Copyright © 2012 Rachel Morgan
Cover Design by Rachel Morgan
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.
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Kindle ebook ISBN: 978-0-9870290-2-7
Smashwords ebook ISBN: 978-0-9870290-3-4
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Next Installment in the Series
About the Author
You are my sunshine.
I reach the end of the empty Guild corridor for the millionth time. I turn automatically and continue pacing. If anyone asks, I’m attempting to wear a path into the wooden floor using only the power of a pair of high-heeled shoes. The truth, however, is far less glamorous. I’m a disgraced faerie about to be chewed apart by the Guild Council for breaking the Law.
My left ankle twists to the side as I take another wonky step forward. Stupid shoes. I’d like to meet the idiots who decided to camouflage a torture device as a human fashion item. I’d show them there are far better things one can do with a pointy heel.
I sit down on the bench opposite the only door on this corridor and twist my hands together in my lap. The Council should have called me in at least ten minutes ago; I think the six of them are making sure I’m well and truly terrified before they interrogate me about my supposed crimes. The crimes that weren’t even my fault. How could I help revealing myself to a human boy when that boy just happens to be able to see through faerie glamours? Besides, Nate was the one who followed me through the faerie paths back to Creepy Hollow.
I hear footsteps coming down the corridor. I put my head in my hands, making sure my fingers cover my face. Keep walking, keep walking, I urge the footsteps. But they stop. I spread my fingers apart and see a pair of black boots with a twisting pattern of thorns engraved into the chunky metal buckles.
My heart sinks.
Fantastic. Just make my day even worse, why don’t you?
I raise my head and meet Ryn’s bright blue gaze. He sits on the bench opposite me. This isn’t a coincidence. He has no reason to be here other than to torment me. “I hear you had fun on the way back to the human’s house,” he says. His eyes travel to the scar that bracelets my wrist. “And you had a make-out session with him on his front lawn.”
“Back lawn, actually.” I try to keep my voice even, but I have a sudden urge to punch the wall. I’m going to kill Flint. I didn’t know he’d seen that kiss.
“Too bad your human doesn’t remember anything now. I bet that kiss was incredible.” Ryn sticks his tongue out and pretends to slobber all over himself. Delightful.
“How old are you again?” I ask. I’d like to shove his tongue down his throat. I’m relieved he thinks Nate doesn’t remember anything though. I’ve spent the past few days living in fear that someone will find out what I did. Or, more accurately, what I didn’t do.
Ryn opens his mouth to answer, then freezes. His eyes slide from mine and settle on . . . my ear? I clutch my earlobe and feel the slender arrow-shaped earring. I took Nate’s advice and decided to just wear the darn things instead of carrying them around in the sole of my boot. Now I remember why I stopped wearing them in the first place: I’ve never liked it when Ryn looks at me like he wants to kill me.
The door beside Ryn opens and the youngest member of the Council pokes her blue and blonde head out. “We’ll see you now, Miss Fairdale.”
I stand up and walk to the door. Ryn’s eyes never leave me. “Break a leg,” he says, his voice like thin ice. I don’t think he means it the way humans do.
The first thing I do when I get home is remove the shoes. I’d like to snap the damn heels right off, but since they belong to my mentor Tora, that probably wouldn’t be a good idea. I toss the shoes onto the couch, waking Filigree, who shifts into porcupine form in fright. When he sees it’s only me, he shifts back to the white mink version of himself, sits upright, and cocks his head to one side.
“You don’t want to know,” I tell him as I head for the stairs. “Let’s just say I’m glad it’s over.” I run up to my bedroom, peeling off Raven’s dress as I go—Tora refused to let me face the Council in my everyday creature-butt-kicking clothes. The dress lands on my bed. I yank open a drawer and pull out the first pants and top I see. There’s no point in searching through the pile. Everything I own is pretty much the same: dark, close-fitting, and easy to move in. This particular top has strips of leather crisscrossing over it, in case I feel the need to secure a few weapons to my body. Fortunately, right now, I don’t.
I jump down the stairs two at a time and skid into the kitchen. I grab an apple from the bowl of fruit and munch it down while Filigree helps himself to a few roasted nixles from a jar on the counter. “I’ll be back later,” I say, patting him on the head with one hand and reaching for my stylus with the other. He narrows his black eyes at me. “I know, I know, I’m breaking more rules. You don’t have to remind me.”
Ignoring the now familiar stab of guilt, I open a doorway on my curved kitchen wall, step through, and bring up an image of Nate’s bedroom in my mind. Perhaps if I concentrate hard enough I can land exactly . . . on . . .
I drop out of the blackness of the faerie paths, hit the edge of the bed, and fall onto the floor. Oops. So much for a perfect landing. I’m up in an instant, my face flaming, but there seems to be no one here. Well, I don’t mind waiting for Nate to get back from wherever he went. It’s not as though I have anything else to do now that I’m banned from entering the Guild for a week.
I wander around Nate’s bedroom. His shelves are a mess of old children’s books, DVDs, tiny cars gathering dust, and several different chess sets. Papers and notebooks cover his desk, and the computer emits a low hum. A chemistry textbook lies in the middle of the bed, a ruler sticking out between the pages. I stretch across the bed and open to the page the ruler marks. Letters, numbers and arrows are scrawled within the margins. I twist a strand of purple hair around my finger as I try to interpret the notations.
“Vi, hey!” I snap the book shut and look up to see Nate standing in the doorway. He pulls the door closed behind him and walks to the bed. “You know, normal people would use the front door,” he says.
“Normal people wouldn’t even be able to see that I’m here,” I tell him as I sit up.
He moves the textbook aside and sits on the edge of the bed beside me. “I guess neither of us is normal then.”
I angle my head down and peer up at him through my lashes in what I hope is an alluring manner. I have zero experience in this area though, so it’s possible I look like a total moron. But I must be doing something right, because Nate leans closer and raises his hand to brush his knuckles against my cheek. His gaze slips down to my mouth, and he tilts his head forward. Finally, I think. Finally, finally. He hasn’t kissed me since that night on the grass. I’ve only been able to visit him once since then. His parents were having a loud discussion in the room next door—a definite mood-killer—then his friend phoned to ask about homework, and then Tora sent a message wanting to know why I
hadn’t heard her knocking at my house.
I’m about to close my eyes when Nate stops. “Oh, the hearing.” He pulls away from me. “How was it?”
I let out a long sigh and drag myself across the bed to lean against the footboard. “After a lengthy debate, the Council decided perhaps it wasn’t my fault I brought you back to Creepy Hollow—”
“—but since it’s such an important rule and I need to be made an example of, blah blah blah, I failed the assignment.” Nate’s face falls. “And,” I add with a grimace, “the Council decided to suspend me for a week, meaning I don’t get to go in and train, and I’ll miss whatever assignments are given out.”
Nate’s hand brushes against my foot. “But you’ll have plenty of time to hang out with me.” He smiles, and something flutters in the region of my stomach. Tora’s imaginary voice reminds me how much trouble I’d be in if anyone knew I was here. I tell the voice to get lost.
“So have you found anything of your mother’s yet?” I ask Nate as I push myself up and cross my legs. Without any Guild assignments to occupy my time, I’m probably going to go into some kind of withdrawal. I need a ‘project’ to keep me occupied, and trying to get Nate to kiss me again doesn’t count.
“No. I finished going through my dad’s study when I got home this afternoon, but I can’t find anything that seems even remotely connected to my real mother.” He hesitates, and a lopsided grin forms on his face. “Have I mentioned how unreal it is when you just appear in my bedroom?”
Tora’s imaginary voice: GET OUT OF HIS BEDROOM.
“Unreal in a good way, of course,” Nate hurries on when I don’t answer. He pushes a lock of golden brown hair out of his eyes. “I wish you’d do it more often.”
I smile shyly. “I was kind of hoping you’d come and visit my bed—house, I mean house—sometime.” CRAP! I’m not sure who’s blushing more right now.
A moment of awkward silence passes before Nate says, “So you have a house then? It’s not a magical tree like your fancy Guild?”
I throw a few purple sparks in his direction, aware he’s making fun of me. “What’s wrong with a magical tree?”
The sparks turn into beetles that buzz around Nate’s head. He swats them away, laughing. “So you do live in a tree then?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. We all do. It looks like a regular tree from the outside, but once you step inside—”
“—it’s actually a faerie castle with a mermaid-filled fountain in the atrium and unicorns standing guard at the door?”
I cross my arms. “No, Nate. It’s like a normal home. It’s just round instead of square.”
“Oh. That’s boring.”
I suppose it would be for someone who lives in this neighborhood. “Look, Nate, we can’t all be as wealthy as—”
“I’m joking, Vi!” He leans forward and grabs my hand. “It sounds, well, impossible to fit a normal home inside a tree. But that’s magic, right?”
“Well, it’s not like the house is inside a tree,” I explain. “It’s powerful glamour magic that conceals the house so that when you look at it you only see a tree.”
“Whatever it is, I’d love to visit you there and meet your friends and learn more about your world.”
Right. I haven’t actually mentioned to Nate that he’s never allowed to meet anyone I know. And it’s not like I have any friends to introduce him to anyway. Training overtime and taking on extra assignments haven’t left much time for friendship. I also have a suspicion Ryn spreads rumors about me behind my back.
“That’s pretty,” says Nate. I realize he’s looking at the ring on my finger.
“Oh, thanks. Since I’m not allowed to fight anyone for the next few days, I thought I’d get some wear out of the few items of jewelry I own.”
“Who’s it from?” Nate lifts my hand and examines the purple stone with its unusual gold flecks.
“It’s my tokehari from my father.”
“Toke-ah-what-ee?” Nate lowers my hand but doesn’t let go. His thumb moves in random patterns across my hand. It’s ticklish, but in the best possible way.
“It’s an old tradition,” I explain, trying hard to control the goose bumps rising on my arms. “Guardians are always aware that each assignment may be their last, so every guardian parent puts away a special item for each of their children. Of course, children may end up inheriting many things if their parents die, but the tokehari is special.”
“Special as in . . . magic special?”
“Possibly, but they don’t have to be magical items. This is just a ring that my grandfather gave my grandmother. My father inherited it, and when I was born he obviously decided to leave it to me.”
“Cool,” says Nate. “Did your mother leave you something?”
“Uh, yes. A necklace. Anyway, have you searched your father’s bedroom yet?”
“Hmm?” Nate looks confused at the sudden change of subject. “Oh. No, but we could do it now.” He jumps off the bed. “It’s Lucinda’s day off so there’s no one here but us.” I meet his gaze as I climb off the bed, and something tells me there’s another meaning behind his words.
Tora’s imaginary voice: DO NOT GET BACK ON THAT BED WITH HIM.
I sigh inwardly. If it’s not Nate’s parents killing the mood, it’s my guilty conscience. I tear my eyes away from Nate. “Okay, lead the way then.”
We cross his oversized bedroom and walk down the passage that leads to the rest of the house. The first door we pass is closed, but the second has been left ajar. Nate pushes it open and pulls me inside. My feet sink into the thick carpet.
Nate spreads his arms. “Where do you want to start?”
My eyes brush over the bed, the dressing table, the sepia-toned artwork on the walls. “Well, if I wanted to put something away where no one would find it, I’d go for . . . the closet?” Nate walks across the room and flings open the doors to the walk-in closet. It’s larger than my bathing room.
“Dad’s stuff is on the right,” says Nate, his hand trailing over the shirts and jackets. The hangers squeak as they swing back and forth on the rail. The smell of cologne lingers.
“Your dad probably wouldn’t like me using his shelves as a ladder, would he?”
“Probably not. But he wouldn’t like you digging through his belongings either, and we’re not about to ask his permission to do that, so climb away.”
I lift my foot onto the first shelf as Nate starts going through drawers of socks, ties and underwear. I keep climbing until my head is level with the open space that runs along the top of the whole closet. “Lots of boxes up here,” I say, my fingers gripping the dust-covered plywood. “And files and photo albums and books. I’ll bring them down.” I jump onto the carpet.
“Why don’t you just pass them to—” Nate stops talking and forgets to close his mouth as the boxes float, one by one, down to the floor.
“Faerie, remember?” I say, settling on the floor and crossing my legs beneath me.
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to get used to this.” He sits opposite me and starts paging through a file while I pull the lid off one of the shoeboxes. It’s filled with old birthday cards and several loose photographs.
“Is this her?” I ask. Nate reaches for the photo.
“No, that’s my mom. Step-mom, I mean.” He turns it over and looks at a date written on the back. “From before she married my dad.” He drops the photo back into the box, and I move it to one side, reaching for the next box.
“Okay, nothing useful in there,” I say, after I’ve sifted through the crayon drawings and toddler photographs. “Just a whole lot of photos of you looking even more gorgeous than you do now.” Nate coughs and looks up at me.
Crap, did I say that out loud?
I look down at my feet, wishing I could hide my blush behind a glamour. “Um, what’s her name? Your birth mother.”
Nate turns back to the file on his lap. “Angelica. I don’t remember he
r surname though.”
“Do you know why she left?”
He shakes his head. “Dad always says she was never cut out for family life. Even after she discovered she was pregnant with me, she still didn’t want to marry Dad. He likes to tell me that she loved me, but I’m pretty sure he only says that to make me feel better.” Nate closes the file and pulls another one onto his lap. “I mean, if she loved me, then why did she just leave one day?”
My fingers trace the embossed title of an old hard-covered book. “Maybe something happened, and she didn’t have a choice but to leave.”
“Well, whatever.” Nate flips through a few more plastic sleeves. “It worked out for the best. My step-mom is pretty cool, as far as moms go.”
I slide my fingers beneath the book’s cover and push it back, listening to the creak of the ancient spine. And there, in the overly-neat handwriting of a child, is her name.
“Angelica!” I blurt out.
“What?” Nate’s head snaps up.
“It’s here. Her name. This was her book.” I pass it to him, and a bookmark falls from between the pages. Retrieving it from the box of photos into which it fell, I see that it isn’t a bookmark after all, but a thin metal disc, tarnished with age. A symbol of a griffin with a serpent for a tail is engraved into its surface. Something stirs in my memory.
“What’s that?” asks Nate.
I shake my head, turning the disc over. The reverse of the same pattern is on the other side. “I don’t know, but it’s weird. I feel like I’ve seen this symbol before.”
Nate takes the disc. “Haven’t lots of people? I mean, it’s a griffin, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but griffins don’t usually have serpent tails. They have a lion’s body, which means they also have a lion’s tail. But this one has an actual serpent where the tail should be. And see the way the serpent curls up, making a circle around the griffin?” Nate nods. “I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this exact one before. On a textbook maybe. Like on the spine.”