The Dragonni have established their theme park, but they may not have time to spin out their web, because Echidna calls out Typhon and the Father and Mother of All Dragons prepare to go to war.

Ember and the Wild Hunt are there to witness the battle, but when Echidna and Typhon rise against each other, the resulting shockwave sends Ember, Angel, and Raven into the realm of Caer Arianrhod--the Castle of the Silver Wheel. Now, they must hurry to find their way back home before the Star Hounds of Arianrhod hunt them down and destroy them.

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Chapter 1

“If you don’t stand still, I’m going to stab you with a pin.” Miss Evelyn wasn’t joking. Currently with a mouthful of pins, the elderly woman was as spry as anyone I’d ever met, and more ferocious than most. She stood about five-two, though she looked shorter because of the dowager’s hump on her back, and her gray hair was smoothed into a beehive. She should have been in an old-fashioned retro housedress, but instead she wore blue jeans and a gingham shirt—which looked entirely out of place on the otherwise prim and proper seamstress.

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I stopped fidgeting. I had been standing on the chair for fifteen minutes, but I fought back a snarky reply because A) Sheila was watching, and since we were being fitted for bridesmaids’ dresses and she was paying for them, I didn’t want to come off as whiny, and B) I had agreed to this and so I was going to carry through with a stiff upper lip while hoping for as few pinpricks as possible. So far, Miss Evelyn had managed to stick me three times, but then again, I hadn’t done my best to stand still and let her work.

I glanced down at Angel, who smirked at me. She was sitting on the sofa of the Lace & Satin Dress Salon, which was the name of Miss Evelyn’s shop. I stuck my tongue out at her.

“It will be your turn next, so laugh all you want,” I said, holding still as a statue.

“Haven’t you ever had a dress made?” Miss Evelyn asked. It was always “Miss” Evelyn. Sheila had emphasized that when she had given us the address. She had also warned against being too flippant. Apparently, Miss Evelyn was a seamstress of some renown and in her younger days had worked in Hollywood as a costumer. She had the awards to prove it.

I started to shake my head, then stopped. “No, actually, I haven’t. Though that’s going to change soon.” Morgana had notified me that her dressmakers were preparing to make my wedding dress and I’d be needed over in Annwn for custom fittings soon.

“Well, then you’ll be ready for the next designer,” Miss Evelyn said, sounding all too satisfied. “Here, another few pins and we’ll be done.”

The dress was unlike most bridesmaids’ dresses, thank gods. No poufy sleeves, no lime-green neon colors. Instead, Sheila had opted to wear red to her wedding, and the bridesmaids were being fitted for knee-length pale pink chiffon dresses. We would have pink hats and gloves. Viktor’s tux was going to be black, and his groomsmen were wearing rose boutonnieres to match our dress colors. This was perhaps the most girly thing I had ever worn. The color didn’t suit me, but the dress itself was lovely, and made up for making me feel a little washed out.

Miss Evelyn finished with me and motioned me down from the chair. I cautiously slid out of the dress with her help, only once scratching myself on the pins, and with a sigh of relief, slipped back into my jeans and sweater.

Angel took my place on the chair, and with a flurry of measuring tape and pins, the seamstress began working her way around the hem.

As I watched, the tinkle of a bell from the front of the shop announced another customer. A moment later, the clerk opened the door to the sewing room and I jumped up, squealing as I saw Raven standing there. I held out my arms and she rushed over for a flurry of hugs.

“Raven!” Angel said, standing perfectly still.

“Oh good, I was wondering if you were going to join us today,” Miss Evelyn said.

Raven slid out of her jacket. “Sorry, it took awhile to make it to the…” She paused, glancing at me. She had been about to say “portal,” but a lot of people didn’t know about them. It wasn’t in anybody’s best interests to alert the general population to the portals, even though their existence wasn’t exactly a secret.

“It took me awhile to get here. Traffic sucks.” She dropped her coat next to mine on the other end of the sofa and gave me a long hug.

“How are you doing?” I asked, holding her back by the shoulders so I could get a look at her. There was something different, though maybe I was seeing it because I was expecting it. Raven had recently left the Eastside to live in the realm of Kalevala, where all the Finnish heroes and gods hearkened from. Much like Annwn, it was a step away from our technology and modern life. It was hard to imagine her liking it much, but she had an air of contentedness about her that I had never before noticed.

“I’m good,” she said. “So’s Raj. Kipa’s over at the Wild Hunt right now—he tagged along to visit. We’ll stay for a few days, then return for the wedding.”

I glanced at Miss Evelyn, who was absorbed in her hemming. “You look good. Do you really like it there?” I asked, lowering my voice.

Raven thought for a moment, then nodded. “It’s different. I’m still getting acclimated to the new surroundings, but I’ve begun my training and that’s fun. Mostly, right now, I’m learning to identify the different trees and plants in the forest. I’m not sure where this will lead, but I trust that Väinämöinen knows what he’s doing.”

“How’s Raj taking the no-TV thing?”

Raven’s gargoyle, who was both companion and pet, had been sorely distressed when he found out they were facing at least a year without TV.

“He’s at the house, binge-watching all his DVR’d shows. I promised we’d come back once a month for a weekend, if training permits, so he can keep abreast of them. I doubt we’ll pry him off the sofa till it’s time to go back,” she said with a laugh.

I snickered. “I want to hear all about the training.” I paused as my phone jangled. Herne was texting me.

as soon as you can, get back to the wild hunt. morgana and cernunnos will be here at noon to talk to us. bring angel and raven.

I glanced up. “As soon as we can, we need to get back to work. I just got a text from Herne.”

Miss Evelyn glanced at Raven. “I’ll need another twenty minutes or so. I’m almost done with Angel’s dress. Raven, if you would like to change into your dress, we can get right to it when I’m done hemming Angel’s.”

Raven plucked her dress off the dress rack and began to take off her gear. She was, as usual, decked out in a chiffon skirt over a tulle petticoat, a jacquard corset, striped leggings, and platform boots. You could take Raven out of the goth scene, but you could never remove the goth scene from Raven.

As she changed places with Angel, I kept looking at Herne’s text. I texted him that we’d be there within the hour and then settled back to wait, but in the back of my mind, a little voice whispered we were about to dive headfirst into something big.

***

We headed back to the office, stopping to pick up four pizzas. The Make-It-Take-It franchise that had moved in near the office had pizzas steaming hot and ready to go, and they were always fresh. We bought four pepperoni with extra cheese pies, and made it back at the Wild Hunt by eleven forty-five. As we entered the waiting room, Talia jumped up from Angel’s desk, where she had been fielding calls.

She pointed to the break room. “Herne’s in there with his parents and Kipa. He’s asked the rest of us to join them at noon, and by the looks on Morgana’s and Cernunnos’s faces, whatever’s going down is big.” Talia looked like a woman in her mid-sixties, with gorgeous silver hair down to her back, but in reality she was a harpy who had lost her powers. Morgana had given her the power of glamour so she could exist in human society, and Talia had chosen the form of a woman she felt wouldn’t be under constant scrutiny but who also wasn’t old enough to be ignored.

She glanced at me. “I think I know what it is.”

Angel took her seat and put her purse away. “Echidna?”

Talia nodded. “I believe so.”

I headed to my office to stow my purse and motioned for Raven to follow me. “Come on, you can drop your things off in my office.”

I gathered my tablet and a notepad and everything else that I thought I’d need. “If Talia’s right, then we’re near the end point.”

Echidna was the Mother of All Dragons, and we had managed to locate her after much searching. She was the only one who could stop Typhon—her former mate and the Father of All Dragons—from trying to take over the world.

Typhon was trying to conquer on a two-fold front.

The dragons had returned to Earth from their realm after being locked away for thousands of years. Typhon was an avaricious monster, born of two Titans, who was out to enslave the Earth. But he was cunning and had been doing his best to infiltrate society through his children, to win the humans’ good will and confidence. But we knew what hid below that spectacular guise—a sly viciousness looking to use humanity for his own private food supply. But the only way we could stop him was for Echidna to go up against him and drive him back into stasis.

“End point. And to what end?” Raven shook her head. “I have a strong feeling of foreboding. I’m grateful I’m living in Kalevala right now. Sure, we’re on the doorstep of Pohjola, which is pretty much Evil-Land, but an arrow can bring down some of the strongest opponents. Bringing down a dragon? Not so easy.”

I bit my lip. I had been thinking about all of this lately, too. “I wonder if we’ll all end up away from our homeland. If needed, we’ll pull back to Annwn. I was going to ask you to come with us if we do so, but I guess you and Kipa are fine where you are.”

She nodded. “Yeah. It’s so different, Ember. Some mornings I wake up to the soft fall of snow on the ground, and I listen but there’s no sound of traffic, no sound of planes, and everything feels incredibly peaceful. At other times, I’ll be standing outside, looking at the forests that seem to stretch along forever, and I feel a haunting loneliness. The land there is changing me. I feel stronger, almost a little harsher but not in a brusque way. I understand why the people who live in the northern areas of the world seem so stoic and almost a little brutal. You have to harden up to withstand the cold and the isolation.”

She sounded almost teary-eyed, but her eyes were dry and it was then that I realized she was accepting her fate—not fighting it. Some people fought their destiny. But Raven had changed, and she seemed reconciled to the differences in her life.

“Are you happy, though? Are you glad you made the decision that you did?”

She thought about it for a moment. “Yes, I can say that, and with all honesty. Just because I’m having to adapt doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I loved my life here, but I’m learning to love life there, too. Kipa—oh, you should see him. He wears an apron and keeps the cottage clean and cooks for us. And I go every day to Van’s cabin—that’s what Väinämöinen lets me call him—and learn. We walk in the woods and he points out different varieties of trees and plants and animals, so that I can learn to identify them both in summer and winter. We talk about magic, and I think I’ve learned more in the past few weeks than in my lifetime.”

“Does your mother come visit you?” I asked.

“Yes, she does. My father is trying to be as helpful as he can. I think the realization of what he did to me almost broke him.”

“How about the ferrets?”

“They love it. Kipa’s set up a room for them, and he’s built an enclosed run so they can go outside if they want.” She paused, then said, “I’ve never told you the truth about the ferrets, have I?”

I paused, glancing over at her as she settled on the loveseat in my office. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’ve never told you how I found them. Or what they truly are.” She ducked her head. “I think maybe it’s time. Because Väinämöinen is positive he can help them.”

“Help them? What do you mean?” I put down my tablet and leaned back in my chair. We still had a few minutes. All I knew about her ferrets was that both Angel and Talia had felt odd energies from their room at one point.

Raven took a deep breath. “The truth is, they aren’t ferrets. Back in the 1980s, I was up on Mount Rainier camping. I found three spirits trapped in a tree. Long story short, I tried to free them but set off a hex and ended up trapping them in the bodies of ferrets. I’ve been taking care of them ever since, trying to find a way to break the curse.”

I blinked. “What?” I was about to ask why she hadn’t told us, but then reminded myself that we all had secrets, and sometimes we had good reasons for hiding things.

But she seemed to read my mind. “I didn’t tell you because I’ve always felt such a responsibility for them, and somehow, it felt dangerous to tell anybody. But now…we have so much protection in that cottage. Van himself dropped by and set up our wards.”

“What happens if you can free the ferrets from their curse?”

“Then they’ll move on in the spirit world, but that feels like the right thing to do. Templeton has slid into his ferret nature, though—until he’s freed, he’ll be full ferret. Gordon’s trying to hold on to himself, and Elise manages better than the other two. She can communicate with me. But the trip through the portals seems to have shifted things so that Templeton’s fully gone. His spirit is buried under the ferret nature now and there’s no going back.” She glanced at the clock. “We’d better get in there.”

I nodded, still absorbing the fact that Raven had been babysitting three spirits for nearly forty years. She was a collector of strays, I thought. She gathered unwanted and tormented strays to her, and took them under her wing. And that seemed a beautiful thing.

***

As we passed Talia’s and Yutani’s office, they joined us. Viktor jogged down the hall from where he had been inventorying the stock room, and I poked him in the arm.

“We got our bridesmaids’ dresses hemmed today.”

He snorted. “I bet that was fun for Miss Evelyn. And before you ask, yes, everybody calls her that. She’s a whiz with the needle and sewing machine, and makes all of Sheila’s regalia for her magic. She’s also making my tux.”

The thought of Miss Evelyn ordering Viktor to hold still or she’d jab him with a pin made me laugh. Viktor gave me a long look, but said nothing as we entered the break room.

Herne was there and he gave me a quick kiss, motioning for me to sit beside him. On the other side of the table sat his father and mother—Cernunnos, who was Lord of the Forest, and Morgana, Lady of the Fae and the Sea. Cernunnos was dressed as normally for being outside of Annwn as he ever could be, wearing jeans, a pair of motorcycle boots, and a muscle shirt, with a bulky bear fur cloak over his shoulders. His dreadlocks were caught back by a thick tie, and his eyes glowed, gleaming like a cat’s.

Morgana, on the other hand, was wearing a pair of white jeans with a long, cold-shoulder tunic of swirling violets and blues over the top. She had belted it with a silver belt, and her jacket was military-style, to mid-thigh. She had on knee-high leather boots with a thick platform heel, and her abundant hair was caught up in a high ponytail.

They waited for us to sit down, and Angel brought in the pizzas. As we served ourselves, no one made small talk. The tension in the room was so thick that it made it hard to breathe. Both god and goddess politely refused food, their impatience showing.

Once we were all settled, Cernunnos motioned to Herne. “Go ahead, son. Tell them what we told you.”

Herne cleared his throat. I could tell that he was nervous—he glanced at his father a couple times before beginning. “Echidna is ready to go against Typhon. We’re at the eve of battle. She’s called him out, trying to lure him over the Puget Sound so their battle won’t endanger the city. The question is, will he respond? Will he launch an attack before she can maneuver out over the water? Because she called him out, he’s allowed to pick the place of combat, which is a worry.”

I stared at him. “Why does he get to set any rules at all?”

“Because among the Dragonni this is considered a duel, which means that the loser will be bound by the winner’s desire. If someone tried to attack Typhon without a formal declaration, all the other Dragonni who choose to follow him could demand blood payment if he lost. And if he didn’t lose, he could go back against his opponent with all gloves off.” Herne frowned. “It’s complicated, but setting it within the parameter of a duel means that Typhon can’t claim revenge if Echidna wins. He’d have to yield and bow to her conditions.”

“So if the fight isn’t defined in the beginning, then it’s all gloves off and damned be collateral damage. But if it’s set as a duel, that will minimize collateral damage.” I was beginning to get the picture.

“Right. If he loses, he must accede to her demands. But he won’t surrender. He’ll fight as long as he can. Neither can die, but they can be hurt so gravely that it would take them years to recover.”

Angel rubbed her temple. “What if she loses?”

Cernunnos lowered his chin, his eyes solemn. “Then we’ll have a massive problem because he will be without mercy.”

“So what do we do?” I asked.

“Be prepared. We still don’t know if he knew that she was around. It seems a hard thing to hide, but who knows? Maybe if he didn’t, the summons will throw a scare into him and he’ll leave. I doubt it, but we can hope. You will all be responsible for cleaning up collateral damage as best as you can.”

“What about the Dragonni Village?” The theme park had been started by the Luminous Warriors—those dragons who aligned themselves with Typhon—and it was now up and running. The mayor had cleared the way for it, oblivious to the danger. Or maybe she was getting paid off, but whatever the case, they had insinuated themselves into society and had been chipping away at the fear surrounding them.

We couldn’t come out and tell the populace what the dragons were up to because…well…panic. But we had tried to convince the governments that it was dangerous to allow the dragons leeway. So far, half the officials believed us and the other half thought “dragon” equaled “treasure hoard” and their greed was winning out.

The vampires, on the other hand, had retreated far out of the dragons’ reach. Typhon’s father was a god of the dead, and so when Typhon had reentered this world, the dead had begun to rise and walk, spurred on by his presence. There were questions as to whether the Father of All Dragons could control the vamps, so the Vampire Nation, in its wisdom, had ordered the vampires to retreat into the underground, leaving the upper levels of the cities in case Typhon could actually wield power over them.

I sighed. “What if he wins? What if Typhon manages to kill Echidna?”

“He cannot kill her, since they’re both immortal. But he might be able to defeat her.” Morgana, who was not only my future mother-in-law but my goddess, held my gaze. “Then we will have work to do. And you and the members of this agency will retreat to Annwn.”

With that, we all fell silent, thinking about the battle and what the future might hold for all of us.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for Veil of Stars

Air: Moon Fever; Playground Love; Napalm Love
Airstream: Electra (Religion Cut)
Alexandros: Milk (Bleach Version); Mosquito Bite
Android Lust: Here & Now; Saint Over
The Black Angels: Currency; Hunt Me Down; Death March; Indigo Meadow; Don’t Play With Guns; Always Maybe; Black Isn’t Black
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
The Bravery: Believe
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Danny Cudd: Double D; Remind; Once Again; Timelessly Free; To the Mirage
DJ Shah: Mellomaniac
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being
Eels: Love of the Loveless; Souljacker Part 1
FC Kahuna: Hayling
The Feeling: Sewn
Fluke: Absurd
Foster The People: Pumped Up Kicks
Garbage: Queer; Only Happy When It Rains; #1Crush; Push It; I Think I’m Paranoid
Gary Numan: Hybrid; Cars; Petals; Ghost Nation; My Name Is Ruin; Pray for the Pain You Serve; I Am Dust; Betrayed; The Gift; I Am Screaming; Intruder; Is This World Not Enough; A Black Sun; The Chosen; And It Breaks Me Again; Saints And Liars; Now And Forever; The End of Dragons; When You Fall
Godsmack: Voodoo
The Gospel Whisky Runners: Muddy Waters
Hang Massive: Omat Odat; Released Upon Inception; Thingless Things; Boat Ride; Transition to Dreams; End of Sky; Warmth of the Sun’s Rays; Luminous Emptiness
The Hu: The Gereg; Wolf Totem
Imagine Dragons: Natural
In Strict Confidence: Snow White; Tiefer; Silver Bullets; Forbidden Fruit
J Rokka: Marine Migration
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat; Royals
Low: Witches; Nightingale; Plastic Cup; Monkey; Half-Light
M.I.A.: Bad Girls
Many Rivers Ensemble: Blood Moon; Oasis; Upwelling; Emergence
Marconi Union: First Light; Alone Together; Flying (In Crimson Skies); Always Numb; Time Lapse; On Reflection; Broken Colours; We Travel; Weightless
Matt Corby: Breathe
Pati Yang: All That Is Thirst
Rue du Soleil: We Can Fly; Le Francaise; Wake Up Brother; Blues Du Soleil
Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet; All I Know
Shriekback: Underwater Boys; Over the Wire; This Big Hush; Agony Box; Bollo Rex; Putting All The Lights Out; The Fire Has Brought Us Together; Shovelheads; And the Rain; Wiggle & Drone; Now These Days Are Gone; The King in the Tree
Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; Violet’s in a Pool
Thomas Newman: Dead Already
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Trills: Speak Loud
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow

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Veil of Stars