WITCHING HOUR:
Wild Hunt, Book 7: An Ante-Fae Adventure
Due out July 8, 2019

When you dance with death, you have to learn how to roll the bones...

Raven BoneTalker, also known as the Daughter of Bones, is one of the Ante-Fae—the dangerous, unpredictable predecessors to the Fae Races. But Raven is young, and she likes interacting with mortals, so she’s opened a business—the Witching Hour—where she takes on clients with ghostly problems. Mostly she reads cards, boots out the odd poltergeist, or helps grieving families contact their loved ones for closure.

But when Lana, one of her friends, comes begging for help, things take a dark turn. Raven investigates what seems like a simple haunting on the surface. But the more she delves into the case, the more she realizes that this is no simple ghost. As Raven untangles a web of secrets and deceits kept for over fifty years, she finds herself in danger, facing not only a ghostly threat, but also a danger that is very much alive.

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Chapter 1

The crash from the living room startled me out of the book I was reading. I tossed my tablet on the bed and raced out to the living room, praying it wasn’t what I thought it was. But sure enough, there in the center of the room stood Raj, my gargoyle, amidst the shattered remains of a lead crystal sculpture of a dolphin. Raj glanced around at the shimmering glass that covered my wood floor, then looked up at me, a guilty look on his face.

“Oh Raj, I just bought that!” I had brought the sculpture home the day before and Raj had been absolutely fascinated with it. I’d had to tell him three times to leave it alone. He kept wanting to pick it up and play with the pretty fishie. But gargoyles’ hands are clumsy and big—it helps with their balance since they walk on their knuckles, like an orangutan or a gorilla—and the sculpture was delicate. The crystal figurine must have slipped out of his grasp.

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“I told you not to touch the dolphin.” I let out a long sigh and headed for the kitchen to get the broom and dustpan. Over my shoulder, I shouted, “You stay where you are. I don’t want you getting glass shards cutting your feet.”

“Sorry,” came the grumbly reply. Raj didn’t have a good singing voice, that was for sure.

In fact, few people understood that gargoyles could speak when they wanted to. Among the general populace that even knew about their existence—as anything other than as the stone caricatures on the sides of old cathedrals—it wasn’t commonly recognized that gargoyles could, and did, speak with humans, Fae, or anyone else for that matter.

Gargoyles had their own language, of course, but I spoke English with Raj, wanting him to understand the majority of my friends who came over, even if he didn’t talk to them. But he had learned a few words of daelethi, the ancient language used among my people.

I marched back into the living room, armed with the dustpan and broom. “Raj, I told you not to touch the statue. You do remember that, right?”

He gave me an unhappy nod. “Raj remembers.”

“Then why did you do it?” I asked, crouching as I began to sweep the pieces of crystal into the pan.

“It was so pretty. Raj wanted to touch it. It looked like water.” Raj let out a whimper. “Raj is sorry.”

I let out another sigh. I found it impossible to stay angry at him.

“All right. From now on, though, please obey me when I ask you to leave things alone. I tell you what. I’m going to buy another sculpture just like this one, and you leave it alone. And I’ll buy you a fishie toy that you can hold and touch, something you can’t break. Deal?”

I was pretty sure I could find a sparkly acrylic fish somewhere. I held out my hand. Raj was sensitive. His background had been so fucked up that I couldn’t stand to think of hurting his feelings.

Raj’s frown turned into a smile as he reached out and took my hand, swinging it back and forth in his clumsy grasp. “Raven is good to Raj. Even when Raj is naughty.” The gargoyle gave me a winsome look, and I melted, leaning down to hug him.

The first time I had seen him, he had been curled in a ball under the table next to his owner, Karjan. Karjan was a demon who I occasionally played poker with, and I could usually scam him out of a nice pile of coins. The demon was stupid, obnoxious as hell, and a mean sucker, but I could always count on him for a game, and he always paid up. When I realized he cut the wings off of his gargoyle, I made up my mind right then and there to win Raj away from him. And when I set my sights on something, I almost always got it.

“Oh Raj, you’re not really naughty,” I said, turning back to clean up the last of the broken crystal. “You just need to understand that sometimes, you’re just a little clumsy. And that’s okay. I’m not mad. Raven’s not mad at Raj, Raven loves Raj.”

I cautiously placed the glass-laden dustpan on the coffee table, then settled myself on the floor. I opened my arms and Raj lumbered over, curling up in my lap. Having an eighty-pound gargoyle sitting on top of me was like holding a sack of rocks, but I didn’t mind. Raj was a good boy and I loved him. I had the feeling he wouldn’t have survived if the demon had freed him—gargoyles were generally rough, and stoic, which Raj wasn’t, and he wouldn’t have made it long among his own people. I patted his back, and rocked him gently for a moment.

“Raven sing to Raj?” Raj asked in a voice that sounded about two sizes too small for his body.

“Sure. I’ll sing a song for Raj. Let me get situated.” And so, I emptied the dustpan, curled up on the sofa with my handpan, and began to tap out a melody that my father had sung to me when I was little. 

Where the sunset meets the mountain, on the craggy hills of Lyre,

There’s a stream that rolls through the land, ever crystal clear,

And there, in a ring of stones, under moonlight’s beam,

Sits a mournful woman, a-singing to the stream.

 

She sings of a fallen warrior, of a love long gone away,

She sings of the faerie dancer, who led him astray.

She sings out her pain and loss, in the night wind’s gale,

She sings until the morning light, until the stars do pale.

 

So, if you hike upon that hill, do so in the light,

For the ghostly singer, she only sings at night.

She will lure you to her pale breast, this lonely forlorn wife,

But once you taste her sweet, sad tears, you’ll forfeit your life.

 

So, wander all you like, you handsome roguish man,

But beware the misty songstress who bewitches and enchants,

Her loss and pain have chained her to the hills of Lyre,

She’s bound herself to the land, with her never-ending tears.

 As my words faded away, I looked down. Raj was snuggled up by my feet, asleep with a contented look on his face.

***

I had just finished making dinner—fettuccine Alfredo—when the doorbell rang. Frowning, I turned down the burner and headed for the door. I didn’t get a lot of visitors. Mostly just a few friends who only came over when they were invited. I glanced at Raj, but he seemed unconcerned, so I knew it wasn’t a stranger. He could sense when it was someone who had been over to the house before.

Sure enough, when I opened the door, I recognized the woman leaning against the doorframe.

“Lana? What are you doing here?” I had a tendency to blurt out things without thinking about whether it would sound rude. “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean it like that. I just wasn’t expecting anybody.”

Lana Frost was tall, with hair that color of faded wheat. She was wearing a pair of jeans and a denim jacket over a blue blouse. We had met at a wine tasting a couple months before and we had met a few times for dinner. I wouldn’t call her a good friend because we honestly didn’t mesh that well, but she was friendly enough and I enjoyed hanging out with her on occasion.

I opened the door. “Come in, I’ve got dinner on the stove and need to get back to the kitchen. What’s up?”

She entered the foyer and followed me into the kitchen, a deep furrow on her brow. “Hey, Raven. I hope you don’t mind me just dropping over like this, but I think I need your help. Professionally.”

I paused. Lana knew what I was. That she needed my help sparked off alarm bells. “What’s going on?”

“I’m not really sure, but…something’s wrong.”

She dropped her purse on the counter as I checked the pasta, and sat on one of the high kitchen stools on the other side of the island. Before I moved into the house, I’d had the kitchen and the bathrooms remodeled. The kitchen was still a galley kitchen, but it was spacious, and I’d had the cupboards stained a rich walnut with brushed nickel handles. The counter was white quartz, veined with pale gray sparkles. The island overlooked the dining room, and when the shutters were opened, it acted as a bar.

“You want something to eat? The fettuccine is ready.” I licked the sauce off my fingers, the taste of cheese and cream rich on my tongue. I didn’t like eating in front of people, so I always made enough for company. Most often, the leftovers ended up as my lunch the next day, but one way or the other, I was always prepared.

She shrugged. “Sure. Can I help?”

I motioned to the cupboard. “Why don’t you get out our plates. I’ll feed Raj. I baked him some stew meat and carrots.”

After I removed Raj’s dinner from the oven to the counter and scooped it into his bowl, allowing it to cool before I set it down for him, Lana handed me the plates. Black and white, the square china plates fit my minimalist style.

I loaded noodles and sauce onto them, and we carried them to the table. I returned to the kitchen for a bottle of wine, goblets, and the French bread I’d tucked in the oven to allow the butter and Parmesan to melt.

As I poured the wine, Lana let out a deep sigh and leaned back in her chair. “I swear, Raven, sometimes I think I’m going nuts.”

Taking a bite of my noodles, I savored the taste before asking, “All right. What’s happening?”

“You know that Tag asked me to move in a few months ago?” She took a sip of the wine, closing her eyes as she tipped her head back. Tag was her boyfriend. He didn’t like me all that much, and the feeling was mutual.

“Right. I seem to recall you moved into his house?”

She nodded. “Well, the house he’s renting.” Leaning forward, she rested her elbows on the table, staring at her plate. “Here’s the problem. I think Tag’s house is haunted. And I think the ghost is targeting me. Can you help?”

I slowly wound the fettuccine around my fork. I wasn’t really looking for new clients right this minute, but she was a friend—of sorts—and she sounded frightened. After a moment, I set down my fork. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try. First, though, you need to tell me what’s going on, and why you think the ghost is targeting you.”

As she began to explain, a shiver raced down my spine—a shiver I both recognized and dreaded. It always happened when clients came to me with a serious problem. And it always meant there was something nasty going down.

***

My name is Raven BoneTalker and I’m one of the Ante-Fae. I’m also known as the Daughter of Bones, and I’m a bone witch. Technically, I suppose you could call me a necromancer, but that term is usually reserved for those who are of the magic-born.

I live with Raj, my gargoyle, and three ferrets. At least, I tell people they’re ferrets because they look just like them, and act just like them as well. Templeton has plush black fur, and he’s a mischievous little goon. Elise is sable brown and a socialite. And Gordon has shockingly white fur, and he’s the angst-ridden one of the group. They’re my buddies, and I love them all, but I’m cautious with their secrets because I know what people can be like.

I was engaged to one of the Dark Fae. Ulstair and I had been together a long time, and he was the only serious romance I’ve had in my life. Everything was golden between us. That is, everything was wonderful until he was murdered. I turned to the Wild Hunt Agency for help. We—or rather, they—found the murderer, but he was about to get away so I did what was necessary to put a stop to him.

I always warn people up front: I’ll play by the rules if they work. If not, I make my own. Not enough people believe me, and they really should.

So yeah, I live in the city—on the Eastside of Seattle in the UnderLake District, in a simple but comfortable house, where I run my business—the Witching Hour. You know, as in “the long dark night of the soul,” “the midnight hour,” and all those deep, dark, thoughts that haunt people before the first streaks of dawn hit the sky.

As a bone witch, I offer my services to people of all walks of life. I communicate with the dead to find out what’s going on with them, I exorcise stray spirits, clean out nasty astral entities, boot out annoying poltergeists, and so forth. I also read tarot cards, and I read the bones.

I don’t have a lot of close friends, though I cherish those I do have. Mostly, I’m a bit of a loner, and at least until lately, that’s suited me just fine.

***

“What do you mean, the ghost is targeting you?” I frowned. “Has it actually attacked you?” Spirits that physically attacked the living were uncommon, but not unheard of. They were harder to banish and usually a lot more unreasonable than simple haunts and ghosts.

Lana paused, then shrugged. “I’m not sure what I mean. I feel like I’m being constantly watched. It’s worse in some parts of the house than in others. There are places in the house where I won’t go, because I feel constantly under scrutiny, but now it’s beginning to spread. I hear noises in the basement when nobody else is there. I see shadows moving on the walls. Sometimes things seem to move on their own. I’ll set my purse down in the living room and when I return, it will be in the kitchen.” She met my gaze and I could see the worry in her eyes. “I’m afraid, Raven.”

“First things first: could there be anybody in the house making those noises? Have you checked out the basement when you’ve heard someone there?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so. But Tag won’t let me go down to the basement. He says there are a couple broken steps and when he gets around to mending them, then I can go down. But I really don’t think anybody else is hiding in the house. This happens too frequently—surely I would have seen anybody else by now.”

“What about Tag? What does he say? Has he experienced anything unusual?” I held up my hand before she could speak. “Give me a second. I want to get my notebook so I can write down notes.” I patted my lips with my napkin and headed over to a console table. I kept a disk binder there so I wouldn’t always have to run to my office. I flipped it open to a blank page, found my pen, and returned to the table.

“That’s an unusual pen,” Lana said, staring at my hand.

“It’s handcrafted from bog oak, all the way from Ireland. My mother sent it to me for my birthday last year.” I held up the hand-turned pen. It was a comfortable weight and size, the black of the bog oak contrasting with the brass Celtic knotwork fittings on the top, middle, and bottom. I took the cap off and began to make notes of what she had already told me.

“Your mother lives in Ireland?” she asked.

I shook my head. “No, but she bought it while she was passing through. She lives in Scotland. She returned there when I was twelve, leaving me with my father.” I paused, looking up. Lana knew some things about me but I wasn’t sure what she’d say if I told her the whole story. “All right, tell me about Tag. Does he notice anything otherworldly? Have you told him what you told me?”

A flash of irritation crossed her face. “I told him, all right. All he says is, ‘Maybe this is your imagination, Lana.’ Or ‘Are you sure you weren’t drinking, Lana?’ I honestly don’t know if he’s seen anything or not, but he acts like I’m some hysterical woman.”

Oh, lovely. I hated working cases where all members of the household weren’t on the same page. It made things so much more complicated. Usually, I had to wear the skeptic down until they admitted they were either too embarrassed or too afraid to tell me the truth.

More often than not, the holdout was simply so afraid that they were clinging to the hope that if they ignored it, it would all go away. But that admission only came after a number of arguments. Unfortunately, that reluctance often set up the person who originally came to me for a romp through “Am I Crazyland.” After all, if their roommate or spouse didn’t hear or see anything, maybe they were starting to hallucinate.

“Okay. So Tag thinks you’re making this up? Does he have any reason to believe that you would pull something like that? Or is he gaslighting you?”

I didn’t bother to pretty up the alternatives. Over the years, my direct nature had cost me several clients, but that was an occupational hazard. I wasn’t a diplomat, didn’t aspire to be one, and I didn’t bother trying unless there was a real sense of loss connected with the case. After losing Ulstair, I had developed a lot more empathy for those in mourning.

Lana paused, frowning. She lowered her gaze to the ground. “When I was fifteen, I ended up in the psych ward for a month. My parents locked me up because I kept seeing an old woman in my room and I thought she was out to kill me. Tag knows about that.”

I stared at her, mulling over a couple thoughts. “Have you ever had other flashes—where you just knew things, or where you picked up on something that was going to happen before it did?”

“You mean, am I psychic? Yeah, I thought of that, too. I don’t know. The old woman was gone by the time I came home, but I could swear she was really there. My parents wouldn’t ever let me talk about it, but I did a little research on my own and found out that the woman who had owned the house before we bought it had died there. She looked a lot like the woman I thought I saw. So maybe I do have some sort of power. But I can tell you this: I didn’t just make her up for my own amusement, and I sure as hell am not making up this.” She finished her dinner and pushed back her plate.

Sometimes people did make up things for attention, but I sensed that Lana was telling me the truth. “All right, then let’s just assume that either Tag’s gaslighting you, or he hasn’t seen anything. Or maybe he’s afraid. Why do you think the spirit’s targeting you?”

“I don’t know,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “I just moved in a few months back. Maybe the ghost feels like I’m intruding? Maybe it doesn’t like me for some reason? I just get a real hostile feeling when I’m there.”

“What’s happened in particular?”

“The other night I went to take a shower. Luckily, I was standing back, so that the water didn’t hit me full force, because the hot water knob turned on its own and the water suddenly reached scalding point. I managed to jump out before it burned me. If I had been closer to the spray, I would have been scalded.”

I blinked. That was an attack, for sure. “What else?”

“Whenever things disappear, they’re important to me. My wallet, my car keys, jewelry. They vanish and show up somewhere else.”

“Poltergeist activity, then. Anything else?”

“I woke up last night at around three a.m. I could feel someone was looming over me. I reached out, and Tag was asleep beside me. I couldn’t bring myself to open my eyes because I was so afraid of what I might see, so I just turned over and ignored it. Finally, it went away. But I woke up this morning to find scratches on me.”

She pulled up her sleeve and showed me five long scratches on her arm that looked as though they’d been made by fingernails. They were red and inflamed.

“You don’t have a cat, do you?” I knew she didn’t but had to ask.

“Nope. And they weren’t there when I went to bed.”

I pulled out my phone from my bra and took a picture of the scratches, then jotted down what she said, trying to keep my expression neutral. But the truth was, by now I agreed that she was being attacked physically. And given what was going on, activity had escalated to a dangerous point.

“How long has Tag lived there?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I’m not sure. I think he rented the place a few years back. I never really asked, and I’ve never met the landlord. Tag’s going to be leaving for a business trip tomorrow. I thought you could come over to check things out? If you find something, maybe he’ll listen to you.”

“I hate to break it to you, Lana,” I said slowly, “but I’ve picked up on the fact that Tag doesn’t like me, so I’m not sure he’d listen to me. But yes, I can come over. Shall we say tomorrow night, around eight o’clock? He’ll be gone by then?” I pulled out my phone and glanced at my schedule. Today was Thursday. Tomorrow, my schedule was clear. On Saturday, my friends Ember and Angel were coming over to hang out.

Lana nodded. “That works. Tag’s leaving around two p.m. so that should be perfect.” She paused, then licked her lips. “What happens if we find a ghost there? I can’t live in that house with something that’s waiting to hurt me.”

“Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it,” I said. “We’ll figure it out, Lana.”

But as I walked her to the door, something inside told me that we were facing an angry spirit, and that this wasn’t going to be just an ordinary case.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for The Witching Hour

Alexandros: Milk; Mosquito Bite
Android Lust: Here and Now; Dragonfly; Stained; Saint Over
Asteroid Galaxy Tour: Hurricane; Out of Frequency; Heart Attack; Major
AWOLnation: Sail
Band of Skulls: I Know What I Am
Beastie Boys: She’s Crafty
Beck: Qué Onda Guero; Farewell Ride; Emergency Exit; Cellphone’s Dead; Nausea; Loser; Mixed Bizness; Broken Train
The Black Angels: Currency; Indigo Meadow; Evil Things; Don’t Play With Guns; Love Me Forever; Always Maybe; Young Men Dead; Phosphene Dream
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Blondie: I Know But I Don’t Know; One Way or Another; Rapture
Boney M: Rasputin
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
Cher: The Beat Goes On
Colin Foulke: Emergence
Commodores: Brick House
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Cream: Strange Brew; Sunshine of Your Love
David Bowie: Jean Genie; Rebel Rebel; Fame; Golden Years; I’m Afraid of Americans; Without You; Sister Midnight
Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Dire Straits: Money for Nothing
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns
Donovan: Sunshine Superman; Season of the Witch; Hurdy Gurdy Man
Doors: Five to One; Alabama Song; Roadhouse Blues; LA Woman; Cars Hiss by My Window; L’ America; Hyacinth House; Waiting for the Sun; Magie McGill
Dragon Ritual Drummers: Black Queen; The Fall; Dance of the Roma
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Eels: Souljacker (Part 1)
Eivør: Trøllbundin
Elektrisk Gonner: Uknowhatiwant
Everlast: Black Jesus; I Can’t Move; Ends; What It’s Like; We’re All Gonna Die; One, Two
Faith No More: Falling to Pieces; Epic
Faun: Hymn to Pan; Iduna; Oyneng yar
Fleetwood Mac: The Chain; Gold Dust Woman
Foster The People: Pumped Up Kicks
Garbage: Queer; Milk; #1 Crush; Push It; I Think I’m Paranoid
Gary Numan: Stormtrooper in Drag; When the Sky Bleeds, He Will Come; The Angel Wars; Cars (Remix); Ghost Nation; My Name is Ruin; Hybrid; Petals; I Am Dust; Bridge? What Bridge?; War Songs; My Shadow In Vain; Voix; Soul Protection; Outland; Confession; My World Storm; Here in the Black; The Sleeproom
Godsmack: Voodoo
Gorillaz: Last Living Souls; Kids With Guns; Dare; Hongkongaton; Rockit; Clint Eastwood; Stylo
The Hang Drum Project: Shaken Oak; St.Chartier
The Hollies: Long Cool Woman
The Hu: Wolf Totem; Yuve Yuve Yu
Jay Price: The Devil’s Bride; Coming For you Baby; Boneshaker
Justin Timberlake: SexyBack
The Kills: Nail in My Coffin; You Don’t Own The Road; Dead Road 7; DNA; Sour Cherry
Lady Gaga: Born This Way; Paparazzi; Poker Face; I Like It Rough
Ladytron: Paco; Ghosts; I’m Not Scared
Lindstrøm & Christabelle: Lovesick
Low and tomandandy: Half Light
Mai Lan: Pumper
Marilyn Manson: Tainted Love; Personal Jesus
Motherdrum: Big Stomp; Ceremony
Nick Cave: Right Red Hand
Ohio Players: Fire
Oingo Boingo: Elevator Man; Dead Man’s Party
One Republic: Counting Stars
Orgy: Social Enemies; Blue Monday
Pati Yang: All That Is Thirst
The Pierces: Secret
The Pussycat Dolls: When I Grow Up; Don’t Cha
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Give It Away; Sir Psycho Sexy; Higher Ground
Rick James: Super Freak
Rob Zombie: Living Dead Girl
Robin Schulz: Sugar
Rolling Stones: Miss You; Sympathy For the Devil
Scorpions: The Zoo
Shriekback: The Shining Path; Underwaterboys; This Big Hush; Now These Days Are Gone; The King in the Tree; And The Rain; Church of the Louder Light; Wriggle and Drone
Simple Minds: Don’t You
Steppenwolf: Magic Carpet Ride
Stone Temple Pilots: Sour Girl; Atlanta
Talking Heads: I Zimbra; Life During Wartime; Take Me to the River; Burning Down the House; Slippery People; Moon Rocks
Thievery Corporation: Water Under the Bridge; Voyage Libre
Tingstad & Rumbel: Chaco
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Traffic: Rainmaker; The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Transplants: Diamonds and Guns
U2: Elevation; Vertigo
Ween: Mutilated Lips; The Golden Eel

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Life isn’t easy when you bear the mark of the Silver Stag.

Caught between the worlds of Light and Dark Fae, Ember Kearney was born with the mark of the Silver Stag. Rejected by both her bloodlines, she’s turned her back on her people to become a freelance investigator, hiring herself to take care of common problems like hen-stealing goblins.

When Ember’s best friend asks for her help, it leads them both into a glittering world of conspiracy and danger. Angel’s little brother has vanished, and Ember must race against time to save his life.  But when Ember discovers what’s happened to DJ, both she and Angel find themselves recruited into Herne’s elite squad of bounty hunters. Now, Ember must not only face her heritage, but she’s bound to preserve the balance between the Fae Courts, for if order isn’t maintained, war and chaos will spill out into the mortal realm.

The Wild Hunt Series Reading Order:
Book 1: The Silver Stag
Book 2: Oak & Thorns
Book 3: Iron Bones
Book 4: A Shadow of Crows
Book 5: The Hallowed Hunt
Book 6: The Silver Mist
Book 7: Witching Hour: An Ante-Fae Adventure
Book 8: Witching Bones: An Ante-Fae Adventure
Book 9: A Sacred Magic

 

 

 

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Chapter 1

I CREPT THROUGH the backyard, keeping a close watch on the thick copse of trees to the side of the property. The coyotes were thick around here, and plenty of cougars and bears frequented the area as well. I skirted my way around the hen house. I could hear chickens rattling around inside, uneasy when they should have been asleep.

The urban farmers were my clients, and they had complained about some creature raiding their henhouse and asked me to look into it. They were shifters of some sort-I hadn't asked what kind, because that would be rude. But they seemed more reticent than most of the shifters I was used to dealing with, and I suspected they were too afraid to take on the intruder themselves. I had been keeping watch most of the night, and was about to call it done when a figure slipped into the yard, creeping toward the hen house.

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I stayed close to the side of the shed, skirting around to where I could peek more clearly. A large man-sized creature was skulking near the door. I froze, resting my hand on the dagger that was strapped to my thigh. Easing back so the intruder wouldn't see me, I leaned my head against the wall. Well, it wasn't a coyote or fox, that was for sure.

A gust of cool wind blew past me and I shivered, even through my leather jacket. Early April in the Seattle area was cool and wet. At five A.M., we still had nearly an hour to go before sunrise, and the clouds were so thick I doubted they would burn off before noon, if then.

The creature fumbled with the lock. Whatever it was, it showed no signs that it sensed my presence. I could move softly when I wanted and now I crept to the right of the shed, then paused. The ladder was leaning against the side of the building. It would be simple to climb up onto the roof and peek over the edge. I could gain an advantage from up above, I thought, maybe get the drop on him. Keeping my step light, I shimmied up the rungs, grateful that I had worn gloves as the aluminum of the ladder chilled me right through the material.

The roof of the shed was slanted with an incline toward the front. I squinted at the shingles, wondering whether they would hold me. There was no way to find out except to start climbing. Praying that I wouldn't fall through, I slowly eased myself up the shingles toward the front of the rise. At the top, I cautiously leaned over the edge.

Great. Just dandy.

I found myself staring down at the head of a goblin. He reeked even from up here, and it was a wonder that I hadn't smelled him before. I must be coming down with a cold, I thought.

Goblins were nasty, dangerous creatures. Wiry and tough, they stank to high heaven when you were close enough, and they were ravenous. They ate people. Dogs. Cats. Cows. Anything they could fit in their mouths was fair game. They preferred human flesh, though they'd settle for whatever they could catch. As long as it was raw and live on the hoof, they were happy. Seattle, along with the surrounding suburb communities, had laws in place prohibiting them from entering city limits, but that didn't stop them, even though hunting season was wide open on them. Truth was, the cops wouldn't respond to calls about them, and chances were good the creatures would luck out and get away with whatever scheme they had going. So most of them thought it was worth the risk. This one's luck, however, had just run out.

Luckily, he hadn't heard me yet. At least, I didn't think it had.

I eased my way to the very edge, staring down at him. He was intent on breaking the padlock. I quietly unfastened the snap holding my dagger peace-bound, to give myself easy access. I had learned the hard way not to jump off a building holding my blade. I still had the scar from that mistake right above my left knee.

I perched on the edge, waiting for the right moment. Then, taking a deep breath, I launched myself off of the roof, landing square atop the goblin, taking him down beneath me.

The creature let out a nasty hiss and a string of obscenities, although I couldn't understand him. But it was obvious he was cursing.

"Would you speak to your mother like that?" I had knocked him down, and now I straddled him, trying to pin him between my knees. He might be tough and wiry, but I worked out six days a week, and I was Fae-which meant I had some extra strength going for me. I managed to hold him down and, in the dim light of the approaching dawn, I got a good look at him. Tufts of fur covered his head, patchy and rough like steel wool, and his face was a mass of wrinkles-common with goblins. His eyes were small but wide-set on his face, and he had yellow, sharp teeth.

"You're an ugly sucker, aren't you? Even for a goblin."

He struggled, managing to free one hand. As he lashed out, his claws dangerously nearing my face, I ducked back to dodge the attack.

Enough. I drew my dagger. I couldn't keep him down much longer and I was getting tired.

As I raised my blade, he thrashed again, and this time he succeeded in slashing my arm. Luckily, my leather jacket took the brunt, and he ripped a hole in the material but not in my skin.

"That's going to cost me good money, you freak."

I raised my blade and his gaze met mine. For a moment he looked afraid, but then he snarled and I brought the blade down, throwing my weight behind it. The tip of the dagger pierced his windpipe, sliding through to stick inside the ground below him. The goblin let out one last hiss, thrashed, and then lay still.

"I didn't charge enough for this gig," I muttered to myself. Truth was, I hadn't expected a goblin, so I had given the couple a low bid. I had thought I'd be facing a wild dog or a fox. So much for assumptions.

Making certain he was dead, I took a picture before he started to bubble, then rolled over to spread out on the grass next to him, resting. The chill morning dew seeped through my jeans as I caught my breath, staring up into the sky. The faint hints of dawn were spreading across the eastern horizon, thin ribbons of red piercing the clouds, but they only heralded an incoming storm.

At that moment, my cell phone rang. I pulled it out of my pocket as I rolled to a sitting position. Next to me, the goblin was beginning to bubble. I reached over to yank my dagger out of the creature's neck before my blade got any messier than it already was, and wiped it quickly on the grass to remove most of the gunk. I scooted further away as nature began to take its course on the goblin as I answered my phone.

"Hello? Do you realize what time it is?"

I hadn't glanced at the Caller ID, so I wasn't sure who it was, but I didn't care. If this were any normal morning, I'd still be in bed, asleep. Most of my work was done at night and I usually slept till noon. I just happened to have a job that kept me up till dawn.

"Yes, I do realize what time it is. Did I wake you?"

Damn it. Ray Fontaine.

Ray owned a bakery called A Touch of Honey, and he made the best bread in Seattle. He also happened to be my ex-boyfriend. Or rather, we had dated a few times. I had liked him enough that I broke it off before anything happened between us. Given my track record, he was a lucky man.

"No, I'm finishing up a job. What do you need?"

I shivered, suddenly cold. I slipped my finger through the ring attached to the back of my phone so I wouldn't drop it, and scrambled to my feet. The goblin was dissolving, melting into a pile of bubbling sludge. Within half an hour he would soak into the ground as if he had never existed. At least I wouldn't have to clean up the mess. I started for the kitchen door to ask the O'Malleys for payment, then paused. Their lights were off, which meant they weren't awake yet.

Ray cleared his throat. "My shop was broken into. I thought maybe you could come take a look?"

I blinked. "Why haven't you called the cops?"

"I did, but they took one look and said it wasn't a human matter. They said it looked like some sort of Crypto attack. Ember, you're the closest thing I know to a SubCult PI."

The "SubCult" was a blanket term referring to the combined Fae courts, Shifter Alliance, and Vampire Nation. Most humans referred to all of us as Cryptos if they didn't know what our heritage was, but it was better than the slang used among the holdouts who still wanted an all-human world.

I let out a sigh. I had just finished one job, and I really didn't feel like working another, but I felt like I owed Ray. I really didn't want to see him, but it was the least I could do, given how hard he had taken it when I dumped him.

"Lovely. All right, I'll be down there in a while. I need to get my pay, then stop off for coffee and a bite to eat first."

"Don't bother about breakfast. I've got fresh croissants, gouda, and coffee here."

Finally, something to cadge a laugh out of me. "You always did know how to win me over." And with that, I pocketed my cell phone, and knocked on the kitchen door.

Ten minutes later, I had pounded long and hard enough that Mrs. O'Malley answered the door, squinting. She was in her bathrobe and seemed surprised to see me.

"Oh, are you still here?"

I blinked. "Of course I'm still here. I caught your chicken thief. Goblin." I held up my cell phone to show her the picture I had snapped. "No doubt about it. One dead goblin."

She stared at the picture, then started to shut the door on me. "Thanks. We appreciate it."

I stuck my foot in the door, wedging it open before she shut it all the way.

"Hold on! You owe me for the rest of the job." They had paid me half up front, with the promise of the rest of payment upon proof of job completion.

A sly smile stole over her face. "You can't prove that you caught him on our land. That could be a picture of any goblin, anywhere. We won't pay."

"What the fuck?" I stared at her, trying to comprehend what she was saying. "You're actually trying to stiff me? Lady, take a good look. That's your shed in the corner of the picture, and one fucking dead goblin. I came all the way over from Seattle to help you. I saved your scrawny-assed chickens. I undercharged you. I sat in your backyard all night guarding your stupid birds. You are going to pay me for my work." I glowered, leaning in.

She wrinkled her nose, trying to stare me down. "We never promised."

"Like hell you didn't." I paused, irritated. I worked on a verbal contract for most small jobs and I stuck to my promises. Most of my customers stuck to theirs. This was an unwelcome surprise. "All right," I said, turning back to the yard. "You want to do this the hard way? I notice you have a sprinkler system out there."

I focused, searching through the moisture in the air until I touched on the lines running below the ground. Forcing as much energy as I could into my thoughts, I coaxed the water to pour through the system, faster and harder until there was a sudden pop. A geyser of water broke through the soil, gushing into the yard.

"What did you do?" Mrs. O'Malley jumped, pushing past me into the yard. She flailed, glaring at me. "Make it stop."

"I guess your sprinkler pipe burst. Gee, I wonder what would happen if I found a water elemental to check out the pipes under your house? What if they all froze and then broke?" I probably wouldn't go that far, but she didn't have to know that.

The bluff worked.

"All right, all right! I'll pay you." She started back inside. "I have to get my purse."

I pushed inside, close behind her, not about to give her the chance to slam the door on me. "Fine. Cash only, please."

* * *

WOODINVILLE WAS PART of the Greater Seattle metropolitan area. Northeast of Kirkland and south of Navane-the city of the Light Fae-for a long time it had flourished as a techie wonderland, but as the tech companies migrated to north Seattle proper, the Eastside eventually became a forested haven, a metropolis of suburbs. Oh, there was still plenty of crime-for one thing, it was easier to hide given the growth of the forests around and in the cities-but for the lower-income areas, it felt spacious and beautiful.

A Touch of Honey was located on the Redmond-Woodinville Road NE, on the border between Redmond and Woodinville. As I eased into an empty parking spot a few spots down from the bakery, I leaned back in my seat. I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open, but I had promised Ray, and I kept my promises.

I slipped out of the driver's seat of my eight-year-old Subaru Outback and headed into the bakery, where Ray was busy behind the counter. He looked up as I entered and waved.

"You look like hell," he said. "You're covered with dried mud." He paused, then grimaced. "Is that blood?"

I glanced down at my shirt where the goblin had bled on me. One more for the rag bag.

"I took down a goblin this morning. That's enough work for one day."

"Nasty business, those little freaks." Ray was all too acquainted with goblins. He had a long scar on his leg from where one had tried to take a bite out of him when he interrupted me on a job and my target had turned on him. It was at that point that I had decided our relationship had run its course. Before he got himself killed, I broke it off. I couldn't face another heartbreak. I had already lost two loves and I felt like I was under a curse.

"There's been an upsurge in their numbers lately. They always think they'll beat the odds, and the cops are paying less and less attention to them." Tired of thinking about goblins, I changed the subject. "You said you have croissants and gouda? And caffeine?"

"Rolls are hot out of the oven. The cheese is fresh and creamy. And the coffee's hot and strong."

The bakery was overflowing with a warm, yeasty scent that sent my salivary glands into overdrive. My stomach rumbled, demanding food. As Ray fixed a tray, I headed over to the coffee pot and poured myself a cup of coffee. I preferred espresso, but caffeine was caffeine and I sorely needed my fix. And Ray bought quality coffee-Caribbean Dark Roast from the islands. Adding cream and three sugars, I sat down at one of the tables.

The bakery was fair size, with four tables, each seating three people. The counter display case was filled with cookies and breads, and I suddenly felt weak-kneed. I needed food and I needed it now. As if he had read my mind, Ray returned with a tray filled with warm croissants and a small wheel of cheese. The flesh was a creamy yellow, and my guess was that he had bought it off one of the local farmers who sold homemade cheese at the farmers market.

I glanced around. The bakery seemed unusually empty.

"I don't see any of your regulars in here," I said, slicing a thick wedge of cheese off the wheel. I placed it on the plate, and then broke open one of the croissants, inhaling deeply as the warm rush of yeast filled my lungs.

"The regular city crew that normally comes in every morning is apparently filling potholes on the other side of town. I don't see them until afternoon now. Otherwise, yeah, it's been a quiet morning. Then again, the rush usually doesn't start until around seven-thirty or eight."

Sure enough, even as he spoke, the bells jingled as the door opened and two women entered the shop. I gauged them as both human. Ray excused himself to wait on them, and I busied myself with my croissants and cheese.

I mulled over my schedule, pulling out my day planner to check what was on the agenda for the day. I was scheduled to make a run over to Wesley's Blades to have him sharpen my dagger. I needed to go grocery shopping unless I wanted to eat cardboard for dinner.

Ray returned to the table, pulling out the chair next to me. Flipping it around, he straddled it and leaned his elbows on the back. He was a tall man, with soft black hair that waved down to his neck. He was also as human as they came. He handed me a hundred and fifty dollars.

"Will this cover the bill for looking over my storeroom?"

I pocketed fifty and handed him back the rest. "You get the friends and family discount." I suddenly felt awkward. Ray and I hadn't talked much since we broke up, at least no more than polite formalities. I shifted in my seat.

He seemed to feel it too. "So, are you seeing anybody?"

At least that was an easy answer. I shook my head.

"No. I think I'm better off on my own." I met his gaze, searching for any signs that he was still angry. "I wish I could tell you why I broke up with you, but Ray, it wasn't you. At least, not in the way you think."

He gave me a rueful smile. "After you dumped me, I was really angry. I never wanted to see you again. Then Angel told me about Robert, and about Leland. Anyway, I understand. Thank you, for looking after me." He lingered over the words, then shrugged. "I'm still game, if you are. I'll take my chances."

I gave him a long look. "Ray, don't do this."

"But we were-"

"Look, it's done. Over. Angel told you about Robert and Leland because she's my best friend and she knew it hurt me to push you away. Please, don't make it harder than it already has been."

He let out what sounded like a cross between a sigh and a huff. "Okay. But don't be mad at Angel for telling me."

"I'm not. I'm glad she told you about them. I don't want you to hate me." With a sigh, I pushed back my chair. The last thing I wanted to do was get into a discussion of my tangled mess of a love life and I wasn't about to open the door to Ray again. "Okay, let me look at your storeroom."

Ray frowned, looking like he was going to argue, but then he shrugged and led me into the back. After he unlocked the door, I saw that the entire room had been trashed. Flour bags were ripped to pieces, honey jars had been tipped over and smashed and two of the bigger buckets of honey had been slashed. Nothing had been spared.

"Holy crap. Who did you piss off?"

"I have no idea. All I know is that no animal did this. The cops told me it was probably a raccoon. But what raccoon can do this much damage in a short amount of time? And the windows weren't open. How did it get in?" He scuffed his shoe on the floor. "I thought maybe you could pick up on whatever came through here."

I nodded, taking care not to enter the room, at least not yet. The cops were wrong. This hadn't been the work of an animal. Nor did the damage feel human in origin. For one thing, Ray was right. The window was intact, so either the vandal had a key or could spell the door open.

I knelt, touching my hands to the floor just inside the door. Sometimes I could feel when strong emotions had passed through an area. They imprinted in space, or in the walls of buildings, or rooted into the very ground itself. Here, the residual feeling of anger hung heavy in the air, anger and...revenge.

"Whatever or whoever did this, I think they have a grudge against you. I can't pick up more than that, but yeah, it wasn't human or animal. I suggest you hire someone to ward your place. There's a very talented witch who has a shop called Magical Endeavors. Her name is Lena. I suggest you talk to her, and while you're at it, figure out who you've pissed off lately. My guess-somebody hired one of the sub-Fae to come in and tear up the joint."

The sub-Fae were the dregs of Fae society, usually nasty tempered and often hiring themselves out as mercenaries to anybody at the right price. Like goblins, they weren't welcome in the city, but all you had to do was hang out at one of the SubCult dives around town and you would run into at least one of them.

"Thanks, Ember. I appreciate it. You wouldn't be interested in taking on the case and helping me out by hiring Lena...and so on?" He was standing too close for comfort.

I backed away a step. "Sorry," I lied. "My schedule is booked up." I yawned, pushing past him to return to the front of the shop. "I'd better get going. I have errands to run before I go home and crash." I glanced over at the counter. "Wrap me up a loaf of French bread and a dozen white chocolate raspberry cookies, if you would."

Ray crossed to behind the counter and fixed my order. As he handed it to me, our fingers touched. A familiar spark raced through me, but I ignored it. I didn't dare go down that road again, not if I wanted him to be safe. Besides, I didn't do clingy well, and Ray had shown definite signs of wanting more from me than I could give.

"How much do I owe you?"

"On the house. And it always will be."

And with that, I headed back to my car as the morning rush began to trickle in. Overall, Ray was a good guy, and he was alive. I wanted him to stay alive.

* * *

MY CONDO WAS over in Seattle, in Spring Beach. At one time, the neighborhood had been suburban-the home of the rich. But now, it was row upon row of high rises and commercial buildings. Shiny chrome-and-glass blended in with older brick, making a hodgepodge of urban dwellings. Parks dotted the neighborhood, replacing the vast swaths of foliage that had surrounded once-massive estates. My building-the Miriam G Building-overlooked Puget Sound, and the rich colors of cloud and sky and ocean greeted me every morning when I got up.

I lived on the fifteenth floor, in unit 1515. Every now and then I worried about what might happen should we see another large earthquake like we had some years back, but the buildings in the area had been retrofitted-the ones that hadn't crashed to the ground-and the newer ones were built to a strict code.

As I parked in the parking garage, it occurred to me that I might want to think about selling the place and buying a house on the outskirts of the city at some point. The condo was small, around eight hundred square feet, and while I had two bedrooms, my guest room also housed my arsenal of weapons.

I glanced around the dark garage. Even during the day it was spooky. The building had been built about thirty years ago, and the developer had gone bankrupt. The bank had repossessed the apartments and sold the Miriam G to another buyer, who had decided to sell them as condos. Eventually, when I was looking for a place, a unit came up for sale and I bought it. I'd been living here since I was twenty-five. It wasn't fancy, but the view was worth the money, although the area I lived in wasn't exactly a safe haven.

I slipped out of the car and quickly made my way to the elevator. Luckily, there was nobody else waiting-I didn't trust all of my neighbors-and within a few moments I was at my apartment door.

* * *

MR. RUMBLEBUTT WAS waiting for me. He was a Norwegian forest cat, sixteen pounds with fur that made him look like a giant tribble on legs. He was sitting on the back of the sofa, staring at the front door. When I entered, he let out a disgruntled purp, jumped down, and headed toward the kitchen.

"All right, I know breakfast is overdue." As I opened the can and put his chunky chicken on the floor, I started to yawn, so tired I could barely think. I crossed over to the floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the Puget Sound and pulled open the curtains. A wash of daylight broke through the gloom and I leaned against the armchair that looked directly out onto the balcony. The thought of falling asleep staring at the water sounded good to me, but I knew my back wouldn't thank me when I woke up. So I trudged into the bathroom, stripped and, leaving my clothes on the floor, stepped into a hot shower.

I was too tired to wash my hair, so after I finished up, I dragged a brush through it and padded to my bed. I debated on opening the curtain so I could look out on the water as I slept but decided the light would probably keep me awake. So I slid under the covers, closed my eyes, and within minutes was dead to the world.

* * *

MY PHONE WOKE me up. I cracked one eye, rolling over to stare at the clock. It was 2:30 P.M. and I had managed about six hours of sleep. Yawning, I scooted back against the headboard as I grabbed my phone off the nightstand. The Caller ID read Angel, and I quickly punched the talk button.

"Hey, what's up?" I yawned again.

Angel was my best friend, and I was surprised to see the call was from her. She seldom called during the day. Texted? Definitely. But phone calls from her job? So not approved by her boss. After work, she would go home to take care of her little half-brother. She had taken in DJ when their mother died, and she was doing her best to make sure he didn't end up on the streets.

"I'm worried about DJ. I'm afraid something's happened to him." She sounded frantic. Angel hardly ever let her nerves get the better of her. If she was worried, something was wrong.

"What's going on?" I asked, pushing back the covers. Angel and I had each other's backs, we'd been best friends for years, and if one of us was in trouble, the other one was always willing to come to the rescue.

"Last night he stayed over with a friend. He was supposed to come home this morning, but when I called home from work half an hour ago, he didn't answer. I called Sarah-the mother of the boy he was staying with. She said he left at seven-thirty this morning. He should have been home by nine, shortly after I left for work. So I came home and I don't see any sign that he's been here. This isn't like DJ. You know him. He's a good kid, and he always lets me know where he is. I checked my texts, I checked voice messages. Not a word from him."

"He didn't have school today?"

"No, today's a teacher's day. That's why I let him stay over last night with Jason."

I could hear the tears in her throat. DJ was ten years old, and as she said, he was a good kid. He had been a change-of-life child, and Mama Jackson had conceived him when she was forty-eight. Mama J. had died a year ago, the victim of a car crash. Her death had left a hole not only in Angel and DJ's life, but in mine. Mama J. had filled the void when my parents were killed.

When Mama J. died, Angel took DJ in and the arrangement had worked out fairly well, although it hadn't been easy for her. For one thing, DJ was Wulfine-a wolf shifter. Angel was human, and she had no clue how to help him transition through the changes as he grew up.

"I'm on my way over. Meanwhile, call all his friends if you haven't done so already. Maybe he stopped off somewhere and got busy playing and just forgot."

Even as I suggested it, I knew it wasn't true. DJ wasn't the type to space out on his responsibilities. Even when Mama J. was alive, DJ had been a somber child, focused on helping his family. Angel often told me that he seemed to feel old before his time, although neither of us could figure out what had brought that on. It just seemed to be his nature.

"Thank you." Angel paused, her voice hushed. "Ember, I have a horrible feeling that he's in real trouble. You know that most of my premonitions are spot-on. I'm afraid."

"I'll be there in fifteen minutes." There was nothing else I could say. As she hung up, I was already sliding into a pair of leather pants. I fastened my bra and then pulled on a black ribbed tank top. I jammed my arms in the sleeves of my leather jacket, and then slipped on my ankle boots, zipping them up the side. I dragged a brush through my hair and then pulled it back into a ponytail. After kissing Mr. Rumblebutt on the head and filling his dry food dish, I grabbed a chocolate chip breakfast bar and headed back to my car.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Jill Smith on RT Book Reviews wrote:

Urban Fantasy maven Galenorn launches an exciting new series featuring Ember Kearney, an outcast from the worlds of both the Dark and Light Fae due to her mixed blood. Ember works as a freelance investigator in the Seattle area, but her life is about to take a dramatic turn. Galenorn does such a great job creating fascinating worlds that are dangerous and compelling. Both Ember and her best friend Angel are intriguing characters that readers are going to want to get to know. Not to mention Herne and his elite squad of hunters. This book is a terrific set up for a series that promises to be exciting and unforgettable.


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Arcade Fire: Abraham's Daughter
AWOLNATION: Sail
The Black Angels: You on the Run; Vikings; Don't Play With Guns; Holland; Love Me Forever; Always Maybe; Black isn't Black; Young Men Dead; Phosphene Dream
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Fault Line; Feel It Now
Bobbie Gentry: Ode To Billie Joe
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Celtic Woman: Newgrange; Scarborough Fair
Chris Isaak: Wicked Game
Cobra Verde: Play with Fire
Colin Foulke: Emergence
Corvus Corax: Filii Neidhardi; Ballade de Mercy
Damh the Bard: The Cauldron Born; Tomb of the King; Obsession; Cloak of Feathers; The Wicker Man; Spirit of Albion
David & Steve Gordon: Shaman's Drum Dance
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns
Donovan: Sunshine Superman; Season of the Witch
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Eivør: Trøllbundin
Faun: Hymn to Pan
FC Kahuna: Hayling
The Feeling: Sewn
Foster The People: Pumped Up Kicks
Garbage: Queer; #1 Crush; Push It; I Think I'm Paranoid
Gary Numan: Ghost Nation; My Name is Ruin; When the World Comes Apart; Broken; I Am Dust; Here In The Black; Love Hurt Bleed; Petals
The Gospel Whiskey Runners: Muddy Waters
Gypsy Soul: Who
The Heathen Kings: Rolling of the Stones
Hedningarna: Tuuli; Grodan/Widergrenen; Räven; Ukkonen; Juopolle Joutunut; Gorrlaus
Huldrelokkk: Trolldans
Ian Melrose & Kerstin Blodig: Kråka
In Strict Confidence: Forbidden Fruit; Silver Bullets; Snow White; Tiefer
Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
Julian Cope: Charlotte Anne
The Kills: Future Starts Slow; Nail In My Coffin; DNA; You Don't Own The Road; Sour Cherry; No Wow; Dead Road 7
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat; Royals
Low with Tom and Andy: Half Light
Marilyn Manson: Personal Jesus; Tainted Love
Mark Lanegan: The Gravedigger's Song; Riot in My House; Phantasmagoria Blues; Wedding Dress; Methamphetamine Blues
Matt Corby: Breathe
Motherdrum: Big Stomp
Orgy: Social Enemies; Blue Monday
A Pale Horse Named Death: meet the wolf
Pearl Jam: Even Flow; Jeremy
S. J. Tucker: Hymn to Herne; Witch's Rune
Scorpions: The Zoo
Sharon Knight: Bardic Voices; Mother of the World; Bewitched; 13 Knots; Crimson Masquerade; Star of the Sea; Siren Moon; Song of the Sea
Shriekback: The Shining Path; Underwaterboys; This Big Hush; Now These Days Are Gone; The King in the Tree
Tamaryn: While You're Sleeping, I'm Dreaming; Violet's in a Pool
Tempest: The Moving-On Song; Slippery Slide; Buffalo Jump; Raggle Taggle Gypsy; Dark Lover; Queen of Argyll; Nottamun Town; The Midnight Sun
Tom Petty: Mary Jane's Last Dance
Tuatha Dea: Irish Handfasting; Tuatha De Danaan; The Hum and the Shiver; Wisp of a Thing (Part 1); Long Black Curl
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow; The Circle Song; Elemental Chant

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Fury Awakened Cover

My name is Kaeleen Donovan. I'm a Theosian-a minor goddess. They call me Fury. Oath bound to Hecate, I was charged from birth to hunt down Abominations who come in off the World Tree and send them back to Pandoriam.

We’re on the run into the Wild Wood, away from the zombie invasion in Seattle. The Regent has set the Devani free to use whatever force they deem necessary. Their research labs have created a deadly antidote, with one major problem: the serum kills the zombies at a terrible price to humans. But things take an even more devastating turn.

As we return to UnderBarrow to plan our next move, the Order of the Black Mist carries out simultaneous strikes at governments across the world, crumbling the old order. Seattle, Atlantea, Black Forest, city after city falls to the chaos magicians. The world around us has changed forever. Now, Hecate offers me a choice I never thought I’d have to face. I can either leave my old life forever, or walk into the fire and awaken the fury within...

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Chapter 1

My name is Kaeleen Donovan. They call me Fury. I walk in flame and ash, on a field of bones. As Seattle burns-the old order crashing behind us, ahead the Wild Wood waits in the cold, frozen dark. Some battles, it's wiser to run than to stand and fight.

* * *

"HOW'S YOUR ARM?" I knelt by Tam, who was sitting by the fire. The forest loomed around us, the massive fir and cedar trees bending under the weight of the snow. The wind whistled through their boughs, the creaking setting up a lonely lament that echoed through our encampment. I cocked my head, listening to the noise of the forest around us. I wasn't used to the sounds of the woodland and they made me nervous. Traffic, cars, the hum of electricity, and milling crowds were my usual milieu. Out here, I felt lost and clumsy.

Tam winced as he shifted his right shoulder, rotating it first backward, then forward.

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"It will heal. Leave it to those bastards to implant the chip in my bicep instead of someplace where it was easy to remove." He let out a soft grunt, then took another sip of his coffee from the enamel mug.

Jason had removed the chip for him while we were aboard the boat headed for the Greens. It had been a rough, bloody surgery, but with Elan's salves, and my fire to cauterize the wound, Tam managed to avoid infection. We dumped the chip overboard, so if the Devani or the Corp Rats were trying to track him, they'd find themselves in the middle of the Pacific Sound. With the zombies overrunning Seattle, I doubted they'd even bother.

We had managed to reach the Wild Wood and were well north of the Greens, attempting to make our way through to the forest on the opposite side of Wild Wave Inlet, but the going was slow and the weather had been against us all the way. None of our cell phones worked here. The Wild Wood had taken on a force of its own since the World Shift, and even satellite technology couldn't pierce the veil that shadowed the tangle of forests.

I warmed my hands by the fire. We had yet to come across any of the Woodland Fae supposed to be living out in the wilds. Elan had cautioned patience.

"We have miles to go yet," she had said. "Verdanya is at least a week to the south, given the weather we're encountering."

Apparently, she wasn't kidding.

There were no paved roads out here, nor cars to travel them. If we had managed to escape to the south we could have hiked along the highway toward Bend and perhaps hitched a ride, but there hadn't been any time to escape that way. We had to evacuate immediately and with the Devani watching the southern border of the city, that meant traveling via the Barrow tunnels to the Pacific Sound to meet Laren's boat.

When the zombies swarmed the city, the Regent of Seattle declared martial law and every border was in the process of being locked up good and tight. Luckily the curfew couldn't affect UnderBarrow, but we had to run while we had the chance or risk facing the Devani as they began to patrol the Pacific Sound as well as the city streets. Laren would have had to sail away before they caught him. As big as our party was-eight adults and one teenager-the only way out through the chaos had been via the waterways.

Now, two days later, we were deep in the forest, caught in the middle of a massive snowstorm. I was usually good with directions, but keeping my bearings in a wild tangle of woodland was proving a challenge.

I settled beside Tam on the nurse log and leaned against him. He wrapped his arm-his good arm-around me and kissed my forehead.

"This is all new for you, isn't it? The forest?"

I nodded. "Other than a day trip or two, and an occasional excursion into the Bogs, the only interactions I've had with the forest were in the Arbortariam with the Greenlings. I'm not sure what to expect here. The sounds are so different than in the city. I don't know what to be alarmed by, or what's considered normal. Also, I can't stop thinking about Hecate. I know she said she'd be able to find me, but...will she?"

I was most concerned about the latter. Hecate was a goddess of the Crossroads. I was her Theosian-a minor goddess in my own right. She was back in Seattle. The Peninsula of the Gods had closed itself off to any visitors, including government officials. They had raised the banner of sovereignty as they isolated themselves from the chaos raging through the city.

"She's an Elder Goddess. She'll be able to find you, no matter what. Even if your cell phone isn't picking up a signal, she'll find you. You're bound to her and she holds your leash. How could she not keep track of you?"

Once again, Tam kissed me, this time on the lips. A long, lingering kiss, his touch ran through to the tips of my toes. I shivered, more out of hunger for him than because of my fears. I had never relied on anybody this much in a long time, and that in itself scared me.

Tam was around five-eleven, lanky with long black hair that curled to his waist. His features were angular, with wide, sloping eyes. His irises glimmered silver, and were ringed with black. He was the prettiest man I had ever seen. At least, he was pretty in that dangerous, glam-boy way. He also happened to be Lord of the Bonny Fae, and he was my lover.

I huddled next to him, holding my hands out to the fire as the snow fell thickly around us. Winter had come hard this year. Eons ago, before the World Shift, the Seattle area had been rainy during the winter, from what the history books told us. But now the season marched on, with long chilly autumns, icy winters, lovely springs, and then a brief, sweltering summer.

"What do you think is happening back there?" I missed the city. Even though I had lived on the fringe, hiding from the Devani and the sky-eyes, I loved the hustle and bustle, the street vendors and late night bogeys who slinked through the shadows. The city was all I had ever known.

"I don't even want to think about it." Tam slid his arm around my waist, pulling me closer. He grazed my cheek with his lips. "I'm just grateful that UnderBarrow can close against the outer world. At least my people will be safe. Someday, I want to show you all of its wonders. When we return I'll take you on the full tour." He paused, then whispered, "I wish I could fuck you right here, right now. You drive me crazy, you know that?"

I blushed. I was learning to accept his compliments, but they still made me laugh nervously. We had transformed our years-long friendship into a romantic one. It took some getting used to.

"I know." I shifted on the log. "I feel the same way, but we're in the middle of the woods, in the middle of a snowstorm, and all our friends are right here. I don't want to make them uncomfortable." I paused, glancing over at the tent we shared. "I'm just grateful Elan and Laren had plenty of survival gear stowed aboard the Golden Briar."

Born in Verdanya, home of the Woodland Fae, the twins owned the boat, and had helped us escape from Seattle.

Tam arched his back to stretch, raising his arms over his head. With a sudden grunt, he lowered his right arm, wincing. "That was stupid."

"Your arm?"

He nodded. "Yeah, I won't make that mistake again." With a sigh, he stood, holding out his hand. "Come then, let's see how the others are doing."

As we turned to join the rest of the camp, who were over by the main fire, the crackle of branches split the night as a group of dark, twisted figures lunged out from the forest. They growled and sputtered as they raced forward.

Crap. We were under attack.

I slapped my hand to my right thigh, where the long tattoo of a flaming whip came to life in my palm. Hecate had tattooed the whip onto my leg, magically imbuing the ink with her cold fire and strength. As I coiled the braided lash back, my side protested. I was still weak from a rib-bruising beating, but at least I had recovered enough over the past couple of days to fight.

Tam drew his sword, tossing it to his left hand. He was ambidextrous, and had a keen aim with either hand. I moved aside to give both of us room to maneuver. The last thing I needed was to flail one of our own party with my whip.

Over by the main fire, Elan and Laren smoothly moved in unison, nocking their arrows. Jason-a hawk shifter and one of my closest friends-drew his dagger. Though he was a magician, his spellwork wasn't geared toward fighting.

Hans, a Theosian like me who was pledged to Thor, and Greta, a newly ascended Valkyrie, also drew their swords and took up battle stance. Tymbur and Montran began to prepare their magic. Pledged to Hades, their magic ran in dark corners, like much of my own.

The only two who hung back had good reason. Neither Shevron, Jason's sister, or her teenaged son Leonard, were trained to fight.

As we tensed, waiting, our attackers emerged from the trees, looking ready to rumble. They were twisted and dark, and there were a lot of them. They must have been tracking us-they were too numerous for a scouting party, so they had probably caught our trail earlier in the day and gathered to form an attack.

As they drew closer to the fire, Jason shouted, "Lycanthropes!"

Lycanthropes looked more wolf than human and could run on all fours when they wished, though they generally slinked around upright. Unlike shifters and Weres, they couldn't transform into human and animal forms-they were stuck in-between. With long, jointed arms and legs, they could both run on all fours and yet walk on their hind legs. Their faces were disfigured, their muzzles a muddy cross between human and wolf, and their hair flowed down their back like a horse's mane. When they were on alert, as they were now, the strands stiffened into long, rigid hackles.

We spread out in a semi-Circle to shield Shevron and Leonard. The lycanthropes growled and snuffled as they slowed their approach, growing wary as they pushed toward us.

"Can we reason with them?" I asked Tam.

A flurry of snow whirled around me and Queet, my spirit guide, appeared.

In whisper-speak, so that only our party could hear, he said, "No. There is no reasoning with them, nor bargaining. Lycanthropes are filled with blood lust. Even among their own, they pick on the weak and elderly. They allow their young to grow without attacking them, but you'll never see an old or disabled lycanthrope. Strength and might are their values. Any member who feels themselves growing weak will leave the pack before they are destroyed."

"Great," I mumbled. "So we're facing fighters in their prime." I contemplated whether to charge, or to hold back for defense. But I wasn't leading the group, and it wasn't my call. We had elected Elan to be in charge as long as we were making our way through the Wild Wood.

I glanced over at her, where she was holding her arrow taut, trained on the leader. She must have sensed my question, because without looking away from her target, she said, "Hold until I give the go. Let them come a little closer, if they choose to take the risk."

Her words rang out, sounding like a taunt. I glanced at the lycanthropes, who jockeyed for position yet again. They looked a little less certain. It was then that I understood the dynamics. Just as with big cats, never look away or down or they'd take it as a sign of weakness.

I stared at the nearest one, locking my gaze with his. He was a huge beast, obviously male, and he was walking on his back legs. The lycanthrope let out a grunt. A challenge. I held my place, whip ready to strike.

As the creatures shuffled forward, Elan called out, "Ready!"

We froze, ready to strike.

Then, the lycanthropes rushed us.

"Go!" Elan let her arrow fly.

I brought my focus to my opponent. I was used to battling creatures bigger than myself-the Abominations that came in off the World Tree chose large human vehicles-but I knew their M.O.s. I knew what their weaknesses were, and I knew how to avoid most of their attacks. Lycanthropes? Not so much.

The lycanthrope careening toward me was at least two feet taller and a hundred pounds heavier than I was. His mouth was open, his razor sharp teeth gleaming and ready to snag himself some dinner. Fury-on-a-stick, to be precise.

My gaze darting over his body, I decided to strike for his face-that seemed the most vulnerable. I brought my whip back, circling it quickly around my head. The flames rushed off of the thong as it cracked through the air. Magical, they were a cold, burning fire, and deadly. They would burn on impact, and keep eating into the flesh after they hit.

My shoulder and ribs ached as I targeted the center of his face and brought the lash whistling down. I still was bruised from the shit-kicking I had taken a week or so ago, but I ignored the throbbing pain as the fall landed dead center on his nose. The crack echoed through the cascade of shouts and shrieks around us.

The lycanthrope let out a shriek and lurched back, dropping his club. I pressed in for another attack. I'd learned early never to give my opponent time to think. The moment I attacked, I kept on attacking.

He covered his face with his hands as I hit him again, this time the fall creeping between his fingers to land on the chin. As he clumsily lurched toward me, I darted to the side, trying not to slip in the knee deep snow. With my left hand, I drew Xan-my sword-from the scabbard hanging over my back. She was a magical blade, she was, ornate and engraved, and another gift from Hecate. The sword was bound to me, enhanced with magic so she aimed better and hit harder. Xan bit deep into flesh with a ruthlessly sharp edge.

I slapped the whip back on my thigh and it instantly coiled back into place, once more simply a tattoo.

The lycanthrope lunged. He was bleeding heavily, the blood dripping into his murderous eyes. I dodged to the right, twisting to bring Xan across his chest. He shrieked, howling long and deep as he stumbled forward, grabbing for his chest. By the light of the campfire, a stain of red saturated the snow, spreading as his life force pumped out through the wounds. He was bleeding so heavily that I found it hard to believe he hadn't keeled over yet. He must be tougher than I thought.

I swung again as he fell on his knees and this time, Xan cleaved into his back, lodging in his shoulder. Darting forward, I used my boot to shove his ass forward as I yanked on my sword. He lurched spread-eagle on the ground, and the sudden jolt as Xan came free sent me staggering back. I tried to steady myself, but tripped over a root and went sprawling on my butt.

Another one of the creatures leaped, landing atop of me, his long teeth snapping at my face. I thrust myself backward against the snow, trying to scramble out from beneath him.

"Fury!"

The next moment, blood splattered on my face and chest as the tip of a sword came thrusting through his skull from behind. I cringed as the lycanthrope went flying off of me, tossed to the side like a used tissue. Tam stood there, panting. He offered his hand, pulled me to my feet, and then we were back into the fray, both of our injuries forgotten in the heat of the battle.

My blood pulsed as the adrenaline rush thundered through my veins and I fell on the first creature who had attacked me, finishing him off as he crouched on the ground. As I jumped up, I saw that Greta and Hans were plowing through the beasts. There must have been twenty-five of the lycanthropes in the attack party, but Hans and Greta advanced, guarding each other's sides as they acted like a two-person slice-and-dice team. They took down first one, then two, then yet a third creature as I watched.

Jason dodged a hail of blows from one of the beasts, managing to throw him off guard with a fake pass to the right. As the lycanthrope aimed in the wrong direction, he left his side open and Jason took advantage, driving his long dagger between the creature's ribs, into his heart.

Another quick check told me Montran and Tymbur were cooking up some sort of magic. The energy echoed through the clearing and I made sure to stay out of the way. They worked with the magic of death and decay, and I wasn't about to interfere, even accidentally.

Elan and Laren had backed up onto a slope behind us, firing arrows one after another. In another moment or two, they'd have to draw their blades. The lycanthropes were fully inside our camp. As I finished my cursory examination, a scream echoed behind me.

I whirled. Shevron had pushed Leonard in back of her, trying to protect him from one of the creatures who had broken through the lines.

"Fall back!" I rushed over, drawing my dagger in my right hand.

Leonard was cursing up a blue streak, but Shevron shoved him out of the way as I slid between them and the lycanthrope, driving the blade deep into its throat. We were in too close of quarters for my whip or sword, so I jerked the dagger as hard as I could, ripping his larynx and severing his jugular in the process. I yanked the blade away, jumping to the side to let him fall. As he landed on the snow, bleeding out, I stabbed him in the back to make certain he was dead.

"Fury! Be care-" Shevron screamed, but before she could finish, a white hot pain slashed through my back.

I turned to find another of the beasts had taken advantage of my focus on his buddy to sneak up behind me. He raked my shoulder from behind. Before I could stop him, he slashed his claws across my chest. I stifled a scream, thrusting my blade deep into his stomach. As I twisted the dagger, he struggled, impaled on the cold steel as the flames spread into his wound. I gave the blade another moment, then cleanly withdrew it, stepping aside as he fell forward.

Shevron stared at me, her eyes wide. She was shaking, but still she held firm to Leonard's arm. Len, on the other hand, was struggling against her hold. But Shevron was a hawk-shifter, and Leonard had inherited his father's human nature. Which meant Mama Bird was far stronger than her chick.

Leonard thrashed. "Let me go. I can fight!"

"Shut up." I leaned in, glaring at him.

Len quickly shut his mouth. He had always been a little afraid of me.

"Mind your mother. We don't have time to protect you from yourself. Do as you're told."

Before he could sputter a word, I turned and raced back to the fight.

We had them on the run. Elan and Laren were back to shooting arrows and the survivors struggled toward the tree line. I tried to count how many still stood. At least eight, but they had apparently had enough. Jason made ready to chase after them.

"Leave them," Elan barked out, her voice sharp.

As the last of the lycanthropes vanished into the undergrowth, we regrouped by the main fire. Shevron let go of Leonard and he sullenly moved to the side, but stayed within the encampment. I ladled more snow into the pot of water hanging over the fire. I was hurt, and it looked like Jason and Tam had taken a couple hits and we'd need to clean our wounds.

Tymbur gently took the pan I was using as a scoop out of my hands. "Go sit. You're injured. I received a few superficial cuts but I'm fine. Let me take care of this."

Wearily, I nodded, too shell shocked to protest. I knew there were dangers in the Wild Wood, but I hadn't been prepared for a pack of ferocious lycanthropes to leap out of the woodwork. I winced as I moved my shoulder.

Tam was making the rounds, checking everybody's status. He hurried over to me. "Are you all right?" He knelt beside me, stroking my cheek.

"I need to clean these scratches. As long as they don't get infected, they'll heal up." As a Theosian, I healed faster than ordinary humans. I was also tougher. But that didn't make me immortal, invulnerable, or immune to infections, wounds, broken bones, and pain. I knew that all too well from experience.

I rested my hand on his arm. "Anybody else hurt?"

"Jason took a knife wound, but it's didn't hit anything vital and while it will sting, it should heal without incident. Montran managed to hit four of them with a death spell, but apparently lycanthropes have a natural immunity, and it sent them into a frenzy instead. They attacked each other, but in doing so, one managed to clobber him with her club. He has a knot on his forehead, but again, nothing life-threatening as far as I can tell."

He paused, then added, "Fury, we have to move and we should leave soon. If they come from a tribe somewhere near, we can't chance staying. We're going to have to travel in the dark, as quickly as we can get packed up. I'll work on an illusion to mask our scent-a glamour of sorts. As soon as Tymbur binds your wounds, please help break down the camp." With that, he planted a quick kiss on my lips and headed over to where Elan and Laren were standing.

I watched as Shevron marched through the camp, dragging Leonard with her. He was bitching-all too loudly-and she stopped in front of Jason, who was holding his side where the lycanthrope's blade had nicked him.

"Jason, tell your nephew to stop trying to play hero." Shevron shoved Leonard in front of her, holding him by the shoulders. "He won't listen to his mother anymore."

Jason stared at Leonard for a moment, then slowly opened his jacket. In the glow of the campfire, I could see the oozing wound. On someone who was human, it could have easily have put them out of commission, but Jason was still standing. Hawk-shifters were fierce.

"Look at this wound. Look close." He grabbed Leonard by the head and forced him close to the angry gash. "Take a really good look."

Leonard grimaced, trying to look away.

"You don't want to look? I don't blame you. If you had taken the blade, you'd be dead. We'll teach you how to fight, son, but until we get to our destination, you need to chill out. Get it?" Jason planted Len's hand against the bleeding gash. "Feel that? It's slippery. Smell it."

That seemed a bit harsh, but then I stopped myself from interfering. This was a family affair, and Leonard been testing the boundaries all too much lately.

The teen looked sick to his stomach, but he obeyed, slowly bringing his hand to his face where he sniffed his fingers. "It smells coppery."

"That's blood. Blood keeps us all alive. Do you know how much this hurts? Like a razor sharp son of a bitch. I'm bleeding, which weakens me. But I don't have time to slow down. Every life in this camp depends on each of us doing our part. Every breath we take depends on each one of us doing what we're asked to. We can't afford to have you go running off half-cocked. If you do, I guarantee you, you're going to put somebody's life in danger. Because all the enthusiasm in the world won't matter and you'll end up being the one who needs rescuing. When we get to Verdanya, I'll teach you to fight-"

"Jason-" Shevron didn't look happy at all.

"Quiet, Shevron. Things have changed. They weren't easy to begin with, but Seattle's fighting a horde of zombies right now and we're stuck out in the middle of the wilderness. We have to adapt. Len should know how to defend himself." Jason turned back to Len. "And one more thing: don't let me ever hear you talking back to your mother again. I can argue with her because I'm her brother and we're both adults. You, on the other hand, keep your nose clean. Do you understand me?"

Leonard let out a long sigh, but finally nodded. He was caught in the throes of growing up. Jason and Shevron had inherited their parents' pale complexion and light hair, but Len was golden brown, the color of his father, and his eyes were dark and rich. His hair was blonde thanks to a bottle, but he was his father's child in many ways, including that the human nature had come through rather than the hawk-shifter. And except for the fact that his father had abandoned both Shevron and his unborn child long before Len entered the world. Regardless of his arguments with Shevron, Leonard was devoted to her and his uncle.

"I'll play by the rules, Uncle J."

"See that you do. Now apologize to your mother." Jason pointed toward Shevron, a stern look on his face.

Leonard turned to his mother and sheepishly said. "I'm sorry, Mom."

"Sorry, what?" Shevron asked.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am. I'll behave." He reminded me of the five year old who had played in my room years ago, getting into my makeup and crying when I yelled at him for eating my lipstick.

Shevron held his gaze for a moment, then nodded. She turned back to Jason. "What should we do?"

"Break down camp. We need to get out of here now."

As we fell to dressing wounds, taking down tents, and gathering embers for our next camp, I wondered if we'd make it away before the lycanthropes returned. And if they didn't return, just what else was waiting for us in the Wild Wood?

* * *

I'M KAELEEN DONOVAN, but I rarely go by that name. Most folks call me Fury, though Jason calls me Kae, but he's allowed to. He gave me a home after my mother was brutally murdered.

Speaking of my mother, Marlene and Terry, my father, were both human. But during her pregnancy, my mother took a shortcut through the Sandspit and wandered into a patch of rogue magic. Boom, bang, and hoorah. My life-to-be changed forever.

The rogue magic altered my DNA, turning me into a Theosian-a minor goddess. As was the custom, I was presented to the Seers who declared that I belonged to Hecate. And so I was bound to her. Hecate taught me to use my fire, at least to some degree. And she taught me how to seek out and destroy the Abominations that come in off the World Tree. We have a good relationship. At least, I think so. She makes sure I have work when I need it, and I make sure to play by the rules.

When I'm not chasing down Abominations, I run the Crossroads Cleaning Company that's set up in Jason's magical store-Dream Wardens. In other words, I clean up psychic messes, hauntings, perform exorcisms, offer tarot and rune readings, and anything else that I can think of. I make a living, but it's not a get-rich-quick profession.

As I said, my mother was murdered and I was there to witness it. I escaped, though it's never been clear how. We think the trauma triggered something deep within my magic. Whatever the case, I landed on Jason's doorstep that night, and he took me in. How he managed with a thirteen year old girl, I'm not sure. He was single, over two-hundred, (but didn't look a day over thirty), yet he made a home for me. Together, he and Shevron looked after me.

I was fed, clothed, and cared for. They shepherded me through school, and made sure I attended every lesson Hecate scheduled. As I grew up, they became my friends rather than guardians. Now, at thirty, my aging process is starting to slow. Theosians are long lived. We can make it to six hundred or sometimes longer, as long as we aren't killed or fall to an accident.

Until recently, everything was hunky dory-at least, as much as it could be given the corrupt government and the ruthless Devani who patrol the streets.

But when the Order of the Black Mist stole an ancient artifact and threatened to rain down chaos on the planet, everything in my world shifted. We managed to steal back the Thunderstrike, but the Order retaliated in an even more deadly fashion, turning Seattle over to a horde of zombies. Not quite the apocalypse, but not that far off, either.

Now, we're on the run-my friends and I. And we're not sure just when we're going to be able to go home again. Or if there will be a home to return to.

* * *

"EVERYTHING READY?" ELAN took another look around the campsite.

All the tents were down, the fires were out, and we were ready to move again. I desperately wanted to go to bed, but Elan was right. We couldn't chance the lycanthropes returning, fortified by reinforcements.

"Everything's packed and on the horses." I glanced over at the animals. We hadn't been able to scare up enough horses to ride through the Wild Wood, but we had three and they were carrying most of the gear.

"All right," she said, waving for us to move. "Onward. We'll journey for two or three hours and then, if we see no sign that the lycanthropes are in pursuit, we'll set up camp again. I know you're all tired but we risk our lives if we stay here." With that, she motioned for us to move out. With Elan leading, and her brother taking the rear to make certain nobody stumbled off the path, we started our slow slog through the snow again. As the heavy snow continued to fall, we headed into the darkness, cutting cross-country.

COLLAPSE

Playlist:

Air: Moon fever, Napalm Love, Venus, Surfing on a Rocket, Playground Love
The Alan Parsons Project: Sirius, Children of the Moon, Breakdown, Can't Take It With You, The Raven
Amethystium: Shadow to Light, Tinuviel
Android Lust: Here and Now
Arcade Fire: Abraham's Daughter
Arch Leaves: Nowhere to Go
The Black Angels: You on the Run, Don't Play With Guns, Holland, Love Me Forever, Young Men Dead, Haunting at 1300 McKinley
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Shuffle Your Feet, Feel It Now
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Bryan Adams: Run to You
Buffalo Springfield: For What It's Worth
Cat Stevens: Katmandu
Celtic woman: Butterfly, Scarborough Fair
Chris Isaak: Wicked Game
Clannad: Banba Óir, I See Red, Newgrange
Cobra Verde: Play With Fire
Corvus Corax: Ballarde de Mercy, Bucca
Crosby, Stills & Nash: Ohio, Find the Cost of Freedom, Guinnevere
Damh the Bard: Brighid, The January Man, Land, Sky and Sea, Willow's Song, Gently Johnny, The Wicker Man, Oak Broom and Meadowsweet
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig, Dance of the Unicorns
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being
Eivør: Trøllbundin
Enya: Cursum Perficio, Orinoco Flow
Faun: Hymn to Pan, The Market Song, Sieben, Tanz mit mir
FC Kahuna: Hayling
The Feeling: Sewn
The Gospel Whiskey Runners: Muddy Waters
The Heathen Kings: Rambling Sailor, Rolling of the Stones, The Blacksmith
Heather Alexander: Camden Town, Yo Ho! Black Jack's Lady, March of Cambreadth
Hedningarna: Gorrlaus, Tuuli, Grodan/Widergrenen, Räven, Tullí, Ukkonen, Juopolle Joutunut, Drafur & Gilder
Huldrelokkk: Trolldans, Huldrehalling
Ian Melrose & Kerstin Blodig: Kråka, Kelpie
Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
Jethro Tull: Jackfrost and the Hooded Crow, I'm Your Gun, A Stitch in Time, Jack-A-Lynn, Motoreyes, Part of the Machine, Overhang, Living in These Hard Times, Witch's Promise, The Clasp, Dun Ringill, North Sea Oil, Something's on the Move, Old Ghosts, Quizz Kid, Taxi Grab, Big Dipper
The Kills: Nail In My Coffin, You Don't Own The Road, Sour Cherry, No Wow, Dead Road 7
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat, Royals
Loreena McKennitt: The Mummers' Dance, All Souls Night
Low with Tom and Andy: Half Light
Matt Corby: Breathe
The Pierces: Secret
Shriekback: The Shining Path, Underwater Boys, Dust and a Shadow, This Big Hush, Now These Days Are Gone, The King in the Tree
Simple Minds: Don't You (Forget About Me)
Spiral Dance: The Goddess and the Weaver, Boys of Bedlam, The Quickening, The Oak, Tarry Trousers, Rise Up
Sweet Talk Radio: We All Fall Down
Tamaryn: While You're Sleeping, I'm Dreaming, Violet's in a Pool
Tempest: Raggle Taggle Gypsy, Mad Tom of Bedlam, Nottamun Town, Queen of Argyll, Black Jack Davey
Tina Turner: One of the Living
Tom Petty: Mary Jane's Last Dance
Traffic: The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Tuatha Dea: The Hunt, Irish Handfasting, Tuatha de Dannan, The Hum and the Shiver, Wisp of a Thing Part 1, Long Black Curl
Warchild: Ash
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow, Hecate, The Circle Song, The Wolf Sky, Evolution, Elemental Chant
Woodland: Will O' the Wisp, The Old Ones, Beltane Night, Rose Red (The Moon's Daughter), Blood of the Moon, Golden Raven's Eye, Under the Snow, First Melt, Witch's Cross, I Remember, The Dragon
Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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Fury Rising

My name is Kaeleen Donovan. I'm a Theosian-a minor goddess. They call me Fury. Oath bound to Hecate, I was charged from birth to hunt down Abominations who come in off the World Tree and send them back to Pandoriam.

When the Thunderstrike — an ancient artifact from the time of the Weather Wars — is stolen by the Order of the Black Mist, Hecate orders me to find the magical device. The chaos magicians are out to upset the balance that Gaia instilled during the World Shift. But I soon discover that the leader of the Black Mist is out to do more than stir up trouble. He's looking to set up a new world order with himself on the throne. Caught between two rival forces, will my friends and I be able to survive as we search for the Thunderstrike and attempt to stop a war that could bring about the end of the civilization?

Reading Order of the Fury Unbound Series:

Fury Rising
Fury's Magic
Fury Awakened
Fury Calling
Fury’s Mantle

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Excerpt:

The Beginning

The end of civilization as we knew it arrived not with a whimper, but with a massive storm. When Gaia-the great mother and spirit of the Earth-finally woke from her slumber to discover the human race destroying the planet through a series of magical Weather Wars, she pitched a fit. The magical storm she unleashed change such as never before had been seen. The resulting gale ripped the doors on the World Tree wide open, including the doors to Pandoriam-where the Aboms-chaotic demons of shadow and darkness-live, and the doors to Elysium, where the Devani-ruthless agents of light-exist.

In that one cataclysmic moment, now known as the World Shift, life changed forever as creatures from our wildest dreams-and nightmares-began to pour through the open doors.

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The old gods returned and set up shop. The Fae and the Weres came out from the shadows and took up their place among the humans. The Theosians began to appear. Technology integrated with magic, and now everything is all jumbled together. Nothing in the old order remained untouched. The world might appear to be similar to the way it was, but trust me-under that thin veneer of illusion, nothing has remained the same.

Chapter 1

My name is Kaeleen Donovan. They call me Fury. I'm a Theosian. I walk in flame and ash, on a field of bones. Some nights I think I'll burn to a crisp under Hecate's moonlight. Other nights... are easier.

I pressed myself against the crumbling brick, breathing softly. A trail of ivy came tumbling down the side of the wall, covering a wide swath all the way to the ground next to me. One tendril reached out and tapped me on the shoulder and the patch of green opened up, offering me the chance to slip inside, out of the wind, but I pushed it away. Wandering Ivy was unpredictable and you couldn't trust it, any more than you could trust the wide fields of vegetation outside the city boundaries. And since we didn't have the resources to eradicate it down here in Darktown-or even keep it in check-most of us just left it alone and watched where we sat or leaned.

The moon was hidden, her light barely visible, masking both street and burrow-lane, but I could sense the clouds coming in. The low rumble of thunder in the distance announced they weren't too far out, but for now, the clear skies meant it was perfect drone weather. And that meant the Corp-Rats would have their sky-eyes out in full force.

In fact, one had started to follow me a few minutes earlier, but when I ducked beneath the overhanging eaves of the 22-U, the mini-mall that housed several small businesses, it backed off. Luckily, the drones weren't allowed to maneuver down to street level. There was too much danger that somebody would attempt a disable-and-grab, especially down here in Darktown, so the Devani kept their patrols limited to watching over us from above. They wouldn't respond if something went down, anyway. Nobody gave a damn what went on in this sector of the city-not unless it looked like a riot that might threaten to spill through the borders. And that wasn't likely to happen. As long as people weren't outright starving, and they were kept busy by long-hour shifts and an abundance of Opish and Methodyne, apathy tended to rule.

Another minute, and the sky-eye zipped past and kept on going. I waited until it was out of sight before I relaxed and sucked in a deep breath. It wasn't that I was doing anything wrong, per se. Not yet, at least. But the less I crossed the Corp-Rats' radar, the better.

Theosians who caught their attention often vanished without warning and I didn't intend to be one of them, especially since my chips had been altered and if they did an in-depth scan on me, they'd find out that I was living off-grid, in a roundabout manner. With luck, the Devani would be running on their usual schedule, which meant there shouldn't be another fly-by in this area for at least two or three hours. Breathing a little easier, I stepped back into the burrow-lane and headed toward the Sandspit.

Darktown's linkup to the Monotrain was erratic at best during the day. At night, it was catch as catch can, so I picked up my pace. Public transportation didn't always make it this far, and it wasn't for want of tracks.

As I jogged along, I pulled out my phone and tapped ENCRYPT. Tam had tricked it out for me, so I could send brief messages that couldn't be intercepted.

"Heading to the Sandspit. Something's going down there tonight-I can feel it, but I'm not quite sure what it is. I'll send Queet with news if we find anything." Phones didn't work near the Sandspit, so once I arrived there, I wouldn't be able to call him.

"Be careful, Kae. The Spit has been very active lately. If you even think you need help, send Queet my way immediately." Jason was a hawk-shifter and a magus. He could talk to spirits when he chose to open himself up.

Pocketing my phone, I glanced up at the sky. The clouds were starting to roll in fast now. The storm was going to be a nasty one. The wind picked up and the scent of rain was heavy.

The Pacific Northwest had always been drizzly, but once the World Shift happened, Seattle was lucky to see full sun for more than a handful of days during the summer. In winter, the downpours turned to heavy snow and ice. In fact, everything had changed since the World Shift, including the weather. The greenhouse effect and global warming? Gone with an angry wave of Gaia's hand. The pendulum had swung the other way and temperatures had grown colder in the north and hotter toward the equators. It was like Gaia had given the finger to humans and decided to shift the weather patterns according to her whims.

With a sigh, I zipped up my jacket and braced myself against the rising wind. I had patrols to make, rain or not. And the fact that I was wearing a pair of leather shorts didn't matter. I couldn't wear pants-it interfered with my magic. So I just had to suck up the autumn chill and deal with it.

I was about two miles away from my home when I reached the edge of the Sandspit.

The Sandspit was a two-hundred-acre vortex of wasteland, bordered by Darktown on the north and the Bogs to the west. Gaia's rampage had swept through with a vengeance. The magical storm she created had raged through every section of the land. A particularly nasty lightning strike had ripped apart this area of the city, and that lightning was infused with her anger.

When the bolt struck the train yards, it had driven deep into the ground with a massive jolt of magic. Poof... in a blink, all the tracks and trains vaporized as the Sandspit formed. But while the area looked pretty much like a hill-and-valley stretch of dunes, it was far from being just a pile of sand. Rife with wild magic, the Spit was a dangerous place. At times odd creatures ventured out from shifting portals that opened from Seattle's World Tree, which was smack in the middle of the patch of magical dunes. Other times, a small whirlwind would spring up, spreading sand and random spells every which way. But no matter what was going on, you could count on it as being dangerous.

Over time, the Bogs had built up on the west side of the Sandspit. They were a dangerous, wild space of cold marsh, tangled trees, and quicksand. People who wandered in there often never came out, and nobody sent search parties looking for them.

To the east stood the Metalworks, the industrial district, but the majority of people who didn't have to work or live in the area avoided the Sandspit whenever possible.

Most people. My mother had traveled through it on her way home one night when she was pregnant with me and that's how I ended up a Theosian. She stumbled into a swirling pool of wild magic and in that brief time, the energy shifted something in my DNA and boom... one minor goddess coming up.

The Sandspit was partly enclosed by a tall chain-link fence to keep people from accidentally wandering through, but every time the Corp-Rats tried to barricade it entirely, the fence would mysteriously corrode or break or vanish, leaving the Sandspit accessible again. After a while, the Regent got the message and while the chain fence still stood, wide gates left access on all sides.

Standing near the edge, I cautiously looked around. I wasn't sure what had called me out yet, but I had learned never to ignore my gut. I shaded my eyes, trying to see through the gloom. Finally, bored and yet antsy, I slid down to sit on the ground, back against the fence, my sword across my legs. Whatever it was, I would wait it out for as long as I could. I sure as hell wasn't going to go poking around in there on my own. I'd rather sit here all night, if necessary.

Using whisper-speak, I asked, "Queet, are you with me?"

"I'm here." His voice echoed into my thoughts. Nobody else could hear him unless they were tuned into the spirit realm or he chose to make himself heard.

Relieved, I let out a long breath. Queet was usually nearby, even when I couldn't see him, but hearing his voice made me feel easier. I might complain about being connected in the head with a spirit guide, but truth was, he made my job-and my life-easier, even though neither of us liked being yoked together. Being a Theosian wasn't easy. At least, not for me. I was indentured to Hecate. Hecate, the Goddess of Dark Magic and the Crossroads. My magic was that of cold flame and moonlight, of ash and bone and death.

"Fury? Don't get too comfortable." Queet sounded concerned.

I tensed. "Do we have an outlier?" I tuned in and sure enough, my alarm bells began to ring as my Trace screen opened up.

"Yeah, an Abom."

At the same moment he spoke, the creepy-crawly feeling flared in my gut. Queet was right, an Abomination was near. Well, hell. That meant we were in for trouble unless we could head him off at the pass.

"Where is he? I just caught his Trace."

"He's on the north side of the Sandspit. He's headed back toward the center of Darktown. Fury, he's in-body."

An in-body Abom? They were usually rare. "Do you think he noticed my footprint?"

"I don't think he's made you. But Fury, Tommy-Tee is out on his corner tonight. Smack in the middle of the Abom's path."

Double hell. Tommy-Tee was a sitting duck. Hell, the poor guy could barely handle life, let alone take on an Abom. But fucked up or not, because of his musical bent, Tommy-Tee had enough energy to attract the creature's attention. It would drain him dry and toss the shell. And that wasn't acceptable. Down here in Darktown, we took care of our own, especially those who couldn't look after themselves.

I pushed to my feet. "Which direction? Guide me."

"If you head west along Industrial Drive, then swing a right into the first burrow-lane, then a left at Silverfish's stall, you'll be on his back."

Crap. That was near Jason's shop-Dream Wardens. And Up-Cakes, his sister's bakery.

"You'll have to use your blur, though, in order to catch up to him."

"That's why I wore these shoes, ghostling." I smiled in the darkness. It drove Queet nuts when I called him that, but I couldn't help myself. He was always so very serious that sometimes I just wanted to shake a smile or laugh out of him.

"Just go." Queet didn't like being a spirit guide-he had told me that time and again. But that was okay, because I didn't always like having him for one. Since we had to work together, though, we made the most of it. And truth was, if we had just been able to pal around? We would have gotten along fine. It was the bound-at-the-skull thing that was an issue.

As I headed toward the burrow-lane, the rain started. It pelted off me, giant stinging droplets that bounced off as I sped up my pace, swerving to skirt a massive pile of rubble. Darktown was full of ruins, buildings that hadn't survived the World Shift. Cleanup had stopped at the borders. Croix? Uptown? North Shore? Even Portside was nice and tidy, but in our district, we were left to cope with the decay. At least we weren't as bad off as the Tremble, though.

At top speed, I was a blur of motion-running about four times faster than any human. I came to the burrow-lane and skidded to the right, veering into the narrow passage. As I ran, I talked to Queet. Whisper-speak was easy on the lungs, a talent almost every Theosian possessed.

"Aboms almost always come in on the astral. I wonder what lured this one to cross over in-body."

"I don't know, but wrap your mind around the fact that this one is as corporeal as you are, and he's a bruiser, so be careful. He's likely to knock you for a loop unless you go about this right, Fury."

I always took Queet's warnings to heart. We might chafe at working together but he was smart. And when it came to Aboms-he knew what he was talking about.

Abominations were soul-eaters. They had no conscience when it came to their victims.  But in-body? They were far worse. They'd been known to devour their victims down to the bone, as well as drain their souls, usually while the quarry was still alive and could feel it. When they came in-body, they often took on human form, but once they took hold of their victim, all bets were off and they reverted to their natural shape. Which was usually some sort of hideous beast.

At least I was armed. I'd tried stunners and several other weapons, but very little fazed these creatures but magic and brute force. And while magic was my forte, I carried three very important weapons-my sword, my dagger, and my whip.

Xan, my long, ornate sword, was razor sharp. She wasn't exactly legal, but down here, in Darktown? Nobody, not even the Devani, were going to put up a fuss. When Hecate had presented her to me, along with the matching dagger, she had given me the name of the sword. She sealed Xan into servitude for me, enhancing the sword's abilities to strike my opponents and to bite them deep and hard.

"There, make a left." Queet appeared in a flurry of mist next to me. Nobody else would recognize the mist for what it really was. That is, no one except another Theosian, magus, witch, or Psi. And right now, it felt good to know that somebody had my back, even a spirit guide.

I swung a hard left out of the burrow-lane, onto Sidewinder Street, the main street in Darktown. Up ahead and across the street was Dream Wardens, and the lights were still on. Next door, Up-Cakes was dark. In the center market, most of the stalls were closed, including Silverfish's Hemporium, but up ahead, on the corner, I could see the faint shape of someone playing guitar. Tommy-Tee. And headed his way, halfway between us, was the lurching figure of the Abom.

From the back, he did look like a bruiser. The Abom's current vehicle was six feet high, bald and brutish and wearing a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. That in itself was unusual. Mostly, when the Aboms came over in-body, they chose a Suit as their host, attempting to garner an edge via their three-pieces and shiny shoes. But whatever the case, the Abom was on the hunt and he was headed right for Tommy-Tee.

The Abomination's signal lit up my Trace with a neon frenzy. From where I was, I could smell the faint scent of char. They all reeked with it-an acrid scent of burning flesh and wood. My instincts kicked into high gear. Time to hunt and destroy. Hecate was leaning over my shoulder-I could feel her whispering to me through the dark of the moon, through the tattoo on my neck-triple snakes for the Triple Goddess-wound into an intricate pattern. Venomous images embodying my shadow magic.

I'd have a better chance of taking the Abom down if he didn't know I was coming, but it was only a matter of seconds before he picked up on me, and then my advantage would be long gone. And in that body? He wasn't going to be easy to handle. Not here, out in the open.

"Queet?"

"Here. What do you need?"

"He's big and he's strong. I need to meet him on the Crossroads."

"Fury, that's a big risk. You know what shifting over to the Crossroads does to you. The aftereffects are nasty. Honestly, are you telling me that you are willing to risk yourself for Tommy-Tee? Think about it."

"I don't have time to think about it. Look-he's fucking huge. He's at least a foot taller than I am, and the minute he hears me breathe, he'll turn. Then, I won't have a clear shot to his soul-hole. If I have to fight him here, it's going to be bad. Real bad. If I take him to the Crossroads, I'll have my full power there."

A half-beat. Then, "Go. Do what you need to. I'll contact Jason as soon as you cross over and meet you there."

I surged forward and within seconds, I raced past the Abom, past Tommy-Tee, and was standing in the middle of the intersection. Thank gods there was no traffic.

"Hey, freakshow! How about a real dinner?" I waved my hands and shouted at the bruiser, trying to get his attention.

Startled, I heard Tommy-Tee stumble over a chord as he lost his place in his song.

The Abomination turned my way. The next moment, he broke off stalking Tommy-Tee and made a beeline for me, darting into the road at breakneck speed.

I waited, biding my time, breath pent.

Tommy-Tee was too fried from years of being hooked on Opish to understand what was going on. He took a step toward the edge of the sidewalk.

"Queet, do something. Keep Tommy-Tee off the road."

Queet swept past-I could feel the gust-and he slammed into Tommy, knocking him back with the force of his currents. Having a spirit guide who could mimic a poltergeist was handy at times.

Tommy-Tee landed on his butt on the sidewalk and I took that moment to make my move. The Abom was almost within arm's range of me. I swept my arms up, clasping my hands together over my head. A flash radiated as I closed my eyes and focused on my destination. The street shifted and blurred, melting around us, as the world lurched and then-we were on the Crossroads.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Jill Smith on Romantic Times Reviews wrote:

Over the course of her impressive career, Galenorn has excelled at setting up compelling worlds filled with a variety of layered characters who enrich each tale. Fury Rising is no different, as this launch book of the Fury Unbound series gives readers a glimpse into the world of Kaeleen Donovan, who is a minor-goddess known as Fury.The stakes for all of humanity are high and Galenorn wastes no time setting the action in motion. Hang on and enjoy!


Playlist

Android Lust: Here and Now
Brandon & Derek Fiechter: Witch’s Brew; Night Fairies; Legend of the Dark Lord
Celtic Woman: The Butterfly; The Voice
The Chieftains: Dunmore Lassies
Clannad: Banba Óir; Newgrange
Corvus Corax: Bucca; Filii Neidhardi
David & Steve Gordon: Shaman’s Drum Dance
Deuter: Petite Fleur
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Eivør: Trøllbundin
Enya: Orinoco Flow; Cursum Perficio
Faun: Iduna; Rad; Sieben; The Market Song
Gabrielle Roth: The Dancing Path: Flowing; Rest Your Tears Here; Totem; The Calling; Mother Night; Raven
Hedningarna: Chicago; Ukkonen; Gorrulaus; Tullí; Räven [Fox Woman]; Juopolle Joutunut
Huldrelokk: Trolldans
Kerstin Blodig & Ian Melrose: Kråka; Kelpie; Bedlam Boys/Bedlam Girls; Miner Viser
Tamaryn: Violet’s in a Pool; While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming
Tingstad & Rumbel: Chaco; Peru

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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.

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Chapter 1

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.

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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

Playlist for Night's End

I write to music a good share of the time and have been sharing my playlists on my website. I finally decided to add them to the backs of the books for my readers who aren’t online.

—Yasmine Galenorn

A Pale Horse Named Death: Meet the Wolf
A.J. Roach: Devil May Dance
Adam Lambert: Mad World
Agnes Obel: Close Watch
Air: Moon Fever; Astronomic Club; Napalm Love; Surfing on a Rocket; Playground Love
Android Lust: Here and Now; When the Rains Came; Saint Over; Stained
Antaeus: Palm of the Prophet
Atlas Sound: Angel Is Broken
AWOLNATION: Sail
Black Angels, The: Vikings; Don’t Play with Guns; Young Men Dead; Manipulation; You’re Mine; You on the Run; Indigo Meadow; Haunting at 1300 McKinley
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play; Wucan
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Feel It Now; Shuffle Your Feet; Fault Line
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside; The High Road
Buffalo Springfield: For What It’s Worth
Chris Isaac: Wicked Game
Clannad: Newgrange; Banba Óir
Cobra Verde: Play With Fire
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Cure, The: Charlotte Sometimes; Pornography; Cold
Dragon Ritual Drummers: The Fall; Black Queen
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being
Eels: Souljacker Part 1
Faithless: Addictive
Faun: Lupercalia; Pearl; Zeitgeist; Hymn to Pan; Sieben
Foster the People: Pumped Up Kicks
Gabrielle Roth: The Calling; Raven; Rest Your Tears Here
Garbage: I Think I’m Paranoid; Bleed Like Me; Only Happy When It Rains; Queer; Beloved Freak
Gary Numan: Melt; Dead Heaven; Hybrid; Dead Son Rising; In a Dark Place; Walking With Shadows; When the Sky Bleeds, He Will Come; Pure; Dominion Day; The Angel Wars
Gotye: Somebody That I Used To Know; Hearts a Mess
Hedningarna: Grodan/Widergrenen; Räven; Tuuli; Ukkonen
In Strict Confidence: Silver Bullets; Snow White; Tiefer
Julian Cope: Charlotte Anne
Kyuss: Space Cadet
Lady Gaga: Paparazzi; I Like It Rough; Teeth
Ladytron: Black Cat; I’m Not Scared; Ghosts
Lindstrøm and Christabelle: Lovesick
Lord of the Lost: Sex on Legs
Low: Half Light
Madonna: Beautiful Stranger; 4 Minutes
Marcy Playground: Comin’ Up From Behind
Marilyn Manson: Tainted Love
Mark Lanegan: Phantasmagoria Blues; The Gravedigger’s Song; Methamphetamine Blues; Riot in My House; Bleeding Muddy Water
Nine Inch Nails: Get Down, Make Love; Sin; Closer
Nirvana: Heart-Shaped Box; You Know You’re Right
Notwist, The: Hands on Us
Orgy: Blue Monday; Social Enemies
People in Planes: Vampire
Puddle of Mudd: Famous; Psycho
Rammstein: Ich Will; Stripped; Wollt Ihr das Bett in Flammen Sehen
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Saliva: Ladies and Gentlemen
Sarah McLachlan: Possession
Scorpions: The Zoo
Screaming Trees: Dime Western; Where the Twain Shall Meet
Seether: Remedy
Stone Temple Pilots: Atlanta; Creep
Susan Enan: Bring on the Wonder
Syntax: Pride
Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; The Waves; Violet’s in a Pool
Toadies: Possum Kingdom
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Verve, The: Bitter Sweet Symphony

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Eons ago, vampires tried to turn the dark Fae to harness their magic, only to create a demonic enemy more powerful than they could have imagined. Now, the Vampiric Fae are on the move, hunting anyone in their path. As the war with the vampires ratchets up, Myst, Queen of the Indigo Court, enshrouds New Forest in her chilling grasp.

Cicely Waters had always thought she was simply one of the magic-born-a witch who can control the wind-but recently she discovered she's also one of the shifting Fae. Now she must perfect her gift. Because Cicely and her friends may have escaped from Myst and her Shadow Hunters, but Myst has managed to capture the Fae Prince who holds Cicely's heart.

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Chapter 1

THE GREAT HORNED owl sat in the oak.

I could see the bird from my window as it huddled in the sparse branches, trying to protect itself from the snow. I longed to join it, to strip off my clothes and turn into my owl self, to fly free under the haunting winter moon, but the weather was harsh and cold. And Myst was out there, hiding in the forest with her people, waiting.

And somewhere, hidden in her mists and shadows, Grieve is there, captive, caught in Myst’s web. Can he still possibly love me? Can he still be saved from the blood that flows through his veins? How can I let him go, now that we’ve found each other again?

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I opened the window and leaned out, glancing down at the yard below. The snow gleamed under the nearly full moon, a crystal blanket of white flooding the lawn. The Golden Wood—or Spider’s Wood, as I called it—was aglow as usual, with a sickly green light that I’d seen every night since returning home to New Forest. A thousand miles and years seemed to separate me from my former existence, although it had been only a couple of weeks since I arrived back in town. But in that short time, my life had turned upside down, in every possible way.

The wind called to me to come and play and I closed my eyes, reveling in the feel of the breezes lashing against my skin. My owls shifted, urging me to fly. The tattoos—a pair of blackwork owls flying over a silver moon impaled on a dagger—banded both of my arms.

Slipping on my leather jacket and gloves, I cautiously climbed out on the roof, making sure that the snow that had built up was stable and didn’t skitter on the shingles, sending me sliding to the ground, but it had turned to ice. I scooted until my back rested against the window, then brought my knees up, circling them with my arms, and nestled as best as I could against the cold.

As I stared up into the oak, the great horned owl let out a soft hoot, stirring my blood. Over the past month, he’d taught me to shake off the fear of falling, to soar through the unending night turning on a wing, catching mice in the yard, while always, always, keeping an eye on the forest.

You are Uwilahsidhe. You are magic-born. You must keep watch for Myst, he constantly reminded me. The Queen of the Indigo Court seeks to destroy you.

I raised one hand in salute, the snowflakes softly kissing my skin, and he hooted again, a warning in his tone.

“What is it?” I whispered. “What are you trying to tell me?”

Ulean, my Wind Elemental, swept around me like a cloak, answering for him. He fears for you. There are ghosts riding the wind tonight, and the Shadow Hunters are out and about. There will be death before the morning.

More death. More blood. My stomach churned as I thought about the four killings reported over the past two days. One had been a child. All had been torn to bits, eaten to the bone.

I gazed at the forest. What were Myst and her people up to tonight? Who were they hunting? The bitch-queen was ravenous and without mercy.

There has been so much death over the past few days. They are terrorizing the town and now everyone fears them, even though they don’t know from whom they run. I leaned against the gentle current that signaled Ulean was embracing me. She had been my guardian since I was six years old, bonded to me through ritual, a gift from Lainule, the Fae Queen of Rivers and Rushes.

And they should fear. Myst won’t just go away. She is here to make her mark and conquer. She is here to destroy. Ulean caught up a flurry of snow and sent it into the air, spiraling around me.

I glanced back inside at the clock. Seven p.m. Another two hours before we were to meet with Geoffrey. Finally, after five days of silence, the Northwest Regent of the Vampire Nation had summoned us. Five days after we had rescued our friend Peyton from Myst. Five days after I’d lost Grieve. Five days during which the Indigo Court had rained hell on the town, killing eight people.

The owl hooted again and as I glanced in his direction, a shadow of movement caught my eye from below, over near the herb gardens.

Crap—something was rooting around down there. Not an animal, so what was it? Another glance over at the Spider’s Wood showed nothing amiss, but we couldn’t take any chances.

Ulean, do you know what that thing is?

A moment passed and then she drifted gently around me again. Not one of the Shadow Hunters, but I have no doubt it belongs to the Indigo Court. Myst is attracting the sinister Fae.

I leaned forward, trying to keep it within my sight.

I need to know what it is. We can’t take a chance on letting it prowl around our land.

Scrambling back through the window, I paused just long enough to slip on my wrist sheath and make sure my switchblade was firmly affixed. Grabbing my fan from the dresser, I slipped back out on the roof and edged my way to the overhang.

The two-story drop could have presented a problem, but a couple of days ago I’d installed a roll-up ladder. I’d been out flying and landed back on the roof, only to discover that somebody in the house had thought I was off shopping and had shut my window and locked it. I’d been stuck out in the snow, naked, too tired to change back into owl form to fly down to the ground and come through the front door. Now, I had the option of climbing down, which was a whole lot easier than shapeshifting when I was exhausted.

I rolled the ladder over the edge and was about to swing onto the rungs when Kaylin stuck his head through the window.

“What are you doing?”

“Goblin dog or something of the sort in the backyard. I was going to check it out.”

“Give me ten secs and I’ll come with you.” He ducked back through the window as I headed down to the ground. A moment later, Kaylin was shimmying down the ladder to land next to me. The dreamwalker was far older than his looks belied, and he was far more skilled in fighting than I was. Having him at my back made me feel much more secure.

“Where are the others?” I hadn’t seen my cousin Rhiannon all day.

“Rhiannon is out shopping, and Leo is on a last-minute run for Geoffrey.”

Leo was a day runner for the vampires. More specifically, he worked for the Regent, running errands that Geoffrey and his wife couldn’t do during the daylight hours.

“What about Chatter?”

“He’s in the basement, working on charms against the Indigo Court.”

“I thought the house seemed quiet.” I moved forward cautiously.

The backyard of the Veil House was more like the back forty. Filled with herb gardens, stone circles, and fruit trees, right now it lay blanketed in a thick layer of snow, and the rising moon set off a bluish tinge to everything around. We stopped, listening to the owl as he hooted again, his warnings echoing through the yard.

We were as quiet as possible, but at one point I stepped on a fallen branch, buried by the snow. It snapped in two. The creature, which had apparently been working its way toward the house, stopped moving.

This way, Kaylin mouthed, circling around it.

I followed his lead, edging closer to whatever it was. We managed to slip behind a nearby bush before it could back away. There didn’t appear to be more than one, and we were able to get a good look at it.

The creature was about four feet tall, with a bloated stomach and long bony arms that dragged along the ground. Its head was distorted, elongated and elliptical, with longish ears. The eyes were wide-set and cunning. As it drew back its lips into a grimace, drool dripped from between its needle-sharp teeth.

“Have any idea what it is?” I whispered to Kaylin, wishing he could talk on the slipstream. It was much easier to avoid being overheard when sending messages along the currents of air.

Kaylin cocked his head, his ponytail shifting slightly. “Goblin. One of Myst’s toadies, no doubt. If we let it live, I guarantee it will bring others. The dark Fae can get through our wards where Myst’s Shadow Hunters can’t, so Myst is probably testing how far she can push into our land using her allies.”

“Kill or wound as a message?”

“Go in for the kill. If we just wound it, we’d have yet another nasty enemy on our hands.”

I gave him a short nod, saving my breath as we burst out of the bushes and poured on the speed. As we caught up to the thing—the goblin was terribly quick—I pulled out my fan, whispered “Strong Gust,” and snapped it open, waving it twice.

A quick blast of air slammed against us—and the goblin. Startled, the creature skidded to a halt at the edge of the forest, looking confused. Kaylin dove forward, rolling to come up in a fighting stance. He kicked it in the chin. As the goblin lurched back, I slipped through on the left side and brought my switchblade down on its arm, stabbing it deeply.

Kaylin fumbled for his shurikens as an icy gust of wind came whistling from the direction of the forest, and a shadow figure loomed at the border dividing the woods from the magical barrier we’d constructed. A glimpse of pale skin with a cerulean cast to it told us all we needed to know. One of the Vampiric Fae. A Shadow Hunter.

“Shit,” I muttered, steeling myself as the goblin launched itself at me.

The Shadow Hunter raised a bow, his sight intent on Kaylin. He might not be able to set foot on our land, but his weaponry could. I shouted a warning to Kaylin and waved my fan in the direction of the Vampiric Fae, whispering, “Strong Gust.” The arrow came zinging our way, but missed by inches.

The goblin landed on me and we both went down, rolling into the snow. I couldn’t use my fan in such close quarters, so I struggled to catch the creature by the throat. I was bigger than the goblin, but not as tough. After thrashing against its leathery skin, I finally managed to get one hand around its neck.

Gnashing his teeth, the goblin snapped at my hand and I pulled away just in time. Even if I didn’t lose any fingers, chances were good it had to have some nasty bacteria in that mouth and I wanted no part of any infection he might be carrying. We wrestled, me trying to force back its hands as it scrambled to slash at my face. One swipe of those clawlike nails could take out an eye. The stench of the creature was putrid, like a combination of gas and vomit, and its eyes were round and lidless.

I sucked in a deep breath and heaved, pushing with both hands and feet, and managed to roll on top, trapping the goblin between my knees. I squeezed my thighs together, trying to keep the goblin from slipping away from me. At that moment, Kaylin let out a shout and I jerked around. A muscle pulled in my neck.

“Fuck!” The Shadow Hunter’s second arrow had grazed his arm.

The bolt had penetrated the heavy leather he was wearing but looked like it hadn’t gone too deep. Kaylin yanked the arrow out, tossing it to the ground, and dashed over the boundary line. The Shadow Hunter hadn’t been prepared for him to go on the offensive and went down when Kaylin tackled him, a flurry of fists flying.

I turned my attention back to the goblin. If I let this thing get away, it would be back, with reinforcements. I flipped the blade on my switchblade and paused. Killing creatures—even our enemies—was still new and did not come easy to me. I sucked in a deep breath.

You can do it. Steady. Aim for the forehead. Goblins are vulnerable in the third-eye area. Ulean flurried around me, trying to keep the snow from blinding me.

With a surge in the pit of my stomach, I brought the blade down, wincing as it slid through the goblin’s head. New Forest had become a town of kill or be killed. We no longer had the luxury of allowing our enemies to live in peace.

I drove the blade in to the hilt. The goblin screeched, loud and jagged through the twilight, and then fell limp as a fountain of blood stained the snow red, diluting into petal pink. The stench of the creature lingered, joined by that of blood. I withdrew my blade, yanking when it resisted.

Another shout. I looked up to realize that—in my fight—I’d also passed the boundary line and the Shadow Hunter was on the run, aiming directly for me. I froze, but he merely shoved me aside and fell to the side of the goblin’s body, his face pressed against the creature’s wound.

As I backed away, horrified, he lapped at the blood, and then began to transform, his mouth unhinging like that of a snake as he shifted into a doglike monster, his jaws lined with spiny teeth. With ravenous fury, he bit off the head, chewing it, spattering bits of brain matter every which way.

Kaylin brushed his fingers to his lips when I glanced at him and slowly edged up on the Shadow Hunter. He brought out a short dagger, serrated and coated in a magical oil. I knew what the oil did. As he plunged the knife into the side of the Vampiric Fae, aiming for the heart, the oil encouraged the blood to flow and the crimson liquid stained the snow still further.

The Shadow Hunter started to turn, but I was quicker, stabbing his haunch with my blade and dragging it through his tough hide. Then Kaylin and I lightly danced backward, out of reach of those deadly teeth.

A voice echoed from behind us and I turned to see my cousin Rhiannon stretching out her hands, a small red charm in the palm of her right. She whispered, just loud enough for us to hear, “Flame to flame, bolt to bolt, fire to fire, jolt to jolt. Lightning, let me be thy rod.”

All hell broke loose as a bolt of snow lightning came forking out of the gathering clouds, ripping to the ground to shatter the Shadow Hunter into a thousand pieces, as if he were a glass dish smashed on concrete.

As soon as the spell sang out of her body, Rhiannon collapsed and Kaylin raced over to catch her. I stared at the remains of the Shadow Hunter and the goblin. Not much left. Nothing to take home with us, except two more notches on our belt, and the hope that we’d be able to sleep soundly, knowing there was one fewer member of Myst’s court in the world. One less toady of hers to slip onto our land.

Kaylin shivered. He was bleeding through the rent in his jacket from the arrow. At that moment, I glanced down and noticed a trickle running down my own shoulder. A puncture wound had penetrated my jacket. I slipped it off to see blood saturating my top. The goblin must have stabbed me with its claw. I hadn’t even noticed.

“We’re growing numb to our pain,” I said as we turned away from the carnage we’d just inflicted.

“We have to,” Kaylin said. “We have to learn to weather the battles because there will be far more to come before things get back to normal. If there even is such a thing as ‘normal’ anymore.”

I nodded and looked at Rhiannon. “You saved the day.” The thank-you was implied.

She slipped her arm around my waist and leaned down to kiss my forehead. “I just got home and saw the commotion from the car. Leo’s still in town and I don’t know where Chatter is.”

“In the basement, working with the charms.”

“Ah. Good. We’ll need them.”

“I guess we’d better get back on our land before anything else comes out of the woods. We need to tend to our wounds and make sure they don’t get infected.” I wearily turned back to the house.

As we crossed the demarcation line that magically divided the Golden Wood from the Veil House, I couldn’t help but shudder. Like it or not, we were pawns in a war between two powerful enemies—Geoffrey and Myst—and we were doing our best just to stay alive.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for Night Veil

I write to music a good share of the time and include my playlists in all my books.

Air: Napalm Love; Mike Mills; Surfing on a Rocket; Clouds Up; Playground Love
Audioslave: Set It Off
Beck: Scarecrow; Black Tambourine; Nausea
Black Label Society: Rust
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Shuffle Your Feet; Fault Line
Blue Oyster Cult: Godzilla
Cake: The Distance
Cat Power: I Don’t Blame You; Werewolf
CC Adcock: Bleed 2 Feed
Chester Bennington: System
Chris Isaak: Wicked Game
Cobra Verde: Play with Fire
David Bowie: Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed; Sister Midnight; Fame; Without You
Death Cab for Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Depeche Mode: Dream On; Route 66
Eddy Grant: Electric Avenue
Evans Blue: Cold
Faun: Satyros; Königin; Rad; Sieben; Tinta
Gary Numan: Survival; Noise, Noise; Call Out the Dogs; Dead Heaven; Sleep By Windows; Melt; Hybrid; Pure; Cars (Hybrid Mix); Soul Protection
Godsmack: Voodoo
Gorillaz: Clint Eastwood
Hives: Tick Tick Boom
Jace Everett: Bad Things
Jay Gordon: Slept So Long
King Black Acid: Rolling Under; Great Spaces
Lady Gaga: Paparazzi; Poker Face
Ladytron: Mu-Tron; Destroy Everything You Touch; Ghosts; Black Cat; I’m Not Scared
Lindstrom and Christabelle: Lovesick
Low: Half Light
Marilyn Manson: Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin-Geddon; Tainted Love; Godeatgod
Metallica: Enter Sandman
Nine Inch Nails: Sin; Get Down, Make Love; Closer
Nirvana: You Know You’re Right; Come As You Are
Oingo Boingo: Elevator Man
Orgy: Blue Monday
The Police: King of Pain; Don’t Stand So Close to Me
Puddle of Mudd: Psycho
Ricky Martin: She Bangs
Rob Zombie: Living Dead Girl; American Witch; Never Gonna Stop
Roison Murphy: Ramalama Bang Bang
Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter
Saliva: Ladies and Gentlemen
Sarah McLachlan: Possession
Seether: Remedy
Shiny Toy Guns: Major Tom
Shriekback: New Man; Dust and a Shadow
Simple Minds: Don’t You (Forget About Me)
Soundgarden: Spoonman
Stealers Wheel: Stuck in the Middle with You
Susan Enan: Bring on the Wonder
Talking Heads: Psycho Killer
Tears for Fears: Mad World
Thompson Twins: Love on Your Side; The Gap
Tina Turner: One of the Living
Toadies: Possum Kingdom
Tool: Prison Sex
Transplants: Diamonds and Guns
Warchild: Ash
Yoko Kanno: Lithium Flower
Zero Seven: In the Waiting Line

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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 imagined. Now Myst, the Vampiric Fae Queen of the Indigo Court, has enough power to begin a long prophesied supernatural war. And Cicely Waters, a witch who can control the wind, may be the only one who can stop her-and save her beloved Fae prince from the Queen's enslavement.

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Chapter 1

THE WOMEN IN my family have always been witches, which is why when Ulean, my Wind Elemental, tossed my hair early on a balmy, breezy December morning and whispered in my ear to listen to the wind, there was a message for me riding the currents—I did. Pausing to close my eyes and lower myself into the slipstream, I heard a faint, feminine voice calling my name. When it told me that my aunt Heather and cousin Rhiannon were in trouble, I didn’t wait for a second warning. I called them to tell them I was on my way and got my second surprise of the day.

“Marta’s dead.” Heather’s voice was strained.

I stared at the phone. Marta, dead? The woman had been ancient the last time I was home, but we all expected her to outlive the entire town. That she was dead seemed incomprehensible. “She’s dead? What happened?”

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“I don’t know, Cicely. We found her in her garden. She was drained of blood and her throat had been…ripped apart. And I do mean ripped.”

The obvious answer was a rogue vampire, except for one thing: the “ripped” part. Most vampires were fairly tidy with their work. The Northwest Regent for the Vampire Nation lived in New Forest and kept order in the area. Geoffrey was a good sort—if you can call a vampire a good sort—and it was hard for me to believe that any one of the vamps under his control would be so stupid as to kill Marta. She had charms aplenty for warding them off and the repercussions would be harsh, even for the vamps.

“You think one of Geoffrey’s people killed her? What do the police say?”

My aunt paused. “I’m not sure of anything, to be honest. There are some strange things going on and the town is…changing. The cops didn’t seem too interested in investigating Marta’s death.”

A chill ran up my spine.

Strange is not the word for it, Ulean whispered. There are so many traps in New Forest now. The entire town is in danger.

“Are you sure you’re okay? A voice on the wind told me that you and Rhiannon are in danger. I was about to pack.”

A pause. Then, “Please come home. I’d love to have you come home for good. It’s time, Cicely. Krystal’s gone, and we need you. Right now, I’m not sure what that danger is, but yes, it’s lurking on the edges and in truth, it has me afraid.”

My aunt never admitted fear. That she would do so now sealed my decision to return to New Forest.

Heather paused, then added, “I think at this point, everyone’s fair game, but the magic-born seem to be getting hit the hardest. I’ll explain when you get here. And there’s another reason you should return.”

“What?” Family duty I had no problem with, unlike my mother. But Heather’s voice sounded odd and a tingling at the back of my neck told me that something else was in play.

“Marta passed the torch to you. She left you her practice. The town can’t do without her, and apparently she’s chosen you to take her place. You’ll have to move the business over here to Veil House. It will take a little while for you to get everything set up again, but she left you all her supplies.”

Stunned, I blinked. Marta was the town witch. People went to her for help. She was also the elder of the secret Thirteen Moons Society—the coterie my aunt belonged to. No one but family members knew about the Society and it was kept that way on purpose. Hell, even I didn’t know what they did—only when you were inducted into the Society were you told what went on.

“Marta left me her business? Are you sure of that?” I had been home once a year from the time I was thirteen until I turned seventeen, and that had been the last time I’d set foot in New Forest. And my mother had been persona non grata with the elder witch. “Why would Marta do that?”

Heather laughed. “Oh, Cicely, you may be twenty-six now and on your own, but you’re still one of us. You’ve always been one of us, even though your mother tried to distance the both of you. It’s time to come home to New Forest.” Her voice turned serious. “Krystal’s dead. You don’t have to run anymore. Come back. We need you. I need you. And you…you need us.”

She was right. In my heart, I knew it was time to go home. I’d been running for years, but now there was no more reason. There hadn’t been a reason for me to stay on the road for two years, since Krystal had died. Except that sometimes running felt like all I knew how to do. But now…Marta had left me her business. I had something to go home to—something to focus my life on, other than keeping my mother and me alive.

“Be there in three days tops,” I told Heather. “Can I have my mother’s old room?” Memories of the violet-and-ivory trimmed room loomed in my mind.

“Of course you can, and you can use the back parlor for your business and one of the spare rooms on the third floor for your supplies and workroom.” Heather laughed again. “Oh Cicely, I’ve missed you so much. I’m so glad you’re coming home again for more than a visit. We’ve missed you.”

And with that, I tossed the few boxes containing my possessions and my backpack in Favonis—my 1966 navy blue Pontiac GTO that I’d won in a game of street craps—and headed out of California without a single look over my shoulder.

LA was like every other city I’d lived in since I was six: a pit stop in the rambling journey that had been my life. But now, after twenty years, my past was about to become my future. As I pressed my foot against the accelerator, Favonis sped along the I-5 corridor.

I was wearing a pair of black jeans, a black tank top, and my best boots—a kickass pair of Icon’s Bombshell motorcycle boots. I had no job to give notice to—I’d picked up odd jobs here and there since I was twelve but never anything permanent. All through the years, I knew there was something I was supposed to do—supposed to accomplish—but I’d never known what. Maybe this was it. Maybe taking Marta’s place would fill the void.

“Come on, baby,” I coaxed. “Don’t let me down.”

And Favonis didn’t. She purred like a kitten, all the way up the coast.

Speeding along the freeway, fueled by numerous stops at Starbucks and espresso stands along the way, I kept my eyes peeled for the exit that would take me to I-90. New Forest was snuggled against the northwestern foothills of the Washington Cascades, and the promise of going home for real this time dangled in front of me like a vial of crack in front of a junkie.

Twenty years ago, I’d kicked and screamed my way down the front steps of Veil House, begging Krystal to leave me with Heather, but my mother had just dragged me to the taxi, bitching at me to shut up. Now, after a thousand miles on the road, and a thousand years in my heart, I was heading back to live in the only house I’d ever thought of as home. And this time I planned on staying.

Only now, I’m twenty-six and my mother’s dead. Something is terribly wrong in New Forest. And my wolf has woken up again.

* * *

TWENTY MILES OUT from town, I began to see spots of snow, and by the time I passed the Welcome to New Forest sign, snow blanketed the ground. Not wanting to bother my aunt till morning, I eased into the parking lot of the Starlight 5 Motel. I stared at the flickering light that illuminated the Vacancy sign. I was in New Forest. I was really back.

Grabbing my backpack, I hauled ass out of the car and stood there shivering as I listened to the air currents washing around me. Something was off—I could feel it. New Forest didn’t feel like I remembered it. A glance across the street showed me an all-night diner. The windows of Anadey’s joint glimmered with Christmas lights. I vaguely remembered Anadey from my visits. She was Marta’s daughter, if I remembered correctly. I wondered what she was doing running a diner, but decided to check in first and then snag a bite to eat.

The motel clerk stared at me, unblinking. “You want a room?”

I nodded. “Single. One night.” As I pulled out my wallet, he shoved the register across to me and I scribbled my name down and tossed fifty bucks on the counter in tens. He counted the bills, then nodded and held out a key.

“Room 105-A. Checkout by noon.”

“I’ll be gone earlier than that. You have anything on the second floor?” I’d long ago learned it was safer to be higher up.

He looked me over again and then handed me a different key. “Room 210-B. Nonsmoking and no hot plates.”

“No problem on either front.”

I took the key and headed outside again. The motel was built in a U shape and wrapped around the parking lot. I surveyed the upper story until I found my room and jogged up the stairs. As I unlocked the door, force of habit made me check the surrounding area, looking for anybody or anything suspicious. Krystal had raised me to be on guard, even though she had lost her own savvy over the years, thanks to the crack and the heroin.

No one in sight. I opened the door.

Cautiously, I scoped out the room. Queen-sized bed, a little lumpy. Headboard bolted to the wall. Utilitarian dresser and mirror with the TV atop it. Usable, clean bathroom with thin white towels. Typical cheapie motel. I dropped on the bed but was too pent up from the drive to sleep. My stomach rumbled and I realized I was hungry, so I gathered up my pack—no way would I leave anything in this joint while I was gone—and headed out to the sidewalk in front of the motel. I waited for the light to change and crossed the street to Anadey’s Diner.

The café had that truck-stop vibe, though there weren’t any places for semis to park. As I pushed through the doors, the dim light from the overheads filtered through the long, narrow restaurant. Utilitarian blinds gave a slatted view to the parking lot, and Formica ruled supreme. Booths lined one wall, while on the other, a long counter flanked the kitchen, with bar stools attached to the floor.

A tall, narrow Christmas tree was nestled in one corner, sparkling with lights and gleaming ornaments. The tree was pretty and it made me smile.

Several late-nighters were scattered through the café. Two of the men sitting at the counter looked odd—they weren’t magic-born, that was obvious, but they weren’t human either. I could read the difference just by looking at them. Both swarthy, with shaggy black hair and topaz eyes ringed with black circles, they watched as I passed by them, giving them a wide berth.

I chose an open stool at the opposite end of the counter and slid onto it. Picking up the menu, I pulled one of the saucers to me and flipped over the mug.

The waitress saw me and headed my way, coffeepot in hand. I recognized her.

“Hi, honey. I’m Anadey. What will you have? My daughter’s the best short-order cook in town.” She nodded toward the kitchen, where a tall, solid young woman flipped burgers behind the grill. A sparkle of magic flickered in the girl’s aura, and also surrounded Anadey, only stronger. I gave her a slow smile. She didn’t seem to recognize me, so I decided to wait until I was settled in before coming back and introducing myself. For all I knew, she could be angry that her mother had chosen to give me the family business.

“Your daughter’s lovely.”

“That she is, my dear. You want coffee?” Anadey hovered over the mug.

“Yes, and cream, please.”

The coffee steamed hot and black as she poured it into my cup. Anadey hesitated for a moment, then said, “Her name is Peyton. Come back in sometime when you’re not so tired. I think you’d hit it off. I’ll get your cream now. You want another minute with that menu?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

She bustled off, returning with the cream as I added three packets of sugar to my coffee. I gave her a soft smile—she looked somewhere in her early fifties and exhausted—and flipped open the menu. The words all seemed to run together and I closed it again, turning to gaze at the posters on the wall. Fatigue from the trip was setting in, big-time.

I motioned to Anadey. “Make my order to go, would you? A large chocolate shake. Cheeseburger and fries. Butter only on the bun. Hold the pickles and condiments. And a piece of apple pie if you have some. Oh—and make sure nothing has any sort of fish added into it, please. I’m allergic to fish and shellfish.” I reached into my pocket and produced my EpiPen for emphasis. Some diners didn’t take food issues seriously unless you hit them hard with the I can die speech.

“I have several friends with various allergies, so I keep a strict watch on my kitchen. We have a dedicated fryer for French fries to avoid cross contamination. And one section of the grill is reserved for unbreaded patties only and cleaned every time.” She gave me a wink. “You look like you’re about ready to crash, honey.”

I nodded. “Long trip to get here. Been driving for two days with very little rest along the way.”

“I’ll get your order going so you can get some shut-eye. You look about done in.” She hurried off and I sipped at my coffee. As I sat there, I became aware that the guy at the other end of the counter had gotten up and was strolling my way, his eyes glued to me. He didn’t look impressed.

I gave him the once-over as he passed by, on his way toward the restrooms. As he crossed behind me, I heard him whisper, “Magic bitch, watch yourself. New Forest doesn’t like your kind anymore.”

Taken aback, I swiveled full around, but he just went on walking. Normally I’d get in his face—I’d been in enough street fights to hold my own—but I was too tired to deal with a confrontation. Instead, I just memorized his looks and turned back to Anadey, who was polishing the counter in front of me, a concerned expression on her face.

“Regular?” I asked, nodding at his back.

She gave me a short nod, her lips pressed together, and I could see the flash of fear in her eyes. “Don’t cross him, child. He’s a mean one and a drunk. Just let it go. Your food should be ready in a few minutes.” She glanced at the other end of the counter where his buddy was sitting. She didn’t say a word, but the look in her eyes told me all I wanted to know.

Bad news…don’t trust them…they are not mortal. Ulean’s voice tickled my ears and I let out a low Umm-hmm.

As Anadey packaged my food and handed it to me, Snarly Dude came back from the bathroom, his full lips curling in a derisive, leering manner. I returned his gaze, keeping my expression neutral. Tossing a ten and a couple bucks for a tip on the counter, I headed toward the door, my senses on high alert.

Watch my back.

As always, Cicely…as always, came Ulean’s calming thoughts.

Once I was in the parking lot, a shift in the current alerted me. I paused, listening.

They’re following you…

I know, I whispered. I can feel them.

Not just them. Another. Older, more dangerous. I don’t recognize the energy, though.

I slowly exhaled, relaxing into my body. Tension could ruin a good punch, could turn a good fight into a bad one. I gave the parking lot a look-see. Five cars to my left. Another three to my right. Gauging how long it would take me to dash across the street, across the snow and ice, I headed for the sidewalk. The street was mostly empty; there were few cars on the road at this time of night, although two long, dark limos with tinted windows passed by, gliding silently, the sound of their engines muffled by the falling snow.

Vampires hunting. Ulean’s thoughts were filled with distaste.

I gave an imperceptible nod and set a foot into the road. Immediately, I sensed the men behind me speed up. I was two yards across the street before I broke into a run. The sound of footsteps told me they had done the same.

Crap. I still didn’t know who they were or what they wanted, but it was obvious they didn’t like me and I wasn’t going to stick around to find out why.

I made a break for it, Ulean whipping along behind me, pushing me forward. With a shout, my followers picked up the pace as their boots drummed a tattoo of running steps. On the other side of the road, I assessed my best option.

No way in hell could I go up to my room—they could easily break through the flimsy lock. Favonis was my best bet. I’d rigged her with an automatic key and kept my keychain hooked on my belt loop just for situations like this. I’d spent my life ditching danger of one sort or another with my mother and had learned a thing or two along the way.

I tossed the bag of food to the side and fumbled for my key, but even as I hit the shadows surrounding my car, a noise cut through the night behind me—a sharp scream, choked off before it barely began. I whirled, only to see Snarly Dude turning tail to race back across the street into the light. He slipped once on a spot of black ice, righted himself, then disappeared into a truck and squealed out of the parking lot.

As I tried  to figure out what the hell had happened, another sound echoed in the parking lot—a sickly gurgle—and the scent of blood washed over me. As I backed toward my car, another shift in energy cut through the night and the hidden force vanished.

Gone…and so is the man who cried out.

Crap. Gone? Where the fuck could he have gone? He’d been right behind me. I slowly edged my way toward the shadow that had engulfed him. The scent of blood hung thick but when I shone my pen flashlight on the ground, I could see only a few drops scattered red against the snow. I looked right and left—there was no place he could have disappeared to, but the man had definitely pulled a disappearing act. Not voluntarily, though.

I scanned the other side of the street. Nothing.

What the fuck is going on, Ulean?

I don’t know, Cicely, but that’s what we’re here to find out.

What was the thing that took him? Vampire?

A pause, then, No…not vampire. Do not be so quick to blame the Vein Lords. This…is much darker than vampire signature. Dangerous, feral…hungry in a way the vampires cannot even begin to match.

Cripes. Vamps were at the top of the food chain—predators, often without mercy. If this was worse than they were…I didn’t want to know what it was.

Without another word, I sucked in a deep breath, retrieved my dinner, and headed up the stairs toward my room. New Forest had changed, all right, and I had the feeling I was just skirting the tip of the iceberg.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for Night Myst

I write to music a good share of the time and have been sharing my playlists on my website. I finally decided to add them to the backs of the books for my readers who aren’t online.

3 Doors Down: Loser
Alice in Chains: Man in the Box
Beck: Scarecrow, Dark Star
The Bravery: Believe
CC Adcock: Bleed 2 Feed
Chester Bennington: System
Chris Isaak: Wicked Game
Cobra Verde: Play with Fire
David Bowie: China Girl
Dead Can Dance: Yulunga, Indus
Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Depeche Mode: Personal Jesus, Dream On
Everlast: One, Two
Gabrielle Roth: The Calling, Dolphin, Raven, Mother Night, Luna, Seducing Hades, Black Mesa, Stone Circle, Rest Your Tears Here, Totem, Night Whisper, Zone Unknown, Avenue A
Gary Numan: Innocence Bleeding, Prophecy, Crazier, My Breathing, Before You Hate It, Dead Heaven, The Angel Wars, Noise Noise, Stories, Telekon, My Brother’s Time, Hunger, Devious
Gorillaz: Clint Eastwood
Jace Everett: Bad Things
Jay Gordon: Slept So Long
King Black Acid: Great Spaces, Rolling Under
Ladytron: Black Cat, Ghosts, I’m Not Scared, Burning Up, They Gave You a Heart, Predict the Day, Versus
Led Zeppelin: When the Levee Breaks
Lenny Kravitz: Fly Away
Little Big Town: Bones
Live: TBD
Low with Tomandandy: Half Light
Metallica: Enter Sandman
Nine Inch Nails: I Do Not Want This, Sin [long], Get Down, Make Love
Nirvana: Heart-shaped Box, You Know You’re Right
Oingo Boingo: Dead Man’s Party
Orgy: Blue Monday, Social Enemies
PJ Harvey: This is Love
Puddle of Mudd: Psycho
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Saliva: Ladies and Gentlemen
Seether: Remedy
Steppenwolf: Jupiter’s Child
Tangerine Dream: Dr. Destructo
Thompson Twins: The Gap, All Fall Out
Toadies: Possum Kingdom
Tori Amos: Little Amsterdam, Professional Widow
Wayne Static: Not Meant For Me
Ween: Mutilated Lips
Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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