A Faerie's Curse - Rachel Morgan - E-Book

A Faerie's Curse E-Book

Rachel Morgan

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Beschreibung

A witch’s curse. A world-ending prophecy. A daring rescue mission. Don’t miss the heart-pounding finale to Calla’s story!


On the run from the Guild of Guardians, Calla Larkenwood and her team of fellow outlaws plan a daring rescue operation into the Seelie Court itself. As if that isn’t enough to keep them busy, the power-hungry Princess Angelica has begun preparations for a horrifying prophesied spell that will forever change both the magic and non-magic realms.


When Calla is blindsided by an unspeakable tragedy before the rescue can be carried out, she struggles to remain focused on her mission. She believes she’s reached her lowest point—until a witch reveals the final blow: she has cursed Calla’s magic. With time running out, can Calla save the one she loves and stop the prophecy from being carried out before the curse claims her life?


 


Perfect for fans of The Mortal Instruments, The Iron Fey, and Graceling.

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A Faerie’s Curse

Creepy Hollow, Book Six

Rachel Morgan

A Faerie’s Curse

By Rachel Morgan

Copyright © 2016 Rachel Morgan

Summary:

Calla Larkenwood must battle against a witch’s curse to save the one she loves and prevent a power-hungry princess from tearing through the veil between two worlds. With her magic disappearing bit by bit, can she stop the worst from happening before the curse claims her life?

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information please contact the author.

v2021.07.29

Mobi Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9946953-2-1

Epub Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9946953-3-8

Part One

One

Glittering beach sand crunches beneath my boots as I walk hand in hand with a five-year-old faerie girl toward the palm grove that conceals her father’s home. It’s late in the evening, and a million scattered stars illuminate our path up the beach and away from the waves. The pain shooting through my right ankle—the result of skidding across a wet deck while being chased by a band of pirates—causes me to limp, and the gash below my ear is no doubt oozing blood into my golden hair. Not the best way to present myself to faerie nobility, but all in all, I’d say it was a successful rescue mission.

Unfortunately, it isn’t the rescue mission I wish it was. Chase—the man who was once Lord Draven; the man I’ve found myself falling for despite the things he’s done—is still chained in a secret dungeon beneath the Seelie Palace. His own mother made a deal with the Guild, trading his life for her freedom. It’s been a week—an entire torturous week—since he was taken, and we’re no closer to breaking into the Seelie Palace. Tonight’s mission, however, will change that.

Elsie tugs my hand and says, “This is where you throw the gem.”

I smile down at her. “Thanks for the reminder.” From my jacket pocket, I remove the red gemstone I was given earlier. I throw it between the trees ahead of us as we continue walking. Layers of glamour magic begin to peel themselves away. The palm trees vanish, sand filters into the ground as lush grass and tiny flowers take its place, and a ruby-studded stone path appears beneath our feet. At the end of the path rises the grandiose home of Baron Westhold. Elsie reaches down and plucks a star-shaped yellow flower from the ground. She twirls it between her fingers as we head toward the house.

Now that this part of the mission is over, distracting thoughts circle my mind: Chase disappearing into the night sky in a Seelie Palace carriage, Mom’s trial ending tonight, the horrible vision of a spell that will tear through the veil separating our world from the human world. That vision is the reason Mom ran away from the Guild years ago. It’s the reason she’s been on trial. From the magic of the depths to the magic of the heights, with blood from one side and blood from the other. Together with the greatest power nature can harness, we shall tear this veil asunder.

I shake away the memory of those disturbing words and point my thoughts firmly in a different direction. Tonight’s mission isn’t yet complete, and I can’t afford distractions.

The two security guards at the entrance to the baron’s home pull themselves a little straighter as Elsie and I walk beneath the pillared archway and toward the front door. Their blank expressions never faltered earlier today as they took me to see the baron, but now, as their eyes fall on the girl at my side, they can’t hide their relief. The younger guard opens the door and steps back as we enter the house. “This way,” Elsie says, tugging me past the mermaid statue and along a wide marble passageway, unaware that I already know where to go.

We’ve barely taken five steps when I hear a commotion up ahead. Something falling, hurried footsteps, and then a voice shouting, “Elsie?”

From around the corner at the end of the passage, his clothes rumpled and hair disheveled, Baron Westhold appears. A groan of relief escapes him before he runs the final distance toward his daughter and scoops her into his arms. He hugs her tightly to his chest while she pats the top of his head and says, “I’m fine, Father. I was with your friend, the captain. He said you wanted me to make gold for him.”

“Dear Seelie Queen,” Baron Westhold murmurs. “Elsie, that man was not my friend.”

An older girl runs around the corner, almost skidding in her purple unicorn slippers, but stops short of throwing her arms around her father and sister. Instead she clasps her hands together and tucks them beneath her chin as her brow puckers. “I’m so sorry, Elsie. I’m so sorry. I only looked away for a moment, and then—”

“That’s enough, Brynn,” the baron says. He lowers Elsie to the floor and straightens. He blinks and clears his throat before turning to his older daughter. “Take Elsie upstairs.”

“I’m so sorry, Father. You know I never meant for this—”

“We’ll talk later.”

I take a few discreet steps backward, distancing myself from the family drama. As Brynn attempts to plead her case, I reach down, wrap my hand around my ankle, and release additional magic into the area, hoping to aid the healing process. My mind reaches automatically for Chase, to update him on what’s going on, before I remember I’m not wearing the telepathy ring. Gaius took it from me before the mission began.

“Please don’t ground me,” Brynn begs. “Elsie’s safe now, and I promise I’ll never lose her again.”

“Brynn,” the baron says, slow and precise, her name a warning on his lips. “We will talk later.”

Brynn nods, her eyes downcast, and reaches for Elsie’s hand. The little girl looks toward me and says, “Thank you.” She stretches her hand out to me, so I step forward and take it. The flower she’s still clutching tickles my skin, then seems to become … heavier. She pulls her hand back—and a solid gold flower sits on my palm.

Gold. Real gold. That isn’t normal magic. My mind races to fill in the missing gaps from the brief I was given this morning. By the time I tear my eyes from my palm, Elsie is skipping ahead of her sister as they disappear around the corner. I look at Baron Westhold and find him staring at the gold flower. He sucks in a shaky breath, turns around, and says, “Follow me.”

I place the flower carefully into the hidden pocket on the inside of my jacket and hurry after the baron, my limp almost gone now. We turn out of the passageway, cross an atrium with a fountain at its center, and head down another passage toward the office I met the baron in this morning. It’s richly furnished with paintings in gold frames, a maroon and gold carpet, and dark wooden shelves lined with leather-bound books. A tall glass vase filled with liquid that glitters gold and maroon stands in one corner. Flames flicker and crackle in a fireplace, warming the chilly ocean air entering through the balcony doorway. The sheer curtains lift gently in the nighttime breeze, giving me a glimpse of waves tumbling onto the shore.

The baron walks to his desk and unlocks the top drawer with a stylus. He removes a slim rectangular case made of wood. “This payment doesn’t come close to expressing my gratitude,” he says as he hands me the case. “My guards told me it would be impossible to retrieve my daughter from that vile pirate’s clutches. I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again.”

I remember the baron’s words to me this morning—How old are you anyway? Are you sure you can get this done?—and manage to keep my response polite as I take the case. “We specialize in the impossible. That’s why you hired us.”

“Yes.” He pauses a moment, watching me carefully, then adds, “And for complete confidentiality.”

“Of course.”

“If the Guild finds out what my daughter can do—”

“They won’t. Not from us. We understand the need for secrecy, especially when it comes to Griffin Abilities.”

The baron flinches at my use of those two simple words. Words he left out of his instructions this morning. Words he’s probably been trying to deny ever since he discovered what his daughter can do. He must have been in possession of one of the griffin discs when his daughter was conceived. Except … there were no griffin discs five years ago. They lost their magic after Draven used them to unlock the chest Tharros’s power was kept in. So how …

I push my confusion to one side and clear my throat. No distractions, I remind myself. “Besides,” I add, “if we couldn’t be trusted, no one would ever hire us. We rely on word of mouth, which means we need happy clients. Trust me, Baron Westhold. We don’t want to make you unhappy.”

The baron considers me for another moment. “I suppose not.”

I slide the wooden case into the pocket with the gold flower. “If that’s all …”

“Yes, thank you, that will be all.”

“I can show myself out then.”

“Good.”

I nod politely, then turn and leave. With quick strides, I make my way back to the entrance hall. The guards need to see me leave, just in case the baron asks them, so I pull the heavy wooden door open. Instead of walking out, though, I release my control on the imaginary fortress around my mind and let my Griffin Ability free. I picture myself walking out into the night, and that’s exactly what I see. The imaginary version of me continues along the path, and the guards watch her go. “How the hell did she get past all of Captain Nuvareed’s men on that ship?” one murmurs to the other.

The other shakes his head as he moves to close the door. “Wish I’d been there to see it.”

I smile to myself as the door slides shut with a heavy thud. I close my eyes and picture my imaginary self still moving along the path. When I’ve imagined her going far enough into the night that the guards can barely see her, I let go of that illusion and wrap a different one around myself. The illusion of invisibility. Then I turn back to face the mermaid statue and focus on the real reason I was given this mission: a party invitation.

When Gaius, one of Chase’s team members, was called here late last night, he witnessed a conversation between the baron and his teenage daughter. Brynn was distraught, barely able to speak through her tears as she explained how Elsie had disappeared. Furious that Brynn had let her little sister out of her sight, the baron yelled, “You are grounded for the rest of the year. For the rest of your life.”

With her tears shocked to a halt, Brynn was able to speak more easily. “What? But the party. I have to go. This isn’t the kind of invitation you say no to.”

“You won’t be going near the Seelie Palace—or anywhere else for that matter—if we don’t get your sister back.”

And that was the moment at which Gaius became a lot more interested in the whole matter. With Chase confined beneath the Seelie Palace for a week now, and the rest of his team no closer to finding out how to get there, this invitation was the best lead so far. Despite the fact that it was extraordinarily unprofessional, Gaius asked, “What party is that?”

The baron ignored him—most likely because the question had no relevance to the current situation—and sent Brynn to her room. He then discussed the rescue mission details with Gaius, who promised he would select the best member of his team for the job, and there’d been no further mention of the Seelie Palace.

Given the ease with which I can sneak around without being seen, Gaius chose me for this task. No pressure, I think as I remind myself that this is our one chance to get inside the Seelie Palace. No pressure at all. Wrapped securely in invisibility, I begin my search for Brynn’s bedroom. I look into several unoccupied rooms upstairs before finding the right one. The door is ajar and I hear sniffling from within. I imagine myself as Baron Westhold, then knock on the door and push it open—and have to stop myself from blinking in surprise at the purple glitter covering almost every surface. Focus! I command myself.

Brynn, who was lying on her stomach with her face buried in her arms when I walked in, looks up with hopeful eyes. “Father?”

“I’ve decided you won’t be going,” I tell her in a voice that sounds just like her father’s.

Her face falls as she pushes herself up into a sitting position. “But it’s rude to decline the invitation.”

“Don’t tell me you care about politeness. I know you only want to go because of that boy.” I have no idea if that’s true, of course, but I imagine it’s something an angry father might say.

“What—what boy?” Brynn asks, but her twisting hands and the way she looks down instead of holding my gaze tell a different story.

“Where is the invitation?” I ask.

She looks up, her eyes narrowing in confusion. “The invitation to the party?”

“Yes, of course. What other invitation would I be talking about? I won’t have you sneaking out on your own to attend this event.”

Her frown deepens. “But you know I can’t get there on my own. And don’t you still have the invitation? It was addressed to you, not me. I don’t even know what it looks like.”

Shoot. I had hoped this would be as easy as taking the invitation from Brynn and leaving. How am I supposed to get the baron to give it to me? I focus hard on keeping the image of the baron covering me as completely as a second skin. I allow my folded arms to fall to my sides as I say, “I’m still not happy with you, Brynn, but it’s late now, so we’ll speak tomorrow.”

“Okay, but please just think about—”

“Tomorrow, Brynn.” I leave the room and pull the door closed. I release the image of Baron Westhold and switch back to invisibility as I hurry downstairs to his office, hoping he hasn’t gone to bed yet. Reaching his office doorway, I see him standing at a gap in the curtains with his back to me, staring out at the night. I step away from the door and press myself against the wall beside it, giving myself a moment to clear my mind. I need to take more care with deceiving the baron than I did with his distraught teenage daughter.

I focus hard on picturing Brynn, on seeing her in my place. I don’t move until I look down and see her slippers instead of my boots. Then I tell myself that I am Brynn, and I walk into her father’s office. “Father?” I say, relieved that the voice I hear sounds more like hers than mine.

He turns and frowns at me. “You should be in bed, Brynn.”

“I know, but I just wanted to ask if you’ve changed your mind about … about the party.”

“We don’t need to discuss it now,” he says, returning to his desk and sinking into the leather chair.

“But … didn’t we say we would attend? If you’ve changed your mind, then we need to let the palace know.”

“Fine. I will inform the palace tomorrow.”

I allow myself to look appropriately devastated. “Please, please don’t do that. I’ve been looking forward to it for so long. This was just one mistake, and it will never happen again.”

The baron folds one hand over the other and leans forward. “You allowed your sister to be kidnapped by a pirate. It wasn’t just a mistake, Brynn. Can you even begin to imagine how devastated your mother would be if she were still alive? No, my decision is final. We will not be attending that party.”

I wobble my lower jaw before pressing my lips tightly together. I imagine tears forming in Brynn’s eyes. “Can I at least have the invitation as a memento?”

“You don’t need a memento of an event you won’t be attending.”

I bite my lip, clench my fists, and prepare myself for a teenage tantrum. “You know what? I hate you. I hate you for ruining my life like this! I’m going to find that invitation when you’re not around, and I’m going to that party without you. I don’t care that I can’t find the palace on my own. I’ll find someone who knows how to get there.”

Baron Westhold looks thunderstruck. I turn and flounce from the room before he can respond. I stop just outside. Picturing myself as empty space instead of as Brynn, I look into the office once more. The baron slowly shakes his head, clearly shocked at Brynn’s outburst. He leans back in his chair with a weary sigh, covering his brow with one hand. I start to consider what illusion I can use to get him to leave the room, but then he opens one of his drawers and removes a rosebud the color of champagne. He places it on the desk and the petals slowly open. Gold words appear in the air above the rose. I tiptoe into the room to get a closer look, but the baron brushes his hand against the petals, causing the words to vanish and the petals to curl closed once more. He stands, carries the rosebud to the fireplace, and—

No! My hand stretches out automatically, but I’m on the other side of the room, and the rose is already in the fire. No, no, no! I need a distraction—something—a noise—

The first sound that comes to mind is a child’s scream. I go with it, clinging desperately to my invisibility as the shriek pierces the still night. The baron’s head whips around. “Elsie?” He dashes from the room as I lunge for the fireplace. I drop to my knees, shove my hand into the flames, and grasp the flower. I breathe in sharply against the sudden, burning pain, scramble to my feet, and plunge my hand into the tall vase. I search the room with desperate, darting eyes for my escape. I need a way out, I need to think, and the vase’s contents isn’t providing nearly enough relief for my burning hand. I squeeze my eyes shut and hold in the groan of pain I would really like to release.

At the sound of running footsteps, my eyelids snap open. I pull my arm from the vase and rush onto the balcony, trailing drops of water behind me as my hand BURNS LIKE A FREAKING INFERNO. Below, the white sand gleams in the starlight. It isn’t too great a distance to the ground, so I should be fine if I jump. I don’t want to crush the rosebud, though, so I form a bubble of shield magic around it. Breathing heavily against the pain, I coax the bubble into the air and watch it drift down toward the sand. Then—

“… didn’t imagine it,” a voice says from somewhere inside the house. Distant, but quickly growing louder. “If neither of my daughters screamed, it means someone else did. Search everywhere.”

I climb hastily over the balcony railing. I look over my shoulder, and as the curtains flutter and a dark shape enters the room, I jump. I hit the ground a second later and roll to a halt. Sand shifts around me as I climb to my feet, making me slower and clumsier than I should be. Fortunately, my twisted ankle is almost fully healed. I imagine myself as invisible and shoot a glance behind me, hoping I don’t find someone looking down from the balcony. I don’t. In fact, I don’t see any balcony at all. The glamour is once again hiding the enormous home, and all I can see are several palm trees and clumps of coarse grass here and there amongst the sand. Which means someone could be watching me, and I wouldn’t know. Best to keep myself concealed.

Gritting my teeth against the pain that threatens to distract me from my illusion, I look around for a surface to write on. My eyes land on the nearest palm tree. I hold the bubble in my non-burned hand and run as quickly as the sand will allow. I’ve almost reached the tree when something strikes the back of my right boot. I stumble to the side and look behind me. A spark of magic shoots toward me, narrowly missing my arm as I dodge out of its path.

My footprints, I realize. Someone must have noticed the shifting sand as I ran for the tree. More magic flies in my direction, and then suddenly—shouts greet my ears and three figures appear almost exactly where I landed moments ago.

“Crap.” Keeping myself concealed, I rush for the palm tree. Sand flies up around me as sparks strike the ground. I swing myself around the side of the tree and retrieve my stylus with my burning hand. I instruct myself—uselessly—to ignore the pain and the panic as I write a doorway spell onto the tree trunk. The rough surface melts away, revealing a dark space just wide enough for me to fit through. Holding the thought of Chase’s lakeside house in my mind, I hurtle into the faerie paths.

Two

Seconds later, I rush through the lake house living room to the faerie door, pulling the key from one of my pockets. DAMN, MY HAND IS BURNING. Then I’m in another dark space, and then through a door into the foyer, and finally I’m back at Gaius’s mountain home. My mountain home, seeing as nowhere else is safe for me anymore. I fled the Guild after they discovered my Griffin Ability, and they’ve been watching the homes of my family and friends ever since.

I hurry upstairs to Gaius’s study—burning, burning, burning hand—and find him bent over a spider-like contraption that appears to be shooting sparkling dust from one spindly leg and ink splatters from another. “Mission number one complete,” I announce, marching across the room and managing to feel immensely pleased with myself despite the horrendous pain scorching across my hand. “Here’s the payment for the job.” I remove the wooden case and the gold flower from my pocket. “Plus a bit of gold, because little Elsie felt like making it on the spot for me. And—” I lower the translucent shield bubble onto a pile of books and allow it to pop, revealing the rosebud “—the all-important invitation.”

“You got it!” Gaius exclaims, standing so quickly his chair falls over behind him.

Despite my pain, a laugh escapes my lips. “I got it.”

“And gold? You said she made it? And—your hand. That looks terrible.”

“It’s fine, I’ll treat it in a moment. Open the invitation so we can see—”

“You haven’t opened it yet?” Gaius asks as he rummages through one of his drawers and pulls out an emergency kit.

“No, I had to get out of there without getting caught. I didn’t want to ruin the good reputation you and Chase have worked so hard to build among certain circles of fae.”

“Ah, yes, probably a good idea.” Gaius removes a small tub of burn healing gel and hands it to me. “Here you go. Fix your hand up while I open this thing.”

As Gaius clears a space on his desk for the rosebud, I scoop some gel from the tub and smear it across my hand. The relief is instant as the gel’s magic diminishes the burning to little more than a whisper of pain. With my attention fully on the invitation now, I lean over the desk and watch closely. Gaius touches a petal with one finger that shakes ever so slightly. The petals begin to unfurl. “This is it,” he breathes. “Our ticket inside the Seelie Palace.”

“Well, if we can find out how to actually get there,” I remind him.

“Details,” Gaius says with a wave of his hand. “We’ll figure that part out.” He squints at the gold letters that appear in the air above the flower. “Cordially invited … blah, blah, blah,” he reads. “Princess Audra’s birthday … masked ball … on the fourteenth day of … oh, goodness, that’s—”

“Nine days away,” I say, my heart sinking. “Nine whole days. How is Chase supposed to last that long?”

Gaius stares at the invitation, chewing on his bottom lip. “Well, this is our only option, unless you know how to get us in and out of the palace on a regular day without being caught.”

“My ability—”

“Might not be enough. This is the most well-guarded place in our world. There will be magical protection everywhere. The easiest way in is during an event like this. Security will still be high, of course, but not impossible for us to get past.”

I grip the edge of the desk. “Fine. But if … if there’s even a hint of something happening to Chase before this party, then we have to go immediately.”

“Of course. Which means we need to hurry up and find someone who knows how to get there.”

“Yes.” And that’s something that someone else on the team will have to figure out, because my one and only potential contact is someone who never seems to leave the Seelie Court. I hold my rapidly healing hand out. “May I have the ring back? We need to update Chase.” And I need to hear his voice. I’ve gone a whole day without hearing it, and it feels as though a piece of myself has been missing.

“Yes, of course.” Gaius removes a book from one of his shelves and opens it. From a carved space in the center of the pages, he removes the telepathy ring I’ve been using to communicate with Chase since he was imprisoned. A ring imbued with a Griffin Ability someone didn’t want. Fortunately, Chase was wearing the corresponding ring when he was captured. “I’m sorry I took it, but I didn’t want you distracted by anything today.”

“I understand, but I wish you’d trusted me to simply leave the ring in my bedroom. You didn’t need to hide it from me.”

“It isn’t that I didn’t trust you, Calla. I just wanted to be certain you wouldn’t take it with you.”

I raise an eyebrow as Gaius places the ring, a simple silver band with a green stone, on my palm. “So you didn’t trust me.”

He ruffles his already mussed up hair. “Fine. I’m sorry. It was your first mission for us and … well, it was very important.”

“I’m fully aware of that, Gaius. I want to get Chase out of the Seelie Queen’s clutches just as much as you do.”

“Of course, I know, I’m sorry. I promise I’ll trust you next time. Oh, you probably want your amber back too.”

“You hid my amber as well?” I demand, curling my hand around the ring.

“It was a potential distraction.”

“It’s old and oversized and the only person I can contact is Ryn, so I definitely wasn’t planning on taking it with me. You know that.”

“Just taking precautions,” Gaius says, handing me the antique piece of amber with a guilty smile. “Which I understand now were unnecessary. Won’t happen again.”

I shake my head in frustration as I tap the amber’s surface. Gold writing fades into view. I tell myself I’ll look at it properly a bit later, after I’ve spoken to Chase, but I see the words ‘mom’ and ‘trial just finished’ and I can’t stop reading. A chill rushes across my skin. I feel faint, as if the blood has been drained all at once from my head. “The trial’s over,” I whisper, pulling my eyes from my brother’s message and looking up at Gaius. “They—they’re sending my mother to prison.”

Chase, are you there?

I call his name once more as I sneak into the Guild just before midnight. I’ve been trying to get hold of him since I left the mountain, but all I can hear are my own thoughts. I tell myself not to worry. He’s sleeping, that’s all. He’s fine. Well, he isn’t fine. He’s imprisoned in a dark, dirty cell with magic-blocking chains attached to his arms and legs. But he isn’t dead. He can’t be. The Seelie Queen wouldn’t keep him alive for a week only to suddenly finish him off with no fanfare. No, she’s keeping him alive for a reason, which means he’s just sleeping. You’re just sleeping, right? I whisper in my mind.

I swallow, trying to rid myself of the nausea in my stomach, and walk confidently across the Guild’s great foyer. Moving around under the illusion of invisibility has become second nature to me. Still, it’s a risk to come here so late at night when no one else is around and a surveillance device—which isn’t a living being and can’t be influenced by my projections—could so easily spot me. I casually pull my hood further over my head. I may look suspicious to anyone watching me on a recording orb right now, but no one would ever suspect me of being Calla Larkenwood, the runaway Gifted faerie who supposedly killed one of her classmates before making half the Guild sick with a disease-causing Griffin Ability.

I climb the stairs to Ryn’s office, but I walk straight past his closed door. I stop near the end of the corridor and lean against the wall. I lift my hand, as if examining my nails while waiting for someone or something. In reality, I’m scouring the corridor with my eyes for any sign of a surveillance bug. I flinch when the door beside me opens, but my projection is intact, and the guardian who walks out does nothing more than lock her office and leave with a bag slung over her shoulder.

I examine the corridor for another few minutes. When I see no movement and hear no buzzing, I push away from the wall and walk back to Ryn’s door. I open it, slip inside, and shut the door. “They’re sending her to prison?” I say as I drop into the empty chair beside Dad and across from Ryn. “That’s absurd. She was only a child when she broke her contract and fled the Guild. What happened to them fining her and leaving it at that?”

Dad, who looks sicker than I feel, shakes his head and covers his face with both hands.

I turn to Ryn instead. “She did receive a fine,” he says. “For manufacturing high-strength potions without a permit. For breaking her Seer contract, the Guild has taken into account the seriousness of the vision she chose not to tell them about. They also seem to want to make an example of her so that other Seers don’t make light of their contracts, which is why she ended up with six months in prison instead of a second fine.”

“Six months? Your message said two years.”

“The rest is for the other charge: keeping your Griffin Ability secret. Considering the mess at the Guild recently—the murder and the dragon disease and the big display you put on when you fled—they’re taking failure to register Gifted persons very seriously. Apparently we’re supposed to be grateful they only gave her a year and a half for that one.”

“But—that’s—” I struggle to put my thoughts together into a coherent sentence. “The mess at the Guild was my doing, not hers. She had no control over what I might use my ability for. And Dad didn’t register me either, but they’re not throwing him into prison.”

“They’ve opened an investigation on me,” Dad says quietly. “And it isn’t just about failing to register you. It’s … well, they want to know how we kept it quiet for so long. Given the stories surrounding the departure of every school you’ve been at, they find it hard to believe that no one else knew about you.”

Icy apprehension fills my veins. If Dad is under investigation, there’s no way he can continue to hide what he’s done. “They’re going to find out, aren’t they,” I whisper. “They’re going to find out about the bribes.”

Dad pulls back slightly as confusion creases his brow. “How do you know about that?”

“I overheard you and Ryn speaking.” I leave out the fact that this eavesdropping took place during an accidental trip into the past while I was wearing a time-traveling bangle.

Dad watches me for several moments before saying, “Do you understand how serious this is?”

“Yes. What are you going to do?”

Dad takes a deep breath. “Well, as your mother said earlier, it’s time to face the consequences for what we’ve done.”

My throat tightens as I try to hold back tears. “That’s what she said?”

“Yes. And she’s right. We’ve broken the law. I, especially, have broken the law. Your mother doesn’t even know the lengths I went to in order to keep your name off the list.”

“Dad, I’m so sorry I—”

“I broke the law, Calla,” he says firmly. “I did that. If I have to face the consequences, then I will.”

“But—”

“We don’t even know yet what will happen to me. Right now, our concern should be for your mother. She’s the one being carted off to Barton Prison tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” I gasp. “Where is she now? Can I see her?”

“No, of course you can’t see her!” he says, his voice rising. “She’s in the detainment area downstairs. Is your ability going to get you past all those guards? Probably not. And then you’ll end up in the cell next to hers when you’re caught.”

Dad’s lack of faith in my ability stings, but now isn’t the time to argue. Not when he’s clearly close to cracking from the pressure of Mom’s trial and the devastating news of her sentence.

“I … I need some space,” Dad says, standing. “I’ll be outside in the forest.” He places a hand on my shoulder and adds, “You’ve found yourself in enough life-threatening situations recently. I just want you to stay safe now.”

The door closes behind Dad and I pull my feet up onto the chair. I wrap my arms around my legs and press my face against my knees as the weight of what I’ve done to my parents becomes almost too much to bear. “This is all my fault.”

“Calla …”

“You know it is.” I raise my head and look at Ryn. “Dad would never have had to break the law if not for me. And Mom … well, the Guild might still have punished her for running away in the middle of her training, but it wouldn’t be this bad. It’s because of me that they’re doing this to her. I’m on the loose instead of in custody for supposedly murdering Saskia, and they’re taking out their frustration at their own failure on Mom. They can’t make me pay, so they’re making her pay.”

Ryn rubs his face. He closes his eyes and slowly shakes his head. “I don’t know, Cal. You’re probably right, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“What if …” My feet slip to the floor and I sit up a little straighter. “What if I turn myself in? Do you think that would make a difference?”

“What?” Ryn’s eyelids spring open. “No! Are you crazy? Of course that wouldn’t make a difference. You’d end up in prison along with your mother. You can’t make this situation any better.”

I flop back into the chair. “So we’re supposed to just let this happen? Let her go to prison for the next few years?”

Ryn shrugs helplessly. “What’s the alternative? Help her escape so she can be on the run for the rest of her life? Barton Prison isn’t all that bad. Not like Velazar. Maybe it’s better if she just does the time. Maybe … I don’t know.” He rubs both hands over his face this time. “I don’t have all the answers, Calla.”

I peer more closely at him. He seems more tired than I’ve seen him in a long time. “Are you okay?”

He sighs. “Yes. I just … have a lot on my mind. I took the rest of last week off after Victoria was born, so yesterday was my first day back. So many things to do. My team began looking into this so-called guardian hater group straight after Zed tried to take Victoria. I told them to question the owner of Club Deviant, like you suggested.”

“Oh yeah? Did they discover anything?”

“They did, actually. One of my team recognized him as someone who escaped from the scene of a previous crime. They arrested him and searched his club. They found illegal potions that link him to another group we’ve been trying to take down for a while. Perhaps they’re all part of this larger guardian hater group. Anyway, none of this proves he had anything to do with the dragon disease or the plan to hurt Victoria, and of course he says he knows nothing of a faerie named Zed. But we’ve requested permission to use a truth potion, so if that request goes through, we’ll soon know more.” Ryn stifles a yawn before adding, “Oh, and we’ve had a spike in disappearances in Creepy Hollow recently. That’s not my department, of course, but I know Vi can help with her Griffin Ability. So I’ve been trying to discreetly get my hands on some of the belongings of those who’ve disappeared so Vi can attempt to find them. Amidst all my own work, of course.” He leans one elbow on the desk and blinks at me, as though trying to wake himself up. “How’s, um, Chase?”

“Oh.” I automatically swivel the ring around my finger. “The situation’s still the same,” I say carefully. I told Ryn about the telepathy rings and that we know where Chase is being held prisoner, but I haven’t told him what we’re doing about it. I think it’s probably best he doesn’t know we’re attempting to break into the Seelie Palace. He might feel obligated to try and stop us.

“I still haven’t heard a thing about him,” Ryn says. “Not even a whisper. I assumed there must be someone on the Council—the Head Councilor, at the very least—who knew about Draven’s capture, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe Angelica negotiated directly with the Seelie Queen for her freedom.”

“She mentioned the Guild, though.” I continue twisting the telepathy ring, frowning at the desk as I remember that moment beside the Wishbone Rivers when I realized exactly what Angelica had done—traded her own son for her freedom.

“Do you love him?”

My hands freeze and blood rushes to light a fire across my skin. “What?”

“After he was taken,” Ryn says, “you told me you care a great deal about him. I didn’t question it at the time because you were so upset, but … well, you mentioned previously that I had nothing to worry about when it came to your feelings for him, but something’s obviously changed since then.” He leans forward and watches me closely.

“Don’t do that,” I say, pointing at him. “Don’t feel what I’m feeling.”

“Hey.” He holds his hands up. “You know I have no control over that. Besides, the only thing I can feel is your complete mortification. It’s impossible to sense anything beyond that.”

“Good. You can keep feeling mortified then.”

“So … do you really feel that strongly for him?”

I sit back in the chair and cross my arms. “Are you asking because you have a legitimate interest in knowing, or because you’d like to remind me that you think he’s too old for me?”

“Well … he is.”

I roll my eyes toward the ceiling before returning them to my brother. “Would you feel better if he were a hundred-year-old vampire? Because the rest of society seems to be okay with that.”

Ryn cocks his head. “What are you talking about?”

I lift one shoulder. “Haven’t a clue. Chase told me to say that if you brought up the age difference again.”

“Right …”

“Anyway, back to Angelica.”

He sighs. “If you insist.”

“I don’t understand why the Seelie Queen agreed to this bargain in the first place. I can’t see her wanting her traitorous daughter set loose into the world.”

Ryn leans his elbows on the desk. “Presumably she agreed because she sees Draven as a far bigger threat. She must have decided the swap was worth it. I just wish the Council wasn’t keeping us all in the dark about it. It makes me wonder what other secrets they’re hiding.”

I frown. “Such as?

He gives a slight shake of his head. “I’m not sure. I thought I’d discover more after being invited onto the Council, but it seems there are secrets even within the Council. Secrets like Draven, and … whatever’s happening downstairs.”

“Downstairs?” My mind flits over the various levels below ground at the Guild. “The detainment area?”

“No. Some of the laboratories further down. I was following up on an assignment one day—a potion sample that needed to be tested—and I realized I don’t have access to some of the rooms down there. When I questioned it, I was given vague answers that don’t make sense to me. I’ve tried to find out more since then, but I haven’t been able to.”

“So you think they’re hiding something in those labs?”

“It’s possible.” He breathes out a long sigh. “You know, there’s a big part of me that wants to leave the Guild. I mean, they do a lot of good here, but not everything seems to be entirely aboveboard. I don’t know if I want to be part of it.”

His words remind me of Zed’s accusations against the Guild. It’s a noble idea, but there’s so much wrong with the system. He obviously shouldn’t have gone on to plant a deadly dragon disease spell that almost brought the Guild to its knees. And he shouldn’t have tried to kill Ryn and Vi’s baby to punish them for leaving him and dozens of other Gifted fae locked in Prince Marzell’s dungeon years ago. But perhaps he was right about certain things.

“Anyway,” Ryn says, standing and massaging one shoulder with his hand. “It’s late. You should get back to wherever it is you’re staying now. There’s no way you can see your mother tonight—or tomorrow—but you might be able to sneak into Barton Prison once she’s there. If you keep yourself invisible the entire time. Even then, it would be dangerous. Anyone watching surveillance recordings might see you.”

“I’ll take the risk. I can’t go two whole years without seeing her. I haven’t even said goodbye.” Ryn nods, but his reply is lost in a yawn. “You should go home too,” I tell him. “You look terrible.”

He gives me a half-smile. “You don’t look so great yourself.”

I shrug. “I’ve been busy.”

He raises both eyebrows. “I should probably ask what you’re up to these days, but I think it’s better if I don’t know.”

“It’s definitely better if you don’t know.” He walks around the desk and lifts his jacket from the back of the chair Dad was sitting on as I add, “Hey, um, will you let me know if you hear any talk of a dangerous prisoner being held by the Seelie Court?”

“Of course.”

“Thanks.” I turn to leave, but he catches my shoulder before I open the door.

“Don’t do it,” he says.

“Do what?”

“Whatever you’re planning to do now about your mother. Sneaking downstairs to see her, or trying to get her out. It isn’t worth you getting caught.”

“I’m tired, Ryn. I barely have enough energy left to focus on the invisibility required to get me out of the Guild let alone past all the security between here and Mom’s detainment cell. And I’m not going to try and get her out. If she told Dad she’s ready to face the consequences of her actions, then … I guess I have to respect that.”

Ryn’s eyes narrow. “You’re not lying to me, are you?”

I look him straight in the eye and say, “No. I am not going down there tonight.”

Three

I wasn’t lying to Ryn. Not really. He told me not to do anything risky last night, and I promised him I wouldn’t. But this morning is entirely different. I wake early, after only a few hours of sleep, and return to the Guild. I need to see Mom before they take her away. I need her to know how sorry I am, because no matter what reasons the Guild might have given everyone, I know the length of her sentence is entirely my fault.

I head straight for the corridor that leads to the detainment area. I stop just outside it and peer in, watching the men guarding the gate halfway along. Invisibility won’t work here, since I have to get through the gate. I need to project an illusion of someone else. Dad would be the best option, since he has the most reason to be here, and if somebody mentions it to him later, he’ll realize what I’ve done and play along. Anyone else—any guardian or councilor—would deny it, and that would raise suspicion, which would lead to people taking a closer look at surveillance recordings.

I imagine myself as Dad and walk confidently along the corridor toward the guards and the gate. One guard looks uncertainly at the other, but before either of them can say anything, I open my mouth—imagining Dad’s voice—and say, “I’m here to see my wife.”

“Of course, Mr. Larkenwood, it’s just that—”

“Linden?”

I manage to keep from flinching as someone behind me calls Dad’s name. I look around and find one of the Guild Council members approaching me with a frown creasing his brow. “You’re a little early, aren’t you? We’re supposed to meet in half an hour.”

Meet in … what? Alarm bells shriek inside my head, but I force myself to remain still instead of pushing past this man and running as fast as I can. Don’t panic. Maintain the illusion. SAY SOMETHING, DAMMIT! “Uh, well, can you blame me?”

The councilor gives me an odd look, and I wonder if Dad’s voice sounded as strange to him as it did to me. “I suppose not,” he says eventually. “This whole situation must be very … difficult for you. I feel for you, Linden. But rules are rules, so you’ll need to wait up here until we’re ready for the transfer. I’ll send for you then.”

If I really were Dad, I’d probably be furious at the prospect of being sent for like some trainee, but in this moment, I want nothing more than to get out of here in case my father really does show up early. I give the man a brief nod, then turn and stride along the corridor, fighting the urge to run with every step I take. Once in the foyer, I head for the grand stairway and duck behind it before switching back to an invisibility projection. I slump against the wall beside the elevator, keeping my head down and allowing my heart rate to return to normal. I have no hope now of seeing Mom before she’s moved to Barton Prison. I didn’t realize it was happening so early. I should have woken up sooner and—

Miss Goldilocks?

I tense at the unexpected voice in my head. Then I sag against the wall once more as relief floods me with warmth. You’re still there, I say to Chase.

Yeah. Chained inside a dungeon cell, remember? I’m not going anywhere.

You know what I mean. I look past the stairway toward the entrance room on the other side of the foyer. Two guardians walk out, followed seconds later by another one. I decide to stay put for now. With everyone starting to arrive for work, it would be too easy for someone to accidentally walk into me in that small room. I tried to speak to you last night and this morning but you didn’t reply. I got a little worried.

I’m sorry. I think I slept for longer than usual. I must be getting used to these charming surroundings.

Sleep is good. I try not to think of the very non-charming surroundings Chase has told me about. I’m amazed he ever falls asleep at all.

I assume you wanted to talk last night so you could tell me how spectacularly well your first mission went, Chase says as I walk around the stairway to where the steps lead down instead of up.

How do you know it went well? Several trainees walk past the stairway and toward the elevator—toward me. Although I know they can’t see me, it makes me too nervous to stand right next to them as they wait for the elevator. I push away from the wall and stop at the top of the stairs that lead down.

You’re one highly determined individual, Chase says. I can’t imagine you leaving the baron’s house without that invitation.

My hand tightens on the banister as I peer down the stairs. Yes, well, it might have been a successful mission, but in case I was having any doubts about the universe sucking, I was once again proven wrong last night.

What happened? Chase’s question flashes into my head after barely a second’s pause.

You have to survive another nine days until the party, and the Guild is sending my mother to prison for two years.

His thoughts grow silent, but I sense his sinking spirits. Eventually he says, I’m so sorry about your mother.

I’m sorry about you. I breathe out a frustrated puff of air. I can’t keep still, so I begin descending the stairs. Every day that goes by takes us closer to whatever fate the Seelie Queen has planned for you. We have no idea when she’ll act. It could be tonight, it could be tomorrow, it … I stop myself before the claws of despair can get too tight a grip around my heart. I’m sorry. This isn’t helpful. It’s just … nine days seems like an eternity when your life is hanging in the balance.

Everything will be fine, Calla.

Will it? I continue down the stairs, my fingers tracing lightly across the banister’s carved patterns. I haven’t really thought about where I’m going, but Ryn’s suspicions nudge at the back of my mind, stirring up my curiosity about whatever’s going on behind locked doors down here.

Yes. I believe it will. Clearly your optimistic spirit has rubbed off on me.

I want to laugh at that because my optimism seems to have all but vanished these days. And as confident as Chase sounds, I know it’s only a front. I can sense him distancing himself emotionally, trying to keep from communicating what he’s truly feeling. I hesitate on the stairs as the quiet thought enters my mind, as it always does at some point during our mental discussions: What are they doing to you there?

Nothing I can’t handle.

You always say that.

It’s always true.

I shake my head as I continue downward. Will you ever tell me?

Perhaps, but not now. I don’t want to drown in the details of this dark and hopeless hell. I’d rather imagine your surroundings instead. Are you at the mountain?

Uh, no. I pass the level that houses the labs I had potions classes in while I was a trainee and keep going, my boots silent on the emerald green carpet covering the stairs.

You sound guilty, Chase says. What are you doing?

Just … some private investigation. I stop at the next level down and look around.

On what?

I’m not entirely sure, actually.I’m at the Guild. I came early in the hopes of seeing Mom so I could apologize for being the World’s Worst Daughter—

Not true.

—but I didn’t get here in time. And I’m sure there aren’t many daughters in the world who’ve caused their mothers to receive jail time, so I definitely qualify for that label. Anyway, now I’m sneaking around the lower levels of the Guild trying to find out what’s happening behind locked doors.

What locked doors?

I don’t know. I head along the corridor, eyeing the clean, plain doors. So much of the Guild is intricately patterned and lavishly decorated that it’s odd to find a section of it so stark. Some of the doors don’t even have handles. Ryn said he came across rooms he doesn’t have access to, which made him suspicious. Since he’s on the Council, he thought he should know about everything that goes on here, but apparently not.

Be careful, Chase warns. You don’t want to end up trapped somewhere.

I know, I know. I hold my breath as a guardian with a clipboard in her hand and a stylus tucked behind her ear walks out of a room up ahead and comes toward me. As she walks past, I relax—and then her footsteps stop. Terrified I’ll find her staring at me, I slowly look over my shoulder. But she’s facing a door—one of the doors without a handle—and frowning at her clipboard. After nodding to herself several times, she takes her stylus and waves it across the door. With a brief flash of light, the door vanishes. She walks forward. Without stopping to think, I turn and rush through the doorway after her into a room illuminated by dim blue light. I look behind me as a second flash registers at the edge of my vision. The door has reappeared.

What’s happening? Chase asks. No doubt he felt the burst of panic that flooded my chest at the sight of that closed door.

So … I’m inside a room I can’t get out of, I tell him, but it’s fine. I’m not trapped. I’ll just wait here until someone leaves or comes in. Then I take my first proper look around the room—and genuine panic tightens my chest. Four rectangular glass boxes are suspended in the air at eye level, and inside each one is a person. They’re motionless, their eyes closed, and the glass is so close—so close—to their faces, it’s almost touching them. I press my hand against my mouth and shut my eyes and remind myself that I’m not the one inside the box. And I’m not inside a cage. I’m free. It will be easy to walk out of this room.

The lake. Think of the lake. The quiet lapping of water and the warm, gentle breeze and the soft, lush grass between your fingers. The memory of Lumethon’s soothing voice takes my panic down to a manageable level within seconds. I open my eyes to the blue-lit room once more and remember how to breathe.

Calla? Chase calls. Are you okay?

Yes. Sorry. I was just … battling a bad memory. I tiptoe toward the nearest glass box, describing everything I see as I go. The woman inside is a faerie, judging by her two-toned hair. Her marking-free wrists tell me she isn’t a guardian. On the lower edge of the box, a small plaque tells me her name is N. Thornbough.