To Asia and Dylan, my amazing beasties. It’s a privilege to be your mother. (And, really? I do so love you more, most, and always. *grin* How’s that for getting the last word?)
Also by Melissa Marr
Devlin stood immobile as the spectral girl approached. The plume of her hat and the dark ringlets that framed her face were motionless, despite the breeze that swept over the field. The air did not touch her; consequently, he was unsure if he could.
“I seem to be dreaming or, mayhaps, lost,” she murmured.
“I was resting over”—she gestured behind her, frowned, and gave him a shaky smile—“in the cave that seems to have vanished. Am I still resting?”
The girl presented Devlin with a dilemma. All those uninvited to Faerie were to be brought before the High Queen—or dispatched if he deemed them threats. His function was to assure order, to do what best served the good of Faerie.
“In a cave?” he prompted.
“My guardian and I had a quarrel.” She shivered and folded her arms over her chest. The dress she wore was not this season’s fashionable attire, but it wasn’t horribly outdated.
When he didn’t reply, she added, “You look like a gentleman. I don’t suppose your manor is near here? Your mother or sisters? Not that my aunt expects me to make much of a match, but she would be … displeased if I were to be found unchaperoned in the company of a gentleman.”
“I am not a gentleman.”
“And meeting my mother-sisters is not something I’d wish on the innocent,” he added. “You should turn back. Call this a bad dream. Go away from here.”
The girl looked around at the field; her gaze took in the landscape of Faerie—the spider-silk hammocks that hung in the trees, the pink-and-gold-tinted sky that the queen had fashioned for the day—and then settled on him.
Devlin did not move as she observed him.
Her cheeks became pink as she boldly stared at him. “You certainly look like a kind man.”
“I am not.” He stepped toward her. “I exist to keep order for the queen of Faerie. I am neither kind nor a man.”
The girl fainted.
Devlin leaped forward to catch her and knelt on the ground, arms empty—as her form settled inside of his skin. He couldn’t hold the insubstantial, but she apparently could take residence in his body as if it were her own.
Her voice was in his head. Sir?
He couldn’t move: his body wasn’t his to control. He was still inside of himself, but he was not animating his body. The girl’s spectral form had filled his skin as if it were her own body.
Can you move? he asked.
Of course! She sat up and, in doing so, left his body.
He swallowed against the burst of peculiar emotions coursing through him. He felt free and excited and a number of the things that were unlike the restraint of the High Court—and he liked it.
She lifted a hand as if to touch him, but it passed through him. “I’m not dreaming, am I?”
“No.” He felt unexpectedly protective of her, this foundling mortal. “What is your name?”
“Katherine Rae O’Flaherty,” she whispered. “If I am awake now, that means you are an ethereal creature.“
“I have three wishes!” She clapped her hands and widened her eyes. “Oh, what do I wish for? True love? Eternal life? Certainly, nothing frivolous like gowns! Oh, perhaps I just want to save my wishes!”
“You cannot force me to make my wishes now.” She squared her shoulders and looked at him. “I’ve read texts. I know there is dispute over the goodness of your kind, but I do not believe for a moment that you could be other than kind. Why, just look at you!”
Devlin frowned. He did not idle away his time with foolishness; he did only that which his queen required. Except for those stolen moments of pleasure in the mortal world. His queen knew of his indulgences, looked the other way even. What harm an indulgence here? She was a specter of a mortal girl, no threat to the queen of Faerie. Sheltering her violates no order. He tried to smile at the girl. “Katherine Rae O’Flaherty, if you’re going to stay in our world, the term you will want is sidhe, faery, or fey.”
“I will use those … since I am staying.” She scrambled to her feet. “I have read Reverend Kirk, in fact. My uncle’s library has quite a few books of your people. I have read Mr. Lang’s fairy tales as well. The sweet—”
“Books are not the same as reality.” Devlin stared at her. “My world is not always kind to mortals.”
The look in her eyes was no longer guileless. “Nor is the mortal world.”
“Indeed.” He looked at her with a pleasant burst of curiosity.
She stepped closer. “If I return to my body, would I still be alive? If I return there, how long will have passed?”
“Time passes differently, and I’ve no idea how long you’ve wandered. If you stay, you might die as well. The High Queen does not allow uninvited guests in Faerie.” Devlin tried his gentlest smile, one he’d not had much use for in his life. “If she learns of your presence—”
“Do I get my three wishes?” Katherine Rae interrupted.
“You may.” It wasn’t traditional to grant wishes, but he found himself wanting to please her.
She tilted her chin. “Then, my first wish is that you keep me safe from harm … what is your name?”
Devlin bowed. “I am Devlin, brother and advisor to the High Queen, assassin, and keeper of order.”
“Oh.” She swayed as if she might faint again.
“And now, protector of Katherine Rae O’Flaherty,” he quickly added.
He’d never had anyone in his life who was truly his, never had a friend or confidante, never had a lover or partner. He wasn’t entirely sure he could have any of those. His first duty was to his queen, his court, to Faerie itself. He had been created to serve, and it was his honor to do so.
It was also very lonely.
He glanced at Katherine Rae. She had no body, no power, no allegiances.
What harm can taking in a spectral girl do?
When Devlin entered the banquet hall, the room was empty—save for the queen herself. In the center of the hall, out of place among the stone pillars and woven tapestries, a waterfall splashed down. The spray formed misty shapes in the air, and then the water washed away and vanished into one of the far walls. The High Queen stared at the falling water, at the threads of possibility she saw there. The filament-fine images of what could be weren’t certainties, but Sorcha kept order by monitoring potential futures. She’d realign them if the disorder was within the boundaries of Faerie, but if the aberration was in the mortal world, she’d dispatch him to correct it.
He approached the dais upon which her throne sat. For all of eternity, he had served as her Bloodied Hands. He was made for violence, but he served the court of order.
Without taking her gaze from the water, she stood and extended a hand, knowing he would be where she reached.
None other has been in her trust for all of eternity.
That didn’t mean she should trust him, though.
Devlin released her hand, and she crossed the room.
“Look at them.” Sorcha gestured toward the air, bringing a woman’s image into focus. The mortal was pretty: a heart-shaped face, light brown hair, and olive-green eyes. In the room with her were two small children, one of whom tackled the other. They giggled as they rolled around on the floor together.
“The youngest whelp is a problem.” The High Queen paused, her features softening into what looked like longing. Then her expression stilled as the image dissolved into mist, and the temperature plummeted. “It needs to be remedied.”
“Shall I retrieve it?” Devlin washed his hands in the now-frigid water that ran through his mother-sister-queen’s hall. He’d collected squalling infants and silent artists; he’d brought musicians and madmen to his queen at her command. Retrieving mortals or halflings was common—but not as pleasurable as some tasks.
“No.” She glanced at him for a long moment. “This one should not enter Faerie. Ever.”
Sorcha stepped forward so the edge of her skirts touched the water. Her ever-bare feet were exposed in the icy water, and for a brief second, he saw her as she was: a candle with a dim flame surrounded by the darkness of chaos. Her flame-toned hair shifted in a breeze that only existed because she willed it. Around her, the room changed from a chilly hall to a fecund jungle to a desert and back again to the hall, reflecting her briefest thought—as all things in Faerie did. She was their source, his creator. She was order and life. Without Sorcha’s will, only she and her antithesis, her twin Bananach, would exist.
“What would you have of me?” he asked.
Sorcha didn’t look at him. “Sometimes death is required to keep order.”
“Yes.” Her voice was emotionless even as she ordered the death of a child. She was reason personified, sure of her place, certain of her righteousness. “It is born of the Dark Court, daughter of the Wild Hunt, of Gabriel himself. It will cause unacceptable complications if it lives.”
She stepped farther into the water. The waterfall paused mid-flow, so her words were the only sound in the suddenly silent room. “Correct this, Brother.”
He bowed, but she didn’t turn her gaze from the suspended flow of water, didn’t turn her attention to him as he left. She knew, though, where he was. The water crashed down louder than before as he exited the hall.
She knows even when she does not look. Devlin wondered sometimes just how much of his life Sorcha did see. He lived for her, at her will, and by her side. But I am not solely hers. She never forgot that truth. Out of earth and magic, will and need, the twins—Sorcha and Bananach—had made him, the first male faery. They’d needed both male and female to exist within their world, a balance in that, as in all things, was required.
Not son, but brother, she had told him. Like me, you are parentless.
Order and Discord made him as if carved of stone, a sculpture crafted by two who would never work together again. They gave him too many angular features and too many softened spots: his lips were too-full and his eyes too-cold. He was their best traits compromised. Where Bananach had hair of the purest black and Sorcha had multitoned hair of living flame, his was opalescent white: all colors shifting in and out of existence. They gave him purest-black eyes and strength not unlike Bananach’s, but none of her madness. They gave him tall stature and Sorcha’s love of art, but none of her physical restraint. Together, they’d made him a thing of extreme cruelty and extreme beauty.
And then they’d fought over his loyalty.
Ani pulled open a side door to the stable. It was as much a garage as a true stable, and as she walked through the cavernous building she drew in the mingled scents of diesel and straw, exhaust and sweat. Most of the creatures kept the illusion of vehicles when they were outside the building, but here, in their safe haven, the beasts roamed in whatever form they chose. One of the steeds crouched on a ledge under the skylight. It was something between an eagle and a lion; both feathers and fur covered a massive body. Several other steeds were lined up in a row of various motorcycles, cars, and trucks. One anomalous steed was a camel.
A Hound looked up from polishing a matte black Harley with plenty of chrome. The cloth in his hand was one of the many swaths of fabric imported from Faerie specifically for their steeds. “You looking for Chela?”
“No.” She stayed in the walkway, not invading his space or the steed’s yet. “Not Chela.”
Her father’s semiregular mate was a source of comfort, but Chela wanted to be more maternal than Ani could accept from her. Similarly, her father’s attempts at fatherhood veered toward something akin to mortal pretenses. She didn’t want a facsimile of a mortal family. She had a family, with Rabbit and Tish, her half-mortal siblings. During the past year when she had been brought to live in the Dark Court, she had hoped for something else: she wanted to be a true part of the Wild Hunt, a full member of her father’s pack. That hadn’t happened.
The Hound paused his steady motions only long enough to glance at her. “Gabriel’s not here either.”
“I know. I’m not looking for anyone in particular.” Ani came to the stall. “I just like it here.”
The Hound looked up and down the open aisle. This early no other Hound was in sight, but there were more than a score of steeds close enough to see them. “Do you need something?”
“Sure.” Ani leaned against the wall. It would be an insult not to flirt, even though they both knew action wasn’t possible. “A little fun. A little trouble. A ride …”
“Get the boss to agree”—the Hound’s eyes flashed a vibrant green—“and I’ll gladly take you.”
She knew her own eyes were shimmering with the same energy that she saw in his. They were both born of the Wild Hunt. They were the creatures that rode the earth, drawing out terror, exacting vengeance, unrestrained by order. They were the teeth and claws of Faerie, living now in the mortal world, bound to the Dark Court by their Gabriel.
A Gabriel who would chew up anyone who touched his daughter.
“You know he won’t give permission,” she admitted.
Her father was in charge. His rules meant that only one who could stand against him in a fight was allowed to date her.
Or anything else.
She looked at the Hound.
“If you weren’t his daughter, I’d risk it, but crossing Gabe isn’t something I’m going to do.”
Ani sighed, not in disappointment, but at the futility of ever getting a different answer. “I know.”
“Convince him that you’re not going to get broken by a little fun, and I’ll be in front of the line. Promise.” The Hound leaned forward to drop a quick kiss on her lips.
It was no more than a second of affection, but he was ripped away and hurled across the aisle toward the opposite stall. The thud of his body hitting the wooden slats covered most of the curses he was yelling.
“Don’t touch my pup.” Gabriel stood in the middle of the aisle. He was grinning, but his posture was one of menace. Of course, he was the Hound that controlled the Wild Hunt, so menace was as natural as breathing for him.
The Hound on the floor felt the back of his head as he leaned on one partition of the wooden stall. “Damn, Gabriel. I didn’t touch her.”
“Your lips were on hers. That’s touching,” Gabriel growled.
Ani stepped in front of her father and poked him in the chest. “Don’t act like it’s wrong for them to respond to me.”
He glared at her but didn’t lift a hand. “I am the Gabriel. I run this pack, and if any of them”—he looked past her to the Hound on the floor—“want to challenge me over you, all they need to do is say the word.”
The Hound on the floor spoke up. “I turned her down.”
“Not because she lacks anything,” Gabriel growled.
“No, no.” The Hound held up his hands. “She’s perfect, Gabe … but you said she was off-limits.”
Gabriel held a hand out to the Hound on the floor without looking at him.
The Hound glanced at her. “Sorry … I, umm, touched you.”
Ani rolled her eyes. “You’re a peach.”
“Sorry, Gabriel. It won’t happen again.” The Hound straddled his bike and left with a roar that was more growl than a real Harley’s engine could mimic.
For a heartbeat, it was perfectly quiet in the stable. The steeds stayed silent and motionless.
“My perfect pup.” Gabriel stepped up and ruffled her hair. “He doesn’t deserve you. None of them do.”
She shoved him away. “So, you’d rather I’m skin starved?”
Gabriel snorted. “You’re not starved.”
“I would be if I followed all of your rules,” she muttered.
“And I wouldn’t have so many rules if I thought you’d follow them all.” He threw a punch, which she dodged. It was nice, but not backed by the full force of his strength or weight. He always held back. That was insulting. If she were truly a part of the Hunt, he’d fight with her the way he fought with all the rest. He’d train her. He’d accept me in the pack.
“You suck at fatherhood, Gabe.” She turned away and started down the aisle.
He couldn’t taste her feelings, not like most of the Dark Court. Hounds weren’t nourished on the same things, so her emotions were hidden to them. The peculiarity of the Hunt’s inability to taste emotions while everyone around them could made them very blunt in their own expressions. It worked out well: Dark Court faeries were nourished by swallowing dark emotions; Hounds required physical touch for sustenance. So the Hunt caused the fear and terror that fed the court, and the court provided the touch the Hounds required. Ani was abnormal in that she needed both.
She didn’t stop walking. There was no way she was going to let him see the tears building in her eyes. Just another proof of my weakness. She gestured over her shoulder. “I get it, Daddy. I’m not welcome.”
Tears leaked onto her cheeks as she stopped in the doorway, but she didn’t turn back.
“Promise to follow the rules while we’re out, and you could probably borrow Che’s steed again tonight.” His voice held the hope he wouldn’t say aloud. “If she agrees.”
Ani turned then and smiled at him. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” He didn’t move, didn’t comment on the tears on her cheeks, but his voice softened and he added, “And I’m not an awful father.”
“I just don’t want to think about you wanting … things … or getting hurt.” Gabriel folded the cloth that the Hound had dropped, looking at it rather than at her. “Irial says you’re okay though. I ask. I do try.”
“I know.” She shook her hair back and struggled to be reasonable. That was the worst part sometimes; she did know that Gabriel tried. She knew he trusted Irial’s judgment, trusted Chela, trusted his pack. He’d never raised a daughter—these past few months that he’d had her around were the sum total of his father-daughter parenting experience. But, she’d never had pack hungers before either. It was a new experience all around.
Later, after she’d secured Chela’s consent, gone over the regular stay-close-to-Gabriel rules, and promised to stick with the pack, Ani was back in the stable with her father.
“If Che’s steed has anything to say, it’ll tell me, and I’ll tell you.” Gabriel’s reminder that she couldn’t hear Chela’s steed—that I’ll never hear one—was delivered with an ominous rumble in his voice. He was already feeling the heightened connection to the Hounds who were filling the aisles.
Somewhere in the distance, a howl rose like the scream of wind. Ani knew that only the Hunt heard it, but both mortal and faery felt it in the shivers that raced over suddenly chilled skin. To some, it was as if sirens came toward them, as if ambulances and police sped to them carrying words of sudden deaths or horrific accidents.
The Wild Hunt rides.
As Ani looked over the assembling Hounds, the green of their eyes and the clouds of their breath were clear. Wolves filled the room where the steeds were not. They would run between the hooves of the steeds, a roil of fur and teeth. Steed and wolf all waited for their Gabriel’s word to begin, to run, to chase those foolish enough to attract their attention. Terror built and filled the air with a prestorm charge. Those not belonging to the Hunt would have to struggle to breathe. Mortals on the nearby streets would cringe, scurry into their dens, or turn into other alleys. If they stayed, they’d not see the true face of the Hunt, but explain it away—earthquake? trains? storms? street fights?—with the willful ignorance mortals clung to so fiercely. They didn’t often stay; they ran. It was the order of things: prey runs, and predators pursue.
Her father, her Gabriel, strode through the room assessing them.
Ani felt the stroke of icy fingers on her skin as they prepared to ride. She bit down on her lip to keep from urging her father to sound the call. Her knuckles whitened as she clenched the edge of the wooden wall beside her. She looked at their horrible beauty and shivered.
If they were mine … I’d belong.
Then Gabriel was beside her.
“You are my pup, Ani.” Gabriel cupped her cheek in his massive hand. “To be worthy of you, any Hound would have to be willing to face me. He’d need to be strong enough to lead them.”
“I want to lead them,” she whispered. “I want to be their Gabrielle.”