Re-release coming in November 2018
Eons ago, vampires tried to turn the dark Fae in order to harness their magic, only to create a demonic enemy more powerful than they could have imagined. Now, in a final push, Myst returns with a vengeance to bring the Golden Wood forever under the rule of the Indigo Court.
Newly crowned Fae Queens Cicely and Rhiannon have embraced their destinies and claimed their thrones. But Myst is rising once more, and now, at the helm of her armies, she begins her final assault on the Golden Wood. As Fae, vampires, and magic-born alike fall under the tide of blood, Cicely and her friends must discover a way to destroy the spidery queen before they—and their people—face total annihilation.
I stood on a hillock near the Barrow. The land was covered with snow and ice, the horizon stretching out in a vast panorama of winter. It was the perfect picture. The snow gleamed under an overcast sky, sparkling with the cold. Here and there, patches of ice glistened, a sheen rippling across the landscape, casting pale blue shadows to blanket the world. Evergreens—firs and cedars—stood cloaked in white, the snow weighing down their limbs so they brushed the ground.
My breath emerged in puffs, visible in the early dusk, a cloud of white every time I exhaled. But the pristine chill that made the very air shimmer barely penetrated the feathered cloak I wore. And what little of the cold that did make it through had ceased to bother me over the weeks. For I was the Queen of Snow and Ice now, and cold was no longer my enemy.READ MORE
As I surveyed the land around my Barrow, I was aware that not ten yards away, Check, my personal guard, kept watch. Beside him stood Fearless, who had thankfully recovered from his wounds. Cambyra Fae healed quickly, and Fearless had mended right up, even with the severe wounds he’d sustained from the Shadow Hunters. While he had been in great pain for several weeks, now he was back in action. I had noticed a side effect of the attack that was both welcome and curious: His attitude toward me had shifted. Where before he had simply been doing his duty, now I sensed loyalty mingled in with that duty; an impression of respect that he hadn’t offered me before.
As I stood there, I plunged myself into the slipstream, searching for information. The realm of Snow and Ice might be mine to command, but we were terribly vulnerable. While Myst was still out there, we were in danger, and we couldn’t let down our guard. I trusted the scouts and my advisors, but ever since my coronation, my awareness had heightened. If I listened carefully enough, I could reach out, almost touch Myst’s energy. After all, we were bound together from a lifetime long before this one. She had been my mother, and I had been her daughter Cherish, the shining star and hope of the Indigo Court, until I betrayed both her and my people.
Ulean, my Wind Elemental, swept around me. She was stronger here, in our frozen realm. The winter kingdom agreed with her. While I’d always heard her clearly—from the very beginning when we were first bound together—here I had become even more aware of her.
At times, I thought I could catch a glimpse of her. Strict, my advisor, had told me it was one of the side effects of taking the crown. One more in a long line of shifts and changes that I had been going through. Some days, I looked in the mirror and wasn’t entirely sure of who I was.
Cicely, there is danger close by. A looming shadow. I believe Myst is on the rise again. Ulean swept past me, swirling snow in the gust of her wake.
It was only a matter of time. We knew she was regrouping. I’ve been hoping she would hold off until Rhiannon and I were more settled in our positions—that it would take her more time to re-strengthen her forces, but I don’t think we have that leeway. I’m afraid we’ll be fighting her sooner than we’d hoped.
Shivering, but not from the cold, I pulled my cloak tightly around my shoulders. The owl feathers used to make the cape had been gathered one by one, hand-sewn by a talented seamstress. My Uwilahsidhe brethren had gifted it to me for my wedding, an honor that meant they’d accepted me into their people. My people. I was half magic-born, and half Uwilahsidhe—the owl-shifters, a branch of the Cambyra Sidhe. I’d only discovered the latter half of my heritage six weeks before. Everything I thought I’d known about myself had changed in that time.
We will do as we must. If we fail, Myst will extend her reach. She will take control of this realm and drive the eternal winter into the world to blanket the land with ice and snow. She will loose the ravenous appetites of her Shadow Hunters on anyone who stands in her way. We cannot let her win, Cicely, or everyone—the magic-born and the Weres and the yummanii—will all be so much prey for the Vampiric Fae. Even the true vampires, Lannan and Regina’s people, will fall to her fury if we don’t stop her.
I reached out, trying to sense the danger Ulean had mentioned. It was like stretching a new muscle—not a physical one, but mental. Focusing, I sent out feelers, probing the landscape. They crept like vines through the slipstream. There, I could sense an arctic fox, and over there—the hare it was stalking. A ways beyond I felt the silent passage of a group of Ice Elementals, their focus so distant and alien that I couldn’t have deciphered their intent if you paid me to. But the creatures were my subjects, they were aligned to me, and so I simply touched their energy before I passed on.
Beyond the Ice Elementals, I came to a tree line, and the dark sentinels of the woodlands whispered rumors in my ears. There were creatures in the woods—monsters who did not belong here, even though they, too, were born of winter and hearkened to the dark months of the year.
I softly began to move forward, my attention drawn by a familiar presence in a stand of snow-covered bushes nearby. As I approached the Wilding Fae—I knew who she was—Check and Fearless flanked my sides.
Ulean laughed. Your friend wishes to speak with you. You have won the hearts of the Wilding Fae, and that is a double-edged blessing.
The Wilding Fae were dangerous, a breed unto themselves. Ancient even by the standards of the Cambyra Fae, they were feral, belonging only to themselves, aligned with no one. But they had chosen to live in the realm of Snow and Ice when I took the throne. Bargaining with them could prove dangerous, but once they’d accepted my rule, they knew better than to try to trip me up with their deals. A good thing, too, considering my lack of bargaining skills.
I paused by the juniper bush. As I waited, a figure stepped out from behind the laden branches. Gaunt, she was short and dressed in a ragtag patchwork of a dress that swept the ground. Her hair was matted into clumps, draping to cover her shoulders. A withered roadwork of lines crisscrossed her face. Her limbs were long and lean, her fingers gnarled with the knots that usually came from old age. But to be honest, I had no clue as to how old she was. The Snow Hag might be old as the world for all I knew, or as timeless as the stars.
She flashed me a cunning smile, and one of her teeth curved up from her upper jaw to rest against her bottom lip. She did not kneel, but I didn’t expect her to. The Wilding Fae lived by their own rules, and while they might now make their home in my realm, they were a force to be feared and respected.
“A queen might be listening for danger, but looking in the wrong direction.” She cocked her head.
I stared at her. Apparently we were dispensing with the niceties today. Usually there was a set format—a pattern with the Wilding Fae that held sway even when discussing nearby dangers.
“It would be helpful if one of the Wilding Fae could help to guide a queen as she seeks for the source of danger on the wind.”
I didn’t have the full cadence down, but Chatter—my cousin’s husband and the new King of Summer—had been drilling us. He was adept at bargaining with the Wilding Fae. Right now, I wished he could be here to help me. But I had to learn for myself at some point, and if I made a mistake, well…then I made a mistake.
“There is a learning curve to this. A queen might be making good progress, however, even while she trips a step here or there. If a certain Wilding Fae were less scrupulous, there might be trouble brewing, but luck will out. One of the Wilding Fae respects the young Winter. And at times, luck has little play in matters of destiny; desire wins out instead. And there is desire to see the new rule continue.”
She winked and laughed. It reminded me of the wolf out of Little Red Riding Hood, but then the slyness vanished, and good humor shone through. Once again, I could feel the Snow Hag’s power emanate through the forest, down to my very bones. They were a crafty, cunning lot, the Wilding Fae, and were dangerous enemies to have.
I thought over what she had said and tried to pinpoint my mistake. Where had I slipped up? But right now the thought of danger lurking in my land preoccupied me, and I was having a hard time concentrating.
After a moment’s silence, the Snow Hag broke a small branch off the tree. “Looking into the distance often leaves a queen ignoring what is directly below her nose. Danger can be alluring, and seemingly, the best of friends. Danger might also throw a furtive glance, begrudge good fortune, and be trapped by what was thought to be a good deed but turned into a snare. Usually, such hints will be visible if one chances to look for them.”
That didn’t sound good. “A spy? You’re saying that I have a spy in my midst?” When she remained silent, I rephrased it as best as I could. “One might think, by your comment, that a queen might have a spy in her Court, as eyes and ears of Myst.”
And with that the Snow Hag cackled. “One might think the Queen of Snow and Ice is growing into her throne. She is wise to listen to and understand the Wilding Fae. One might think the Queen of Snow and Ice is on the right trail and should look in the dark recesses of her Barrow for mice that do not belong there.” And with that she vanished back into the bushes.
Hell. The last thing I needed was one of Myst’s people hiding in my Court. And the Snow Hag had said the danger was right under my nose. I glanced back. Check and Fearless were standing at attention, studiously ignoring my conversation. They had learned the fine art of being present without intruding, a difficult tightrope for anyone to master. But this information meant I couldn’t trust anyone, and while Check and Fearless seemed more than willing to protect me, when I thought about it, I really didn’t know them. I’d have to corner my husband, Grieve, when I returned home, and ask him what we should do.
While I made my way back to the guards, a sudden shift in the wind alerted me as Ulean slipped past.
Cicely—move. Fly. Get yourself out of reach!
I trusted Ulean with my life, and if she said there was danger, I knew it was true.
“Danger! There’s danger coming.” As I warned my guards, I was already raising my arms, transforming, my arms spreading into wings. I shifted into owl form. And then I was aloft and on the wing, in my barred owl shape. Until recently, I’d had to undress in order to transform, but one of the perks of becoming a Fae Queen meant that my clothes changed with me now.
As I spiraled up into the chill evening air, I looked down to see a creature racing out of a nearby bush—and then, with a shimmer, another figure appeared. Shadow Hunters! And they had to have gained entrance to my realm via some way other than the front gate. We had guards set up, watching. Unless those guards are corrupt and working for Myst. The thought crept in as I circled the fray below.
I watched as Check and Fearless engaged the Vampiric Fae.
I wanted to be down there, fighting, but I was the Queen, and I wasn’t allowed to fight my own battles. At least, not unless there was no other option. It felt more and more that my freedom had been pared down. Although I had more power than I ever had possessed, I also had more restrictions. I chafed at the constraints, even though I understood the reasoning for them.
The two Shadow Hunters launched themselves at my guards. They were twisting, morphing into the great cerulean-colored beasts of the Indigo Court, as they prepared to destroy. They were hungry, and unlike the true vampires, the Vampiric Fae fed on muscle and sinew as well as the life force.
Check engaged them with a jeweled sword while Fearless scrambled out of reach. One of the Shadow Hunters had snapped at him, almost catching him in its slathering jaws. Fearless had just recovered from a similar attack, and my blood rose as I watched my men struggle to keep the Shadow Hunters’ great bared teeth from latching on to them.
There was no way I could survive an attack should I set down on the ground. Not even my queen’s dagger could deflect the attack of one of these monsters. But then I knew exactly what to do. It was a dangerous choice, but I couldn’t fly off and allow the Shadow Hunters to ravage my guards.
I spiraled up to the nearest tree and landed on the first bare branch I could find that was big enough to support me when I changed back to my normal shape. Balancing on the limb, I made certain it would be wide enough, then spread one wing so that my arm would be braced against the trunk as I shifted back. My cloak almost threw me off-balance, but I managed to catch myself and stood at the crotch of the limb where it met the trunk, bracing my weight against the tree.
Once I knew I was steady enough, I closed my eyes and summoned the winds. My hair began to lift as the currents of air rose around me, and a niggle of delight twisted in my stomach.
It was a dangerous prospect for me to gather the winds, to stir up a tornado or a gale. Too often, they beckoned me to stay at their helm, to fully give myself over to their realm and become a mad queen on the crest of a storm. But I could save Check and Fearless—and I wasn’t about to let them die.
As I glanced down at the ground, the blood channeled across the snow in a delicate wash of rose that spread over the blanket of white. Whether the blood belonged to Check, Fearless, or the Shadow Hunters, I didn’t know, but if I didn’t act, my guards would be dead. Or worse. Myst could offer worse fates than merely being killed by her people.
“Gale Force.” I whispered the words, but the slipstream caught them up and sent them spinning into the air, and they took the form of a vortex.
A breeze wakened, starting lightly, but as I focused it through my body, the gusts increased. They were strong beyond the winds of my Winter realm. They bled directly from the heart of the Elemental plane of Air, a boreal wind sweeping down to buoy me up, to fill me full with a delicious sense of power. I rose to my tiptoes, balancing precariously on the branch.
As I raised my arms, no longer needing the support of the tree trunk, the winds lifted me into the air and spun me aloft, carrying me at the helm of a bank of mist and whirling snow. A second whisper of “Gale Force,” and the winds roared into a storm, hurricane strength, only instead of driving rain along the front, in its fury it picked up the snow and used it as a weapon.
Sleet and snow pelted against the Shadow Hunters, blinding the Vampiric Fae as they struggled against the biting wind. Check and Fearless fell back, Check shouting something to me that I couldn’t hear through the raging storm, but I understood his gestures. He wanted me to drop the winds, to fly back to the Barrow.
But they held me in their mania, and I couldn’t break free. Each time I used this power, it was harder to rein myself in. Each time, I was one step closer to being enslaved by the chaotic forces from the plane of Air. One day, I might not be able to free myself. They summoned me, cajoled me to dive headfirst into their strength, to give myself over to them.
But a shout from below caught my attention. A handful of my other guards had noticed the battle and were wading into the fray. Armed, they pushed forward to attack the Shadow Hunters, even as Check and Fearless rejoined the battle. My forces were strong, and Myst’s pair couldn’t stand up against them.
In that moment of clarity, I released the storm, and as the Shadow Hunters fell under the wave of my guards and the snow was stained with their blood, I transformed back into my owl form and circled to land on the field below.
I sat on the edge of my bed. Druise, my personal maid, was helping me change clothes. She bundled me up into clean, dry black jeans and laced my blue corset snugly, then brought me dry boots and a thin black cloak embroidered with silver threads. The cloak was surprisingly warm, and I wasn’t sure from just what kind of material it had been woven, but it was light and pretty and would keep any chill in the Barrow at bay.
As she draped the material around my shoulders, she was careful not to touch the crown that circled my head. A diadem forged with silver leaves entwining on either side of the circlet, the vines met in the center of my forehead to embrace a glowing cabochon of black onyx. Below the onyx dangled a single diamond teardrop.
I sat on the bed, sipping tea and eating a cookie.
The huge four-poster bed was made from yew wood, the headboard intricately carved with designs and runes that I couldn’t decipher. The bed was old, and I wondered just how many queens had slept in its protection and comfort. Piled high atop blankets and sheets, the indigo comforter matched the pattern of the carpet. Covering the cobblestone floor, the rug was a sweeping panorama of swirling labyrinths embroidered in silver against the indigo weave.
Over the bed, inlaid in cabochons of iolite, sapphire, amethyst, and quartz, the pattern continued. The rest of the ceiling was jet-black, and the gems shimmered against the dark background, their inner light picking up the glow from the lanterns. The shadows in the room seemed to flicker in a slow, sinuous dance of movement.
“How long before you have to be at your meeting, my Lady?” Druise refilled my teacup and I inhaled the rich aroma, grateful as the peppermint cleared my thoughts. A glance up at the clock told me it was five p.m. Of course, it was an arbitrary setting. Time always worked differently within the Faerie Barrows, but I used the clock to keep me on track with my schedule. It gave me some sense of familiarity, a touch from the outer world that made me more comfortable as I adjusted to my new way of life.
“An hour. They’re conferring now, but I needed… I need to think over something before I meet with the others.” Actually, what I had needed was a chance to decompress from the afternoon.
I inhaled slowly, my breath grounding me back into my body, lingering over the comforts of the tea and food. Finally, able to put it off no longer, I sighed and stood. Time to face the reality we had all been dreading. But we’d known she would return sooner or later. Myst was out for my blood and bone.
It had been a month since my cousin Rhiannon and I had taken the thrones of Summer and Winter. A month since I had married Grieve and she had married Chatter. Since then, Rhia and I had poured ourselves into an intensive study of the language of our people and the customs of our Courts as we desperately crammed on what it meant to be Fae Queens.
The whole concept that we were effectively immortal was still too much to deal with, although truth was we could be killed. But if we avoided accidents and murder, if no one found our heartstones, we would live into the mists of time until we were ready to let go and lay down our duties.
Gathering up the messenger bag I carried within the Barrow, I made sure my notebooks were in it, along with pens, chewing gum, my EpiPen, and everything else I would need while out of my chambers. With one last look around the bedroom, I pushed open the door. Check was waiting on the other side to escort me to the council room.
The council chamber was lit by the ever-present lanterns that lined the Eldburry Barrow. The lights within, pale blue and violet, were young Ice Elementals, indentured into service before being set loose into the world. They did not object to their service.
Within the Fae world and the world of Elementals, human rules and emotions didn’t apply. In the Marburry Barrow—the Summer Court of Rivers and Rushes—the lights were fueled by young Fire Elementals.
Strict was waiting at the table, along with Grieve, my beloved Fae Prince turned King. Check and Fearless stayed after escorting me there, and several other advisors and guard leaders had straggled in. As I entered the room, everyone stood and bowed. Once again it hit me that I was the end of the line. No matter what everyone else did, it all came back to land on my shoulders.
I took my place at the table and nodded for them to sit. A servant offered me a tray filled with roast beef sandwiches, bowls of hot chicken soup, and the ever-present tea. I was weaning them onto coffee, but it was a hard sell.
The Barrow kitchen had already gone through culture shock when I banned all fish and shellfish products. If people wanted to eat them in their own homes, fine, but for me and my staff there would be no seafood at the table. I was EpiPen allergic, anaphylactic, and even though I didn’t like thinking about the possibility, the fact was it would be an easy way for an assassin to get to me. That I even had to think about things like this still sent me reeling, but I was quickly getting used to it.
Once we were settled in with food, Grieve leaned over and placed a kiss on my lips. He was my love, the heart of my heart, and I wore a tattoo of his wolf on my stomach that responded to his feelings. Grieve had been crown prince of the Summer Court—the Court of Rivers and Rushes—until Myst had overrun the Marburry Barrow, killing hundreds of the Cambyra Fae. But he’d been caught by her, and she turned him. Even though he had control over his nature now, he was still feral and wild, a hybrid. But he was my love, and that’s all that mattered.
“Myst is on the move.”
The room fell silent. I had abandoned the protocol of moving through business and polite chitchat.
“Check told us about the attack.” My advisor, Strict, picked up the thread, smoothing over my gaffe, but I didn’t care about faux pas or social niceties. The nightmare had returned. Small talk was all well and good, but right now we didn’t have the luxury to observe tradition.
“He and Fearless would have bought the farm if our men hadn’t noticed the commotion and shown up to help.” I told them about my encounter with the Snow Hag, though I didn’t mention that she’d warned me about a spy in the Court. “Luckily we weren’t far from the Barrow, or we would have been in a fuckton of trouble.”
“Your Majesty…” Strict winced. My slang still bothered him. We were speaking in English because I didn’t know enough Cambyra to make myself understood. I was learning, but it was a complex language.
“Bite me, Strict. When I speak my own language, it’s going to be in my own way.” I flashed him a smile.
That cracked his stern demeanor, and he laughed. “The Cambyra are definitely being dragged into a new way of life thanks to you and your cousin. As to Myst, do we know if she’s within the realm of Snow and Ice?”
I shrugged. “I can’t be certain, but I don’t think so. When I was flying overhead, all I saw were the Shadow Hunters emerge from behind the bushes. They had to get into the realm somehow, so either we have a breach at the gates, or they’ve found some way to transport them over here.”
“Myst could be here, however. We can’t discount the possibility, Your Majesty.” Check tilted his head slightly. “She might have sent them ahead as scouts. I think at this point in the game, we have to be open to just about any possibility.”
Considering what the Snow Hag had revealed, he made a valid point. I leaned back, wondering how much to tell them. The Snow Hag had said the danger was under my nose rather than in the distance, and I knew she hadn’t been talking about the Shadow Hunters. If we did have a spy in our midst, could it be Strict? Check? Fearless? Or one of the other members of my staff gathered around the table with me? Or even…my own sweet Grieve?
But as quickly as it passed through my mind, that last thought vanished. I knew my love, inside and out. I knew that even though he would forever be a member of the Indigo Court, he had broken the connection with Myst. He would always be wild-eyed and feral, my wolf-shifter husband, but he loved me and would lay down his life for me.
After a moment, I motioned to him. “We need to talk, my husband. Alone.”
He followed me into a private chamber just off the council room.
Ulean, keep watch. Make certain nobody is listening at the door. Warn me if they are. And listen to what they are saying while we’re sequestered. I want to know if it’s anything to worry about.
I will, Cicely. But the Snow Hag is right. Danger lurks here. Not necessarily in this room, but the Barrow feels uneasy, and I think there is treachery hiding in the shadows. The feeling of danger was not here yesterday, I don’t believe. Though perhaps I only notice now because I am looking for it. But I think, had it been here before, I would have sensed it. I could be wrong, however.
I shuddered and Grieve pulled me into his embrace. His long platinum hair shimmered against the dim light, and his olive skin was warm and musky. He smelled like cinnamon and autumn leaves, like the dark half of the year on a rainy, chill night. Like the blackness of stars against the snow. He held me close, kissing my hair, kissing my forehead.
“What’s wrong, my Cicely? What gives you grief?”
In soft tones, so as not to be overheard by any prying ears, I laid out what the Snow Hag had told me. “Someone is playing the spy for Myst in our midst. I don’t know who it is, or where to find them. Now I can’t trust anybody. My father assured me that I could trust Strict. He told me that shortly before he and Lainule left for the Golden Isle. But now can I believe what he said? Do I dare trust anybody?”
“Trust is a relative word. You were right to keep this a secret. We can’t take chances. While I doubt that Strict or Silverweb would be in Myst’s pocket, we have to know for sure before continuing. If any one of the council in that room happens to be in the service of Myst, and we talk openly about this, she’ll know we’re onto her plans, and then our advantage will be undone.”
He moved back, holding me by my shoulders. “I know you aren’t going to like this, but there is a way to find out. We have to be cautious about how we go about it so word doesn’t get around, however.”
I knew exactly what he was talking about, and he was right: I didn’t like it.
The shamans of the Cambyra Fae had a procedure they could perform. Painful and intrusive, the ritual allowed them to delve into someone’s mind, to root through their thoughts and feelings and secrets. Essentially it came down to a form of mental torture. But it got the job done. And everyone in the Barrow had been through it before I took the throne, so either someone new had joined us, or someone’s loyalty had been turned after the fact.
“I don’t want to order that.” Even as I said the words, I knew that I was fighting a losing battle. There was no other option. Simply going around asking, “By the way, are you working for Myst now?” wasn’t going to get me anywhere, and I knew it. “It’s mind-rape,” I whispered.
“Perhaps so, but it might also save our people. Leave a spy from Myst loose in this Barrow, and the bitch will have a good chance of sweeping through here again. And this time, Myst won’t leave anyone alive. If she gains a foothold again, rest assured the Barrow will be slick with blood and bone and gristle.”
“And she’ll turn everyone who she can use. And the rest…food for the Shadow Hunters.” I hung my head. “I really don’t have a choice, do I?”
Grieve slowly backed away and knelt before me. “You are the Queen of Snow and Ice. Wear your crown and wield your power.”
And so, reluctantly, I whispered, “Then how do we go about this without word getting out?”
“We tell no one else. Not Luna, not Peyton or Kaylin.” The warning in his voice was clear—our friends couldn’t know what was going on. “We visit the shamans. They alone can be trusted. They are chosen from birth for their discipline and power.” He rose, staring into my eyes. “And first, they put me to the test.”
“You?” Startled, I began to shake my head. “Not you—”
But Grieve took my hands and gently brushed my wrist with his razor-sharp teeth. A thin red weal rose as blood welled up. Even as I responded, melting under his touch, he shook his head.
“Remember, my love. I belonged to Myst for a time. I carry her blood in my body. She turned me into one of the Vampiric Fae, and while I have gained a modicum of control, as Queen, you cannot be complacent. You cannot trust even me, not without knowing for certain.”
And so, my heart heavy, we returned to the main chamber and told everyone to sit tight. And then Grieve and I made our way through the Barrow, to where the shamans lived. To where I would order them to torture the truth from my beloved husband and the rest of my people.COLLAPSE