I contemplated going back into the house, purse over my shoulder. Should I, or shouldn't I? Utter mayhem lay within. Absolute chaos in a kitchen, complete with spilled food, a huffy dragon, one very pissed-off house sprite, and my sister, the wide-eyed, catch-da-giant-bird turkey-chaser. Add to that the rest of the milling-and by now, thoroughly confused- throng that made up our extended family, and it was a no-brainer. Not a chance. Nope. Not gonna happen.
I was perfectly fine out here in the pouring rain, getting soaked. Let Smoky take his lumps from Iris. This was all his fault, not mine. The only part they could blame me for was that I had assigned him the chore of bringing home a twenty-five- pound turkey for tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner. Was it really my responsibility to remind him to make certain it was already dead?
Not. My. Fault. And neither was the Three Stooges after- math that followed. Now, with Iris and Hanna both on the warpath, I had no desire to go back in there and subject myself to their outrage.
As my gaze wandered over to the turkey pecking around our backyard, it occurred to me that the bird was giving me the evil eye. He reminded me of a big fat demon bird, gloating like some demented vulture. The fat old Tom was closer to the woods than our back door, and I wondered if he realized just how lucky he was.
I stamped my foot in his direction. "Go on, you dumb bird. Make a break for it while you can, before Smoky comes looking for you." As if he understood me, the turkey turned toward the tree line back of the yard and slowly began to waddle off into the sunset. Or as the case actually was, the pitch darkness. It was only around five thirty, but by this time of year, the Seattle area was swathed in night. Sunset had come and gone about an hour ago.
I snorted. "Have a happy Thanksgiving, bird. You lucked out, so say a prayer to the Great Turkey."
As I watched him vanish into the woods, I wondered where the hell Smoky had found him. No doubt he'd stolen him from some turkey farm or something. Wild turkeys generally didn't go running around the streets of Seattle. But I wasn't going to ask. After this fiasco, I had a feeling that my dragon-shifting husband wouldn't be in any mood to discuss turkey-napping.
Thanks to sheer dumb luck, the bird had managed to escape from the kitchen. He'd left behind a trail of walking wounded, though-including me. That beak was nasty sharp and I had the scratch to prove it, but at least I didn't have a hole in my hand like Roz did. Yeah, in the great dinner war, the bird deserved his freedom. He'd earned it. As the last of his tail feathers vanished from sight on the path leading to Birchwater Pond, I saluted him.
"You've got what it takes to make it, soldier. Carry on."
With one last look at the house, I straightened my shoulders and headed toward my car. We still needed a turkey for Thanksgiving tomorrow, so I might as well head out to buy one. On the up side, by the time I got back, things should have smoothed over and the mess should be cleaned up.
Families. One thing was for certain: Mine was loopy, batty, and all around, a freakshow crew. But I wouldn't trade them for all the glitter and glitz in Otherworld or Earthside.
I slid into the driver's seat, but as I inserted the key into the ignition, a shiver ran down my back. A shadow passed through me, cold and dark and incredibly ancient.
Suddenly nervous, I hit the button to lock the doors. Maybe it was the wind that rattled the trees that had spooked me. Or maybe it was the driving rain. Or perhaps the darkness and perpetual gloom had finally managed to suck the smile off my face. Whatever the case, I glanced back at the house, anxious.
PTSD, maybe? We had recently come through a horrible stretch, what with the war raging in Otherworld and losing our father. We were all still a little shell-shocked. I had been coping with a lot of nightmares and flashbacks the past few weeks, but this didn't feel like it originated from the same place.
Trying to quiet my mind, I listened, breathing slowly.
At first, I could sense only the wind and rain that lashed the yard, but then . . . below that . . . There it was. Something was on the move. Something big. I searched my feelings, examining the sensation. Was it fear? Yes, I was definitely afraid, but there was more to it than that. Anticipation? Anxiety? A tingling at the base of my neck told me that deep magic was afoot, and would soon be knocking on my door.
Magic rode the currents, on the wings of a flock of birds. They were there, in the astral, black as coal and shrieking warnings from an ancient wood filled with extraordinary beasts. The rolling mists of time poured past as the ravens cried, their song echoing with magic. Dark magic, deep wood- land magic. Death coming in on waves of flame and smoke.
As if in synch with my thoughts, a shriek cut through the darkness, startling me out of my trance. I recognized the cry. Raven. Raven was calling. And where raven flew, Raven Mother couldn't be far behind.
And behind Raven Mother, chasing her, was a dragon. At first I flashed back to Hyto, but then caught hold of myself. Hyto was dead and gone. I forced myself to focus, to examine the energy that rushed past. This dragon was ancient-not a dragon from the Dragon Reaches, but even older. This creature rose from the depths of the earth, come awake after eons of time asleep in its lair.
As he roared to life, chasing the flock of ravens, he suddenly vanished from my sight.
I found myself sitting in the car, my hand on the keys.
What the hell was that all about?
Almost afraid to examine the vision, I shuddered and started the ignition. As the engine warmed up, I stared into the darkness, my thoughts far distant from Thanksgiving.
Something big was headed my way, and there was no use trying to avoid it. I might as well just open my arms and brace for whatever it was. Trying to hide from trouble had ceased to be an effective defense mechanism a few years ago when the demons had first shown up.
With a grimace, I pulled out my phone and texted Menolly that I was heading for the store to replace the turkey. As I eased out of the driveway, I whispered, "Bring it on, Raven Mother. Bring it on. I'm waiting for you."
A faint laughter echoed over the howling of the wind. She'd heard me. And she was waiting.
"Give me that!" Delilah's voice rang out, and I turned, scanning the mob for her face. Somebody was bound to get hurt in this mess. People were shoving in every direction, trying to push their way through the mass of churning bodies. To my left, a woman tripped and fell. I tried to maneuver through the crowd to reach her, but a man stopped to help her back to her feet and she dusted herself off, looking no worse for the wear, and then, a glint in her eye, she vanished into the seething throng.
Still unable to locate Delilah, I glanced over my shoulder. Smoky and Trillian were standing at attention, waiting for my orders, both looking resigned and rather frightened. Their arms full, they threaded their way through the chaos as they tried to follow me. With Delilah still nowhere to be seen, I made a unilateral decision. She'd just have to catch up to us later.
"Over to the pet section, pronto!"?
Pointing toward the opposite end of the store, I began to traverse the aisles. Wordlessly, they filed along behind me. I gauged the easiest, quickest route, then began to wind through the rows of merchandise, narrowly skirting a table of precariously stacked crystal dishes. Motioning for the guys to be cautious, I held my breath until we were past the display.
Once we were out of housewares, the crowd began to thin out as we maneuvered our way over to the pet toy aisle. Along the way, I caught sight of an insulated lunch bag in fuchsia, with a cat appliqué splashed across the front. It really was cute. Another woman was eyeing it and I had a split second to make up my mind.
"Nerissa would love that." I snatched it up seconds before my opponent could grab it and, once again, we were on the move, leaving her sputtering in the dust. A few moments later, we reached our destination: the pet care section. We had the department to ourselves. Most of the crowds were over in electronics and toys. Chase and Iris were forging their way through the latter and I silently wished them luck.
"Are we done yet?" Smoky grumbled. "Haven't you found enough loot? It's four thirty in the morning, woman." He didn't sound that angry, though. In fact, the twinkle in his eye told me he was putting on a show because he thought it was required. Just like a man.
Trillian, also my husband, snorted. "You really think that's going to work? Dude, you should know your wife and her sisters by now. We've got at least another hour to go. Remember last year?"
Trillian's obsidian skin glistened under the florescent lights. He'd braided his hair to keep it out of the way. The silver strands rested smooth against his back, shimmering with the faintest of cerulean highlights. He had worn a sleek black turtleneck and black jeans, but left his jacket in the car, claiming it made him more aerodynamic in the crowds. A Svartan, one of the Dark and Charming Fae, he usually man- aged to get what he wanted by smooth-talking whoever was in his way. But on Black Friday, all bets were off. My sisters and I overruled all opinions in the household.
Smoky, on the other hand, was attired in his usual get up: white jeans, V-neck pale blue sweater, and long white trench.
At six-four, my dragon towered over the crowds. Though I kept him near, even his imposing nature didn't offer us much protection during the early hours of the most terrifying shopping day of the year. He, too, had braided his hair, though it was ankle length instead of mid-shoulder like Trillian's. Luckily, his hair moved all on its lonesome. If it hadn't, his braid would have gotten trampled several times tonight.
"Don't remind me." Smoky rolled his eyes. "Last year was worse than this, I'll give you that."
"The others aren't done yet, so just hold your horses. Remember? Hanna promised leftover turkey soup along with fresh baked homemade bread if you guys play nice." I picked up a catnip mouse and shook it, frowning at the squeaky-squeaky sound. Delilah would love it.
Her toys were constantly ragged, she played with them so much. And then, the thought occurred to me that we should get her panther form a toy, too. One that could withstand a good mauling. Also-why not one for Nerissa? Her puma liked to play and, on occasion, Delilah and our sister-in-law went hunting together in the forest behind our house. They never really caught anything, but the big cats liked to prowl through the trees.
"After we're done here, we're heading over to the stuffed toys. So gird your loins, or whatever it is you boys do in order to stay sane."
Oblivious to their groans, I began tossing toy mice in my cart, before we pushed onward.
We had not only brought Delilah's Jeep, Menolly's Mustang, and my Lexus, but also Morio's SUV, which gave us room for everybody who had wanted to come, and all the packages as well.
Hanna had stayed home to watch Maggie, our baby calico gargoyle. Vanzir and Rozurial had begged off. They were planning some secret surprise and had shooed us out of the house, instructing us not to return till early morning. I wasn't sure what they were up to, but could only pray it wasn't something stupid like turning the house into a giant video game or something.
It was nearing 6 A.M. as we pulled into the driveway of our lovely old three-story Victorian with basement. Menolly still had some time before she had to be in her lair to sleep. Vampires and sunrise? Not such a good mix, so we always made sure she was home in time to get to bed. But we still had nearly ninety minutes before the sun crawled over the horizon. Or up behind the clouds, as was more often the norm here in Seattle.
As we piled out of our cars, the men gathering all our loot for us, I glanced at Trillian and Smoky and wearily smiled. "You do realize how much I love the pair of you, don't you? And Morio, too." Morio was my third husband. I was one hell of a lucky woman.
His hands full, Smoky winked at me as a strand of his hair unbraided itself, slowly reaching over to caress my cheek. A smile creased his face. Dragon smiles were always a little sly, a little coy.
"You can show us just how much you love us after we haul all this stuff inside." His voice was husky, and I caught my breath as the touch of his hair sparked off an ache that rose between my legs. I wanted him and I wanted him now. It had been two days since I'd had sex-we'd all been busy. But that was two days too long.
Trillian brushed past me, arching an eyebrow. "That's the best idea I've heard all night."
"I wish." Shaking my head, I forced my attention away from my nether regions, which were now up in arms, demanding attention. "Go on, the pair of you. You know what waits for us inside there. An early morning brunch, and then Iris and Hanna are going to put us all to work. Except Menolly, of course. Honestly, how Iris manages to have as much energy as she does after having the twins, I have no clue. It's been less than a month and she's raring to go."
As much as the thought of an early A.M. tryst with my men appealed to me, the morning was given over to homely duties. Today we'd all be decking out the house for Yuletide, from bottom to top. With Iris and Hanna in charge, it meant we'd fill every nook and cranny with some sort of decoration. But I didn't begrudge the time spent, especially this year.
With Father dead and so much upheaval in our lives, it was important to keep our traditions alive. We needed these touchstones to ground us and keep us on track. My premonitions of the other night had faded, and I had put them down to skittishness. So far, nothing had happened, and I hadn't bothered telling anybody about them.
Trillian laughed. "Fine. We'll avoid facing the wrath of the house-maidens. But that means we're on for this evening, though frankly, I'm going to need a nap before then. The few hours we got after Thanksgiving dinner were helpful, but not enough."
But as we approached the porch I lost track of what he was saying, because the front door burst open and Vanzir came racing out, the look on his face somewhere between guilty and terrified. He scrambled down the stairs, leaping to take the last few.
"Run! Get out of the way!" The dream-chaser demon pushed past us looking like hell itself was on his heels.
Confused, I glanced back at the door. Holy. Fuck. It couldn't be-no, no . . . I couldn't be seeing what my brain thought it was seeing. Could I?
But there, on the porch, with gleaming yellow eyes, stood a very large, very burly creature with bluish-white fur covering its body. It was bipedal . . .
"Yeti! There's a freaking yeti on our porch!" I dropped my purse and backed away from the steps, never letting my gaze waver from the creature. Trillian and Smoky were doing the same.
Yetis were unpredictable. Like their cousins, the Sasquatch, they are large and muscular, but their hair runs from white to a dusky silvery-blue, compared to the deep brown of the Sasquatch's fur. Camouflage, no doubt. But what the hell was a yeti from the mountains of Tibet doing here, on our front porch? And more importantly-at least for the moment-what was it going to do?
The creatures were wild, almost alien in nature. In fact, back in Otherworld, there were rumors that the entire Sasquatch-Yeti family were originally from another planet, though nobody knew if this was true. It could have just been an urban legend. They belonged to the Crypto family, but they weren't found in Otherworld and they sure didn't mingle with the Cryptos over here, Earthside. Or with the Fae. Pretty much everybody but monster-hunters gave the primate-like creatures a wide berth.
I searched my memory, trying to calculate our options. Attempting to communicate wouldn't do any good, not unless the creature was willing to talk. And so far, nobody I knew had gotten close enough to one to invite it to tea, at least not without getting mauled. Usually, approaching beyond a certain range triggered their defense mechanisms, and the creatures would attack. And an eight- to nine-foot-tall agitated primate who was feeling hemmed in wasn't the safest of critters to be around.
"Anybody have any suggestions about what we do with the big white giant on the porch?" I tried to keep my voice even and neutral. No use setting it off with any loud noises.
"My babies!" Heedless of the danger, Iris broke into a run, heading around the left side of the house. Her home was in back of ours, and her twins were there, waiting for her with their grandma and their daddy. I pitied any fool who tried to get between her and the babies, that was for sure. The house sprite might be a gorgeous, buxom hottie, milkmaid-pretty with golden hair down to her ankles and cornflower blue eyes, but she could turn a grown man inside out if she got mad enough. Literally.
"Astrid!" Chase followed Iris at a dead run. He and his daughter Astrid lived with Iris and Bruce. No doubt, he was just as freaked.
Startled by the sudden movement, the yeti let out a roar and bounded down the steps. My men moved immediately to intercept-Smoky, Trillian, and Morio dropped their parcels and darted to cut off the path so it couldn't follow Iris and Chase.
I backed up, looking at the sky. The clouds were thick. It was almost cold enough to snow, and there should be enough energy around to summon the lightning. I raised my arms and called on the Moon Mother. She was huge tonight-not quite full but nearly there, and I could feel her shining down even though she was obscured by the boiling clouds.
As I drew the energy into me, a crackle of silver racing through my arms, I began to feel giddy. What the hell? Her magic made me drunk at times, but never like this, and never this fast.
I wanted to dance, to spin and cackle and laugh. Trying to focus, I forced my attention back to the tingling moon-fire, but it was no use. The next moment, I heard music. Faint at first, the melody quickly swept up to surround me. Reverberating with a rhythm as deep as the soil, the singer enticing me to join the dance, his voice deep and guttural.
I began to whirl, laughing as I looked toward the sky. The Moon Mother, she was up there, and I could hear her singing along. But whatever the words were, I could not understand. Weaving in and out like a sinuous chain of dancers, the words sang of adventure.
The sky shimmered, a thin veil of sparkling lights flitting around me. Enchanted, I reached out, trying to capture the twinkles in my hands.
A low growl startled me. To my left, Delilah, in her panther form, bounded by, chasing a translucent figure with wings. Tiny, it was barely a foot tall. Oh hell! Some semblance of coherency broke through. I knew what that creature was! A pixie. A freaking pixie.
We were friends with a pixie, but the majority of them were annoying pests and worse. They liked to lead people astray, and they had it in for witches like myself. And this one was darting around, sprinkling dust right and left.
No wonder I wanted to dance. But then, reason escaped me as once again the music lured me in. I whirled, holding my arms out, and the energy I had drawn down from the Moon Mother suddenly cut loose in a volley of bolts as I became a spinning wheel of silver fire, sparks flying from my fingers.
Delilah snarled and lumbered out of reach. I heard Nerissa curse as I hit her with one of the mini-bolts. I wanted to stop, but my feet kept moving, I kept twirling, and the sparks kept flying.
"Stop me! Somebody stop me! Pixie dust!" I managed to shout between the violent fits of laughter that were erupting from my core. I had no clue what was so funny, but I couldn't stop that either.
By now, it occurred to me that if I had to be shooting out sparks, why not move to where they'd do some good? I tried to catch sight of the yeti in my dizzying spin and realized that if I shifted in a northwestern direction, I'd end up near the creature, who was now fully engaged with Smoky and the boys.
As I danced closer, still spinning like a crazed top, Smoky let out a shout, and then Trillian. The next thing I knew, the smell of burning fur filled my nostrils, and with each spin I found myself facing one very pissed-off and scorched yeti.
One circle around and I caught sight of him gazing at me with those glowing, angry, topaz eyes. A second circle, and a large fuzzy white arm came flying out. The third and I staggered to the ground as his big ole fist met my crazed body.
I landed on the frozen driveway. Apparently the temperature had dropped enough for frost to form. The fucking dirt was hard and cold. But even getting smacked by Mr. Abominable Snowman couldn't shake the pixie dust off me, because I began to struggle to my feet, still needing to dance. The next moment, Smoky had grabbed me under his arm, dragging me behind him as we raced through the yard toward the studio that had originally been a shed.
The minute we hit the door, he swept me up and barreled into the bathroom, where he shoved me-clothes and all- into the shower. One more second and he'd turned it on full blast. The water was cold, and shocked me into silence. As the spray warmed up, it began to wash off the pixie dust and my foggy thoughts began to lift. My body was still jazzed higher than a kite by all the energy I'd drawn in, but at least I didn't feel the need to go gallivanting in a crazed polka around the room. I stood there, mutely, under pounding water. Yeah, this outfit is a goner.
After a moment, Smoky turned off the spray. "Pixie dust gone?"
I searched for the dazed feelings brought on by the dust, but the only thing I felt was wired and bedraggled. After a moment, I nodded.
"Yeah, I think so. I'm pissed, but I'm thinking clearly and I don't feel quite so possessed to go frolicking with Mr. Yeti. The yeti! Where the hell did it come from, and more importantly, what are we going to do about it?"
"I don't know. When I saw it attack you, all I could think about was to get you out of the way. You were in no shape to protect yourself." He held out a towel. I stripped and, leaving my wet clothes in the shower stall, I stepped out and wrapped the thick terrycloth around me. The soft cloth against my skin felt good, and I suddenly realized that I was rapidly growing tired-another side effect of too much pixie dust.
"I need to find something to wear and then we have to get the hell back to the house. The fact that pixies are having a field day in our yard is bad enough, but a yeti bounding out of our front door? More than a little scary." A sudden thought hit me. "Maggie! We have to make sure Maggie is okay!" Pushing past him, I rushed out of the bathroom.
"You can't go racing out there in a bathrobe." Smoky motioned toward Rozurial's room. "Grab something from the incubus's closet and I'll go check on Maggie. I'll let you know the minute I find her and Hanna." And he was out the door before I could touch the knob.
Wanting to run after him, but realizing that dashing naked through the storm wasn't exactly the brightest idea, I hurried into Roz's room and tossed my way through his dresser. I found a tunic that fit over my Double-Ds, and a pair of drawstring pajama bottoms. Cinching them firmly, I realized I'd have to go barefoot. My shoes were ruined, and I couldn't wear any of Roz's boots-they were far too big. Sopping hair and all, I headed out of the studio, back toward the house, my feet freezing. The frozen soil and frosty grass made for a slippery mix, and I struggled to keep my footing as I jogged back toward the house.
All hell had broken loose. Trillian and Morio were still fighting the yeti and from what I could see, the damned thing seemed tougher than a dubba-troll. But that was only the half of it. Glimmers flickered from all over the yard- and every glimmer seemed to have some sort of creature attached to it.
The pixie was still flying around like a crazed maniac, and to my dismay, I spotted a couple more nearby. Hell. They were bad news, in general. Mistletoe was the exception to the rule and that's only because he was our friend.
Beneath a huckleberry bush near my herb garden, I could see some sort of frosty hedgehog-like creature. Not certain what it was, I decided I had better get dressed before investigating.
Trampled shopping bags were scattered all over the yard, and I scanned the area, trying to locate everyone. I finally spotted Nerissa, in her werepuma form, and Delilah, who was still in panther form. They'd treed something, and both big cats were standing up against the trunk staring at whatever it was they'd managed to trap in the branches.
Menolly was up on top of the roof. She was after-what the hell? It looked like some sort of gremlin. She was climbing along the shingles, but the creature scampered over the tiles as if it were running on flat ground.
Rozurial was nowhere in sight, and Iris and Chase had taken off for Iris's house. Vanzir was struggling with a figure beneath a cedar. They were rolling around on the ground, locked in a wrestling match, and I heard Vanzir utter a string of curses. Shade was chasing another glimmer around toward the backyard.
Motherfucking son of a bitch, what the hell was going on?
Just then, one of the Fae guards who patrolled our land ran over to my side, panting. "Camille-we're overrun. Four of the men are out back fighting a group of barbegazi. And two of the men are chasing a couple of ice wolves."
"Barbegazi? Ice wolves? What the hell are they?" I wasn't sure I wanted to know, but then again, there was a lot I'd learned the hard way that I wished I didn't have to know about.
"Barbegazi are creatures from the Northlands. They're very much like dwarves only smaller and hardier. Usually they're kindly natured but this batch appears to be a particularly surly lot. As for the ice wolves, they are also known as amaroks, at least to one Earthside tribal group. They're wolf demons, dangerous and hungry for human flesh." The guard glanced around, shaking his head. "I don't know what happened, or where all of these creatures came from. The wards suddenly went off and we were swarming with them."
"The rogue portal out back? Could they have come through there?" I motioned toward the porch steps, which were surprisingly clear. "I need to get dressed and get back out here."
He followed me up the stairs. "No, the portal hasn't been active at all. I-"
As we entered the house, he fell silent. First of all, the foyer was filled with snow. White, cold, sticky wet snow. And it was snowing up a storm. Inside the house. Second, a loud humming emanated from the living room.
"Well . . . this is a new look. Ice palace décor, for the win." But my sarcasm fell flat, even to my own ears, as I stared at snow on the floor. All twelve to fourteen inches of snow. My feet were beginning to freeze.
"Wait here, Lady Camille." The guard plowed his way into the living room, then within moments returned. "There's a portal in your living room. The snow's coming through there. Ten to one, that's where all of these creatures came from, too."
A portal? In the living room?
"Okay, then, well. I don't know what to say to that." I wanted to
go prowling around, looking for Maggie, but Smoky had promised he would let me know the moment he found them and truth was, I was starting to chill. "Come with me, please. I need to change and I don't know what else might be rampaging through the house. I'd rather not be surprised while I'm getting dressed." I darted through the snow, wincing as the sting of the frozen water hit my feet. The guard- whose name was Dez-followed me, sword out and ready.
The snow was beginning to drift up the living room walls and out into the foyer and the parlor. But even more alarming, the room was also decked out in the most garish holiday décor I had ever seen. In one corner stood a ten-foot-tall tree, blazing with neon flashing blue and green lights that made my eyes hurt. The lights also ran the length of the room, following the ceiling around to form a terrifyingly bright border. Huge, ugly, acrylic ornaments bedecked the tree, catching and reflecting the lights like crazed prisms.
"What the fuck...it looks like Crack Santa and his methed-out elves descended on our living room."
"I don't know, Lady Camille." Sheepishly, he said, "I thought perhaps you decorated before you left for your shop- ping trip."
"Oh, hell no. This mess? I have better taste than that. And you know Iris...yeah..."
The thought of Iris allowing such a tawdry show in our living room almost made me laugh. Thoroughly confused, I turned to the portal, which was shimmering in the opposite corner near the window. It was swirling with icy blue sparkles. I had no clue to where it led, and I sure as hell wasn't going to dive through to find out.
"Okay, upstairs, to my rooms."
As we headed up to the second story, the chill followed. It was still snowing when we reached my suite of rooms and by the time we entered my bedroom, I could see my breath and my toes were numb.
Dez made a quick survey around the room and ascertained that nothing was amok-or at least, nothing was running amok.
I stripped down as he kept watch. The Fae-including half-Fae like myself-generally weren't modest or embarrassed by nudity, and he stood by the door, guarding me, without so much as blinking an eye.
Slipping into my ready-to-rumble catsuit that I wore when I knew we had a fight on our hands, I zipped it up and slid on a pair of kitten-heel granny boots. Then, slinging a belt around my hips, I fastened on the sheath containing my silver dagger.
After dressing, I made certain my unicorn horn was still safely hidden away in the secret compartment in my closet. For what we seemed to be facing, I didn't think we'd need to use it. I wasn't about to deplete its power this far from the new moon unless it was absolutely necessary.
Once I was finished, I slipped a capelet over my shoulders for extra warmth and quickly scrubbed the streaked makeup off my face. My eyeliner and mascara had survived-they were waterproof-but everything else was a lost cause. Less than ten minutes after we hit my bedroom, I was finished and ready to rock.
"Okay, back down to the first floor."
But as we reached the landing, I paused. Someone was coming up the steps. I pulled out my dagger as Dez held his sword at the ready.
As the sound of footsteps rounded the turn, I held my breath, but then let it out in one big exhale as I saw it was Smoky, looking grim. My heart skidded to a halt.
"Maggie's safe and sound," he said before I could burst into tears. "Hanna took her down to Menolly's lair when the shit hit the fan. I told her to stay there for now. But that portal in the living room? I know where it goes. I hopped through to find out what the hell was going on."
"Where does it lead? And can you close it?" We followed him as he turned, heading back down the stairs.
Smoky shook his head, glancing over his shoulder. "No, I can't close it. The gate was opened by powerful magic, and I can't do anything about it. But as I said, I crossed over to see where it led. I'm not sure who the hell did this, but the portal? It leads into the Northlands, as far as I can tell."
My heart began to beat faster. The Northlands could be reached via Otherworld, and through perilous routes up in the higher reaches over here, Earthside. I had a lot of bad associations with the lands at the top of the world. A lot of harsh, volatile creatures made their homes there, including dragons like Smoky's father, who had imprisoned and tortured me.
"So the question is, who opened this portal, and why?"
"Right now, I think the more important question is: Just what all has come through so far? And what else can we expect before we manage to close it down?" Smoky's grim smile deepened. "Let's get back outside, woman. We need to do something to stop that yeti from trampling the yard."
I turned to the guard. "Dez, stay here, please, and guard the portal. Don't put your life in danger, but if something else comes through, do your best to stop it if you can. And if you can't, get the hell outside so we know what we're facing next."
With that, Smoky and I headed back outside, into the fray.