Radiant ShadowsMelissa Marr
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?)
Devlin stood immobile as the spectral girl approached. The plume…
Ani pulled open a side door to the stable. It…
Devlin stepped into the High Queen’s private gardens. The ground…
Ani had gone to the Dark Kings’ home knowing it…
Rae walked into the image of a tiny kitchen. Ani…
Ani and Tish flung themselves down the street toward the…
Devlin watched for Seth as he walked through the crush…
Ani lost herself in the music and the thrashing sea…
Devlin stood shivering in the alley outside the Crow’s Nest.
Not long before dawn, Ani stood on the stoop of…
Ani felt like she’d just drifted off when she woke…
Rae returned to Faerie, to the cave that was her…
Ani pushed the covers off and stretched. She was even…
Devlin stood at the mouth of the alley as the…
It was finally dark in Faerie, so Rae took advantage…
Ani was still shaken hours after she left Bananach—a situation…
When Tish walked into the kitchen, she squealed as if…
Devlin waited to see how Ani would react. A sliver…
Rae didn’t truly sleep, but she could reach a meditative…
As Ani worked through her anger, Devlin stayed as silent…
The fight earlier that morning had left Ani edgy. She…
Devlin chastised himself as they sped along the freeway. He…
Rae had thought that being trapped in the cave was…
Devlin slid the key into the door of the motel…
Rae walked through the palace, peering out windows at Faerie.
Ani dreamed she was on a beach. Behind her were…
Devlin held Ani’s discarded shirt in his hands. He’d kissed…
Rae returned to the room where Sorcha slept. Outside the…
Ani didn’t steer; at the speeds they traveled back to…
Devlin had no words for Ani as she stood there…
Ani had heard and felt everything Devlin shared with Irial.
Bananach’s face was painted in patterns drawn in wet ashes…
As they made their way through the fracas, Ani kept…
Devlin watched his sister, his queen, leave. There were so…
Devlin stood in his rooms with Ani and Rae. After…
Devlin opened his eyes to find Rae and Ani both…
Devlin stared through the veil. He raised one hand to…
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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. She did not falter at the sight of his opalescent hair or inhuman eyes; she did not flinch at his angular features or otherworldly stillness. He wasn’t sure what reaction he expected: he’d never been viewed as he truly was by a mortal. Over in their world, he wore a glamour to appear like them. Here, he was known for what he was, the Queen’s Bloodied Hands. The girl’s assessment was a singular event.
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 the
re 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?”
p; “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 father- hood 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.