of our hidey hole. His eyes were on the office entrance, the door wide open. Waiting should any of the coven council decide to enter, his crossbow still hung from his arm, and a knife was brandished.
Exposing the intruder wasn’t the only thing I wrestled with, but what would happen when I did. What was he capable of before the council could react. If I jumped out, would he hurt Chey before the council subdued him? Did he have other charms on him to help deflect magic long enough for him to escape, or hurt someone? Hurt Chey? As much as spying on the council was frowned upon, I felt a sense of pride, and fear, it would be because of my curiosity this man would get away with what ever it was he was doing.
I took a deep breath, and focused on the intruder to feel him out. He had no intention of harming anyone, yet. Irritation flowed from him, almost as if he didn’t like what the council was discussing. Maybe he was hoping for something a little more juicy than interpersonal matters? It wasn’t his purpose, so he would stay where he was until they were done, but by then he’d have discovered secrets about the coven.
They couldn’t have gathered the council and elders merely to discuss me. I wasn’t vain enough to believe that. My dad probably had a few moments to spare before the actual meeting, and was trying to secure his difficult daughter, me, a spot within the coven. I knew he’d fight for me, I just didn’t want him to have to.
“This isn’t the time for you to be soft, Corey.” One of the elders, a bitter old lady who I often saw grimacing at me in town addressed my father. Her name was Purdey, but I’d grown accustomed to called her the hag, for always haggling me. She always disliked me, but to hear it in this way still hurt. I could smell the fresh bread from her bag, and that didn’t ease the tension building in my stomach.
“This isn’t the time for us to be careless–” he began, only to be cut off again.
“There has been a surge at the gates. The fae have found a way around the wards. They will come for her,” the hag reasoned, affronted by the idea that I should stay with the coven.
What she was saying was very serious, most fae gates were closed, and the ones that remained prevented anything larger than a few people from crossing at a time, but then the covens worked hard to ward them from being used at all. That’s one of the things the covens did at the start of every spring on Saint Brigid’s Day, reinforce the wards, and that’s why Chey was so important to the coven’s future. She would be part of the next generation to protect humans from the fae.
Who were they after? Chey?
I held Chey tight, were the fae going to come for her? I wouldn’t let them.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. The pointy ears, the other-worldly eyes, the strange armor. The intruder was fae. Why didn’t I come to that conclusion sooner? Because I was too focused on how attractive he was to think deeper than the surface, I chastised myself.
I wouldn’t let him have Chey.
“We can’t jump to conclusions yet,” my father boomed, interrupting the alarmed chatter among the council members. “That is all the more reason we must keep her here with us, safe from the fae courts. Nessa doesn’t know her heritage, and it may be time that we inform her.”
Inform me of what? Why were they talking as if the fae were going to come for me? I was a nobody. A magic dud. That would be the stupidest heist in history, stealing the one girl from the coven that couldn’t even light a match.
“Whose fault is that,” the hag pointed a gnarled finger.
“She’s a child,” he said pained by the decision, and I felt myself straighten defiantly against that label. I wasn’t a child, and I deserved to know what was going on, so I could protect our coven as much as anyone else.
“She’s a teenager,” she corrected, and for once I wasn’t opposed to the grating voice of the old crone, “You’ve done more than enough to say you’ve done your best for the girl’s mother. Her visions say nothing about guarding her past coming of age, and she is nearly nineteen.”
“We should send her back to her kind,” another mage from a neighboring coven added, “or bind her so that we can focus on keeping this side of the gate warded from harm. There is no telling if the queens have decided to seek a peaceful resolution with humans, centuries for us are barely noticed by the fae.”
I only recognized this mage from the previous Brigid Day Tournament as one of the judges.
The whole coven held a show of skills to honor Brigid, who helped seal the gates across the land leading to Faery, during the first war between mortals and fae. It was how Brigid received her scar in battle against the fae, her magic was revered as saintly, and she was considered to be a goddess able to seal gateways, considerably hindering the war between Faery, and saving countless lives.
No other mage had ever been able to do what she could. To this day no one in Faery or the Mortal Realm have been able to undo her wards on the gateways to Faery. She was legendary, though most humans outside of the covens celebrated her without knowing the full story.
Magic wasn’t something humans accepted easily, and most of her legends have been lost out of fear of what they didn’t understand. But to me, Brigid was more than a myth, a legend, a saint; she was the epitome of bravery that I strived to achieve, sacrificing herself to save not only her coven, but all humans, and fae that would have killed her happily because of what they didn’t understand about her.
From some stories I’d heard, even the coven rejected her before the war. I felt a kindredness with Brigid.
Councilor Hemz, the mage wishing for me to be sent to Faery, away from the coven I’d grown up with, had seemed friendly enough, presenting me with the founder’s relic to be brought back to our coven when we won the tournament. It was a surprise that even she wanted me sent away.
This was more serious than I’d once thought, and as much as I needed to know more about what I had to do with any of this, I couldn’t let the fae leave here with any important information. I had to come out, and make sure the council knew they had a spy before they talked about any strategies they had about preventing a second war with the fae.
“This is much too short-sighted.” My dad shook his head. “There may have to be a future where the gates are monitored instead of blocked, if they have found a way around our wards then giving them Nessa could be more dangerous than protecting her. Who’s to say what they will do with her, she is my daughter…” his voice cracked.
The hag sounded more sympathetic in her next approach, “You are a fine father, to both of those children. As long as no one knows the full vision her mother saw then our people are safe, and it’s within reason to believe Nessa should be too. She hasn’t developed her mother’s gifts of sight, so it’s unlikely the queens will find any use for her, but until they know for themselves that she is not a seer she will be hunted. Understand Corey, what’s best for the coven is also what is best for your daughter.
“Send her to court, they can evaluate her, and their curiosity appeased she will be safe as long as they don’t know who her real father is.”
“I am her real father,” his voice raised, and he never yelled ever, even when there were times I thought he would have.
“Her biological father, Grand Magus Lewyn,” she softened her tone, knowing she’d crossed a line with my dad. And all thought of was, they must have been lying. I couldn’t accept that he wasn’t mine, that some deadbeat was out there that never tried to find me. A sense of abandonment returned. Both of my parents were gone… I shook my head.
No, he was my dad, and he’d always been there for me. Even now, he fought for me. After learning about hereditary traits, I knew, but I didn’t really know. It was different hearing it so black and white, so concrete, and final.
“Safe or not, we would never see her again. The fae will keep her regardless.”
Purdey nodded her agreement, undeterred by this knowledge. Chey held me possessively to tell me she wouldn’t let it happen, she wouldn’t let them take me. But all the while, I couldn’t quite process the main reveal of the conversation… I was fae.
I touched the top of my ears, and didn’t feel any different, they were round like any other human.
Ms. Greyol, our teacher, was a proponent for mastering one skill well over being adequate at many. If you can be the best at one thing, you’ll never have to worry about your future in the coven. There will always be someone who’d rather receive their magic from us versus another coven because we pride ourselves on producing mages of specialty.
But everyone knew a specialty didn’t mean a mage couldn’t perform basic casts of different natures. Ms. Greyol made all the mages practice all callings to search for what they had a talent for, all except for me.
Casting wasn’t my specialty, in any nature or category.
I was a dud when it came to magic crafting.
If I was fae, then why did I suck at magic? According to the coven all fae were dangerously magical.
Reaching down to my boots, I plucked the small blade I stored for emergencies knowing this was my time to show the council members they could rely on me. Finally, my combat training could be put to use. I would protect them.
Protect them from the fae just outside this closet.
“She doesn’t belong here, you knew when you took her into your home that she would have to go back.”
The fae warrior was still focused on the members outside of the office, and hadn’t looked towards where I hid behind an old window shutter leading to a closet. I was actually thankful the coven had been sentimental about repurposing the old town hall into the renovation years ago. The closet resembled more of a superfluous wall decoration than a closet, which was probably why most forgot about it, leaving their old coats to rot and mold.
I took a deep breath, it wasn’t clean or pleasant, but necessary. Nodding to Chey, she eased back recognizing I intended to go after the intruder. Clasping her hand, I squeezed in a silent plea for her to stay behind, safe with the dust bunnies. I couldn’t chance that the fae was also after her, it would be smart of them to take out the next generation that would secure the wards on the gateways to Faery.
Chey pressed her eyes closed summoning her magic to cast a personal ward around my body, the warmth settled on my skin like a comfortable blanket. My ability let me feel the intention was protection. Because it was so quickly cast, and on my person versus an object, I probably only had a few deferred hits, or only one caster block depending on how strong his magic was. My sister was strong, but her magic had its limits when hastily cast, and no time to prepare, she wasn’t as trained as the coven council leaders.
“Not like this,” my father paced the room, “it’s too risky, her training isn’t finished. She hasn’t aw–“
“She’s ready,” Ms. Greywal said, when I was her worst student. Magic was not my specialty, how could she say I was ready? “She just needs to remember what I’ve taught her.”
Blade in each hand, I prepared one beside my head to throw. Ryn Hesam taught me how to aim. Until it was perfect, but what I didn’t know was based on the distance whether the dagger would smack him in the neck with the pointy end or the handle. It was hard to tell, and he looked more like ten feet away, so I adjusted the dagger to hold it by the blade instead of the hilt to change the rotation. I’d done enough target practice to be fairly certain, but I usually threw more with instinct than anything else, and I was usually right. I had to be right.
Before grabbing my dagger, I tucked the crystal into Chey’s pocket while she was distracted. It was a proximity charm, so once I left the closet, she would still be hidden, and I would be revealed. I’d never been against an opponent that might not stop when the duel was won, and the way he held his large knife showed me he wasn’t a stranger to using it.
I was ready, I repeated Greywal’s words in my mind.
Shoving my nerves aside, I launched myself from the closet, and threw the blade at the warrior’s neck.
All eyes of the council switched from my father to me.
That moment of split focus had those electric blue eyes of the fae twinkling in recognition like he knew me. He didn’t seem upset at all as a weapon was flung at him, because he had lifted his own knife up in time to block the attack.
There wasn’t enough time to react, to be pleased the knife would have landed pointy end first, before I felt the warmth of magic surrounding me flicker and fade. The protection ward broke.
Flung backward, I slammed sideways into the bookshelves. My whole body ached with the impact. My skull cracked into shutter doors next to the shelves. Council members were on me so fast my limbs fell like sacks of sand heavy with disabling magic, and my second dagger fell from my fingertips to the floor in a clatter.
I watched helplessly as the fae warrior grinned down at me with sharp teeth, his work made easier by the council’s confusion. He scooped me up in his arms, and now so close to him it was more obvious how large he was compared to me. His shoulders were broad, and muscular, and he lifted me like I was the air itself, despite the added weight of casting magic making me feel like I was full of rocks. I never asked whether the casting actually made me heavier, or if it was merely a cast making the body feel like it was, but the fae warrior wasn’t deterred either way.
My head rolled back over his arm, and I watched as Chey burst from the closet screaming for the council to stop attacking. It was all the distraction the fae intruder needed to escape, quickly bounding past the council in one leap, and out the opened double doors the next. He was fast, and stealthy in his movements. Were all the fae like him? Would humans have a chance if the queens decided to continue the war from centuries ago?
I was just thankful that Chey would be safe. He wasn’t after her, and even if he was I’d gladly take her place.
I watched as my father whipped his head around towards the opened doors to see me disappear from sight. He looked devastated, and it was so potent I could feel it aching through my body. It broke my heart I had made him feel such pain, and though I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he wasn’t biologically mine, his pain was real, and so was his love.
The hag was the best among the local covens for her disabling casts, and I knew it could be a full day before I could use my limbs again, even with such hasty casting. Until then, I was at the mercy of a mysterious fae warrior, who was talented enough to block a flying dagger by surprise, and avoid the most powerful casts of our coven during their distraction to escape unharmed. The only comfort I had was in knowing he hadn’t stayed long enough to overhear anything damaging, and according to the hag, as long as I was gone from the coven… they were safe.
But, if he took me to Faery, I would never see home again, dad, or Chey. If I really was fae, then I would be bound to their laws and the wards our coven worked so hard to maintain would keep me from ever returning, even if I was able to escape the warrior, and find a gateway. There were a lot of ifs, and for being fae I was remarkably untalented at magic.
Those dazzling blue eyes stared down at me, and with a strange bit of compassion he adjusted his hold to prop my head against his chest, holding me close so my body didn’t flop around as much. It was certainly uncomfortable to have my heavy body be jostled as he quickly carried me out of town, and into the forest.
It isn’t until your muscles are useless do you truly realize what they do for you without a second thought. With his new hold on me, my body pressed into his firm chest, I could smell the forest on him. Held tight enough that everything stayed in place, while we both blurred past the trees, there was also a hint of spice that was comforting. I could almost fall asleep like this if it weren’t for the circumstances of knowing with every leap I was farther away from my home.
He was taking me towards the local ruins the coven used to celebrate spring. In the center of the ruins was an old well tourists would throw coins into to grant their wishes. Of course there weren’t any casts on the well that would grant them anything.
One of my classmates thought it was funny to cast a transfer object spell on the inside of the well to collect the coins, until he was caught, and told by the elders any cast used near the well could interfere with the protective barriers there. He got in a lot of trouble, and when I realized the fae warrior was heading straight for the well, I knew it was one of the few remaining gateways the council was talking about.
How did he come through to begin with? I’d ask him, but my tongue refused to work. Not even my lips would part, my jaw was so stiff. The most I could do was create a strange garbled choking sound to express my displeasure at where I knew he was heading. Certainly, an attractive first impression to drool on him in an effort to speak. It was stupid to think about that. First impressions for what? I wasn’t going to date the beast of a man.
He thought it was funny, not that he chuckled or anything. I just knew he did by the way his eyes sparkled in triumph at having apprehended me. It was convenient for him the hag disabling me instead of him, and I wasn’t sure if it was my noises that were humorous, or the fact that the coven made his job easier. All I knew was he had what he wanted, and I was surprised that what he wanted was me. I served myself cooked, and seasoned for him to take, and he thought it was laughable that my whole life was falling apart at the seams.
“You must be scared,” his voice was deep and silky. I found myself disgusted I’d think about that while he kidnapped me away from everything I knew if most of them didn’t want me there, the ones that mattered did.
“They’ve brainwashed you into thinking Faery is a horrible place with monstrous fae that seek to destroy mortals. You’ll find that as soon as we arrive those fears will fade, and Faery will welcome you to your real home. I will not attest to all fae, some really are monsters, but the same could be said of the ones your coven chooses to protect.”
I grumbled in response, wanting to say none of them were kidnapping me, so he didn’t have a firm footing to stand on with his claims. He was the only fae I knew, and he was already skewing the balance in a distasteful direction by spying, and taking me against my will.
Fae were known to be untrustworthy, which was saying something considering they were also known to be creatures of truth, since they are true to their words, as long as you make them swear to it. But you didn’t have to lie to say things untruthful by manipulating the conversation.
My kidnapper had yet to inform me what I should call him. There were no introductions, and I was unable to ask. All I knew about him was that he was fae, able to handle a weapon, extremely fast, able to carry me like it was nothing while bounding through the forest, and for some reason decided today was a great day to take me with him to Faery.
I can’t say I haven’t wondered what Faery was like, but this wasn’t how I intended to find out. With a final leap the uncomfortably handsome kidnapper launched us into the old well. All I could do was watch wide eyed as we fell, unable to scream, only a rush of air escaped my lips, and that was muffled into his chest as he held me close.
He chanted something under his breath and a bright light enveloped us. My whole body tingled and a warmth of something I’d never experienced before washed over me. Like the very air was welcoming me in a familiar hug.
I let out a soft sigh.
“It never gets old,” he remarked taking in a deep breath to let it sink in.
The magic of Faery.
I knew Faery existed, but it wasn’t on my radar how such a place would change my world forever. When Faery was involved, nothing was simple, and even if the coven rejected me I could have been the master of my own future in the city as a civilian, blissfully unaware of what was beyond the veil. Sipping coffee, studying whatever it was I might have been interested in learning to do with the rest of my life if I didn’t know about magic. That was… until Faery’s problems became my own.
If I wanted to have any future at all…
I’d just have to become a magician.
But that was harder said than done, because I sucked at magic. Not sweet lollipop kind of suck, the kind where facing off with a caster left me dangling limply in the arms of fae warrior kind of suck.
My specialty did nothing to save me.
And if I felt the magic of Faery that only meant one thing… I may never see Chey, my dad, or the coven again.
Chapter Two – Hudson
The retrieval was never supposed to take this long. I’d practiced making my way through the wards plenty of times, and this time was no different, if anything I was faster than I’d ever been before. Following her trail was intoxicating, and I couldn’t get to her fast enough. Then I saw her.
Blades in hand, tumbling on the ground and targeting with perfect aim. Her black hair was pulled back, and I had to be mistaken about who she was. Round petite ears, and striking green eyes that didn’t match her features if she was a fae at all. When she smiled at her progress, it was like staring at sunshine, and couldn’t possibly be like me. In training, and in battle my sharp fangs wouldn’t be able to keep themselves from betraying the monster that I was inside.
She couldn’t have been fae, no other sun or moon fae looked like her, and there were no signs of our particular nature about her. The queen was certain when she sent me, that the seers had a vision of a faeling nearing her first awakening that must be brought home immediately. The magic of faery was definitely here, I could taste it. I followed it here, to her, but this was a coven. I’d never found a fae among mages before, their magic could be messing with my tracking, and human magic was more difficult to sense.
It could be anyone here at the coven.
It couldn’t be her.
But that didn’t stop me from following her, watching her.
Snarling, I fought back my urge to yank one of the mages aside that had blatantly insulted her for something to do with her magic. That very night I had intended to pay a visit to his quarters, but she’d beaten me to it. Throwing a butter knife through his open window that had narrowly missed him, making me only momentarily disappointed before realizing that her intended target was actually the late night snack that was in his hand, now pinned to the wall. The force alone that it would take to make a butter knife stick into the wood was impressive, but the look on the man’s face was satisfactorily annoyed. Which, oddly enough, pleased me greatly.
I had intended a much more serious approach, solidly ruining my plans to remain hidden until I found the fae I was looking for. Plus, I had no way of knowing the extent of any of these mage’s abilities. I was known to be a little irrational, and headstrong in assignments, but instinct had kept me alive this long so I’d have to listen to that gut caution when it spoke to me.
Still, I watched her. Kept coming back to her. The one they called Nessa.
It was obvious after a week that the coven didn’t appreciate her warrior spirit. Every day, she’d train. And she was good. Theoretically good that was, practically, none of her practice was in true combat style. Her trainer was not preparing her for action, but skill only. All skill can be lost in the heat of a moment, and there were not enough stressors placed in her way to insure her mind remained clear when she really needed it.
I’d have to do something about that. Shaking my head to clear it, I didn’t know where that thought had come from. She wouldn’t be coming back with me. And even if she did, life with a guard was not what most women wanted. I had to get back to the assignment, find the fae, return her, and move on. How did I know it was a her? I didn’t, but I guessed I still held out hope that the reason I kept coming back to her was because she was who I came for, and not because I’d lost my mind.
There was something happening around the coven, and even Nessa was on to it. Elders from all over were gathering, and I had to find the fae before the darkness burned out the light as the forest witch would say. That batty fae never spoke straight, and it was because of her that I wouldn’t be the only one looking for the lost fae. It wouldn’t be the safest journey back home when I finally did go back. Why was it taking me so long to do this assignment? I’d have already searched their records, and scoured ever home by now. Was it because they were mages that I hesitated?
No. I knew why.
I was thinking with the wrong head, and I needed to refocus.
That’s what I would do today.
There was a particularly frequented building in the center of town, that I’d seen most of the prominent mages go in and out of. I’d start there for answers. My wards should be fine for another day or two, keeping me hidden from any sensory casts. Being only half fae had it’s advantages. At least in the field it did, at home it was a different matter.
The damned door to the building was loud enough to make me pause, it hadn’t been greased in ages. Not even a little magic here and there to keep this place from ruin. As I surveyed the building I’d surmised most of it was re-salvaged parts, and though recently put back together, still very much smelling of mildew and rot. Crinkling my nose, I wondered why they’d spend the effort to repair a building with wood clearly already on its last legs unless they planned on using magic to finish the job, which they obviously hadn’t gotten around to.
Back to business, there were a few points of entry to the building: where I’d entered, and some windows. An office in the back seemed like the best place to start to uncover information. A small desk, and an unusual amount of paperwork scattered around. There was no need to print so much paper, not that Faery really used paper to begin with, but the mortal realm had advanced considerably in the last century. Whatever the reason, they were confident in the wards around their perimeter or there was nothing of value here to leave it so exposed. There was no harm in double checking to make sure, so I sifted through the desk only to be distracted with that same familiar squeak of the front doors.
I ducked below the window of the office, knife at ready. The charm should still hide my presence, so I shouldn’t have to worry about it, but in my line of work, you could never be too careful. I’d only retrieved a few fae from the mortal realm so far, they were all happy to find a way back home so that they’d live longer. Being away from Faery had its toll to pay. Though there were a few that hadn’t wanted to return, and I’d taken longer to track another so as not to raise any suspicion. But it was the recovery of a fae called Robert that crept into my mind listening to the mages settle themselves.
Robert didn’t know what he was, young, and afraid after a local coven was sent to dispose of him. He didn’t know why, and I’d found him nearly starved to death instinctively curled upon himself in the forest. The mortal realm didn’t understand us, and the unknown breeds fear, and sometimes… war.
My ears perked up at the sound of Nessa’s name.
“…or bind her so we can focus on…”
They were talking about binding her… She was fae. Momentary relief filled me knowing she would be going home with me; registration at what they were saying hit me, it wasn’t safe here for her. I had to concentrate on not strangling that mage to snuff out the very thought of binding a fae.
A death sentence. Again the covens were seeking to harm another fae. Not just any fae. Nessa. My teeth flashed at the thought. We couldn’t stay here any longer, I had to grab her before it was too late, before they got to her first.
My nose filled with her scent, she smelled of flowers after a fresh rain, snapping my attention in front of me instead of the conversation behind the wall I pressed against. Her green eyes were determined and fiery making me smile as soon as I saw she was actually here with me. Luck was on my side, I didn’t have to search for her, but even if I had, I knew all the spots she’d likely be. On instinct my dagger came up to my throat, and the clang of metal bounced off the blade. On the recoil the blade nicked my skin, not deep enough to draw blood with how fast I healed, but enough to know that her aim was true, and no matter how fast I healed that would have been difficult to recover from if I hadn’t blocked it.
I should have been offended that she threw her weapon at me, but the joy at knowing she was alright, and that I would be taking her home with me was too strong to care. If anything, I was impressed that she was able to sneak up on me, and land a hit. Training with her weapon aside, she was still unawakened, based on the mages placing her in school with their own children, and that showed how strong she was to be able to catch me off guard.
Grabbing her dagger, I sheathed it in my belt, only to regret that momentary choice to gain her favor by offering her weapon back against the immediate need to bring her to safety.
A slight glow shimmered around her like an aura, and it flickered out instantly. Her body seized up before my eyes, making my blood pump faster to protect her. I only had a few wards on me just in case I ran into mages, meeting a whole coven of them wasn’t really in my plans. I’d have to be quick. Nessa’s body fell limp just as I reached her. Scooping her up into my arms, I braced myself to feel the impact of a few choice crafting offenses before jumping through the glass window out the back of the office. I had to weigh the benefits of jumping through back or front first, either way I’d be exposing Nessa’s body to either the sharp glass or the mages, but I didn’t feel any magic being used against me yet. So, I chanced breaking through the glass with the back of my shoulder, so that only I would take the cuts, none of them would hurt too much with my healing. The bet was effective, but I watched as I flew backwards, hearing the glass shatter, that the mages turned on one of their own. A young girl screaming, and an older man covering her. The rest of the coven watched me, not a one attempting to stop me from taking Nessa. There was one mage in particular, and older woman, that smiled at me, and then turned away.
I hit the ground, still cradling Nessa in my arms, she was unmoving, frozen and not knowing what magic was cast on her I had to get her to Faery as fast as possible. The farther she was from the mage that cast it, the weaker the magic would be, and I’d be able to protect her from the mages that cared so little for her. I’d forgotten all about the danger that awaited her in Faery, there were too many fae worried about a war, listening to bits and pieces of prophecy in the seer’s visions. Would I have still taken her if the mages hadn’t blinded me with rage at having cast magic on her? I may never know, but the next best thing I could do now was make sure she’d have the best life possible, in Faery.
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