Shadow Faerie - Rachel Morgan - E-Book

Shadow Faerie E-Book

Rachel Morgan

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Beschreibung

Enter the dazzling and deadly world of Unseelie royalty in the penultimate Creepy Hollow book!


Emerson Clarke thought magic might solve all her problems. Turns out, magic only made her life more complicated. Her sick mother is in a worse position than before, and Em just made a risky deal with an Unseelie prince: he will heal her mother if Em agrees to the ultimate alliance—marriage.


With the possibility of finally getting the one thing she’s always wanted, Em enters the dangerous world of the Unseelie Court. She’ll learn whatever she has to about magic and etiquette in order to fake her way through palace life until Prince Roarke fulfills his side of the bargain.


But when someone unexpected shows up, bringing to light the secrets Roarke and his family are keeping from her, Em’s plans begin to unravel. She’ll soon have to decide once and for all: how far is she willing to go to save her mother?


Be prepared for breathtaking magic, twisted plots, a hint of romance, and more shocking revelations! 

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Shadow Faerie

Creepy Hollow, Book Eight

Rachel Morgan

Shadow Faerie

By Rachel Morgan

Copyright © 2017 Rachel Morgan

Summary:

Having made a deal with a prince in order to get her sick mother healed, Emerson enters the dangerous world of the Unseelie Court. But how far is she willing to go to save her mother?

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: 978-0-9947154-2-5

Epub Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9947154-3-2

Part One

Prologue

DASH

Dash had been at his desk at the Creepy Hollow Guild for less than ten minutes when his amber, sitting beside the goblin abduction report he was working on, shivered and emitted a chirp. Glowing gold words rose to the surface of the rectangular device. Recognizing Violet’s handwriting, Dash quickly pulled the amber closer. His eyes darted up to check who might have been standing close enough to his desk to have seen the message. The open office area was filled with the bustle of morning activity: a junior guardian team returning from a night mission; two trainees delivering scrolls; and his own teammate, Jewel, hard at work on something. It was highly unlikely any of these people would know who the message on Dash’s amber was from, but it still made him nervous corresponding with Griffin rebels while beneath the Guild’s own roof.

He leaned back in his chair, schooling his expression into one of nonchalance, and read the message: Do you know where Em is? I can’t find her. Ice chilled Dash’s veins as he struggled to keep his expression neutral. If Vi couldn’t find someone, that meant serious trouble. Thanks to her Griffin Ability, she should be able to find anyone who wasn’t concealed by some form of magic. Em’s Griffin Ability, however, was a whole new story. Was she playing around with it? Testing whether she could hide herself? Dash reached across his desk, grabbed his stylus, and wrote a quick response on his amber. No. Are you sure she left? Check orbs.

Vi’s reply came seconds later: Checking now.

I’m on my way over, Dash scribbled as he pushed away from his desk and stood.

“Leaving already?” Jewel asked. Dash looked up as she stood and walked around her desk. “You only just got here.”

“I need to check on something. One of the witness reports from the goblin abduction case. A few details are missing.” Dash cringed internally, hating having to lie to one of his best friends. “I’ll get one of the guards downstairs to open a doorway for me,” he added quickly. Like Jewel, he wasn’t supposed to be able to open doorways to the faerie paths anymore. An annoyance Em’s Griffin Ability was responsible for. Em had since reversed the magic’s effect on Dash, but Jewel didn’t know that. The only thing Jewel knew was that Em had escaped the Guild’s clutches and disappeared.

“Do you need me to go with you?” Jewel asked.

“No, don’t worry. It’ll be quick.” He gave her a smile, which he suspected looking nothing like his usual easygoing grin.

“Okay. Hey, is everything all right?” Jewel caught his arm before he could turn away. “You’re not normally so serious first thing in the morning.” Her hand lingered a moment too long on his arm, and the conversation he’d had with Em came to mind. She’d pointed out that Jewel clearly wanted to be more than just his friend, a fact Dash had somehow been oblivious to until this moment. How had he missed it? And why had Jewel never said anything to him about her feelings for him? She must have exceptional control over them. He hadn’t noticed any random magical outbursts.

Not important right now, Dash reminded himself. “Yes, everything’s fine. I’m just … more tired than usual.” That, at least, was the truth. He’d been up late the night before talking with Chase, discussing when to return to Tranquil Hills Psychiatric Hospital to examine whatever records were on file for Em’s mother. With unknown magic preventing her from waking up, she wasn’t in a position to explain why she and her daughter had lived for so long in the non-magic world, masquerading as human. Hopefully Em’s father could provide some answers instead. Em said she knew nothing about him, but if he was the one who’d been paying Daniela Clarke’s medical bills, the hospital must surely have his name and contact details.

“Okay. See you later then.” Jewel returned to her chair.

Dash should have left then—he wanted to leave—but he couldn’t ignore Jewel’s desire to be more than friends now that he knew about it. “Hey, do you want to hang out this evening?” he asked before he could change his mind. “We should … talk.” It would no doubt turn into the most awkward conversation they’d ever had, but he needed to do it. It wasn’t fair of him to allow Jewel to continue hoping for something that would never happen.

“Yeah, okay. Great.”

“Cool.” Dash hurried down the Guild’s main staircase, across the foyer, and into the room with bare walls used for accessing the faerie paths. “Do you mind opening a doorway for me?” he asked the woman standing guard just inside the door.

“Still haven’t found that Griffin Gifted girl, huh?”

“Nope.”

“I hope you do,” the woman replied as she walked to the wall and raised her stylus. “I heard she’s a dangerous one.”

“Yeah,” Dash muttered. “Extremely dangerous. I plan to find her.”

The woman stepped back as part of the wall pulled away to reveal the darkness of the faerie paths beyond. Dash walked forward. Once the light had vanished behind him, he focused his thoughts on the oasis hidden in the middle of a desert thousands of miles away.

Minutes later, he hurried up the porch steps of the little white house on one side of the oasis, past a few closed doors, and into the surveillance room. A row of glass orbs lined three of the four walls, and within each orb was a miniature form of a different part of the oasis. Magic connected each orb to the enchanted bugs that flew around outside, displaying everything the bugs saw. Vi was bent over, staring intently into one of the orbs, while Calla and Chase sat in front of another one. “What can you see?” Dash asked, not bothering with a greeting.

“Oh, Dash, hey,” Vi said as she turned to face him. “The orbs show that Em left during the night. Just beyond the dome layer, she opened a doorway to the paths and went through it.”

“She must have taken someone’s stylus.”

“Yes. There was one missing from our kitchen this morning.”

“I just don’t understand,” Calla said, her finger swiping repeatedly across the orb in front of her as she moved backwards in time through the scenes it displayed. “Why would she leave?”

Vi shook her head as she shrugged. “Any number of reasons, I suppose. Maybe she wanted to see one of her old friends. Or maybe she remembered something that could help her mother. What’s far more worrying is the fact that I can’t find her. What could possibly be shielding her?”

“Nothing good,” Chase muttered.

“Dash, you never told me what happened when I couldn’t find you and Em yesterday,” Vi continued. “Remember, when I came to meet the two of you at her aunt’s house?”

“Oh yes.” Dash cursed inwardly—with the kind of words his mother wouldn’t approve of—at having forgotten, yet again, to mention that strange place and the people who had taken him and Em there. “I don’t know where we were, but it was weird. Everything seemed drained of color, and parts of it were sort of … smudged. Unclear or unformed. And we couldn’t access the faerie paths. We ended up running from some shadowy creature I’ve never seen before, and somehow we found ourselves near the tear in the veil. But not on the human side, and not on the fae side. Somewhere … I don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t even real. Maybe it was some kind of hallucination. Anyway,” he continued with a deep breath, “we were there because of the Unseelies. The prince and princess.”

“Seriously?” Chase looked away from the orb he’d been examining.

“Yes. That girl who was at Chevalier House for a few days—Aurora—is actually the Unseelie princess.”

“So that’s what she was doing at Chevalier House,” a new voice said from the doorway. Dash looked around and saw Ryn standing there. “Aurora wanted Em to run away with her. She was obviously planning to take Em back to the Unseelie Court.”

“You didn’t think to mention any of this last night?” Calla said to Dash, an accusatory edge to her voice.

“To be honest, I didn’t think of it at all. Em said she was going to tell me what happened later—since I was, uh, stunned and unconscious for part of the time—but then that glass faerie showed up, and we almost died, and then we raced off to get Em’s mom, and … I didn’t think of the Unseelies again until late last night when I got home.”

“Great, so we have no idea what they told Em,” Calla said, crossing her arms and frowning at the floor.

Dash said nothing. It was unlike Calla to be so ticked off at him, but he couldn’t blame her. He was furious with himself for not asking Em about that strange shadowy world last night. She’d seemed distant and unhappy, and, like an idiot, he’d tried to distract her with dancing. What the hell was wrong with him? How could he just forget that two members of the Unseelie royal family had transported Em to a strange place and then mysteriously let her go?

“So …” Vi rubbed her temples. “The fact that we can’t find Em now might have something to do with the Unseelies.”

“Unless she herself doesn’t want to be found,” Chase said. “She left voluntarily. She might have used her Griffin Ability to shield herself somehow.”

“Whatever her reason for leaving, she must be planning to come back,” Ryn said, walking into the room and taking a closer look at one of the orbs. “Her mother is still here, after all.”

Dash shook his head. “She may have left of her own accord, but what if the Unseelies got hold of her once she was out there? They let her go yesterday, but they definitely still want her. They might be holding her against her will now.”

“So what do we do?” Vi asked. “Wait to see if she comes back? And if so, how long do we wait?”

“She has to come back,” Calla murmured, chewing on her thumbnail as she stared unseeingly at the floor. “She has to.”

Ryn looked across the room. “What’s wrong?”

Calla lowered her hand and frowned at her brother. “Don’t do that.”

“Hey, I’m not trying to feel what you’re feeling,” Ryn said, holding his hands up in defense, “but your anxiety is just about giving me a panic attack. I’ve been trying to ignore it but it’s practically assaulting me.”

“Anxiety?” Chase moved closer to her. “About what?”

“Jeez, people,” Calla exclaimed. “I’m just preoccupied with another case. Everything’s fine. Can we focus on how we’re going to figure out where Em is? Just in case she is someone’s prisoner now?”

“I have some Unseelie contacts,” Chase said. “I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Good. I’m getting back to work on other stuff then,” Calla said. She crossed the room and left without a word, leaving several moments of awkward silence in her wake. With a frown, Chase followed her.

Dash cleared his throat. “The Guild also has Unseelie contacts. I’ll ask if anyone knows anything. And I’ll question our Seelie contacts as well. It’s possible they found Em but haven’t informed the Guild yet.”

“Thanks,” Vi said.

“Let us know as soon as you discover anything,” Ryn added.

“Of course.” Dash turned and strode out of the room, already reaching into his pocket for his amber and stylus so he could contact the Guild’s Unseelie liaison. He paused near the front door as he wrote a quick message enquiring whether the liaison had received any news regarding a Griffin Gifted girl.

“… something going on?”

At the sound of voices, Dash leaned to the side and peered out the window. Calla paced back and forth across the porch. “She has to come back, Chase. She has to.”

“Okay, seriously.” Chase caught her arm and pulled her to a halt. “Tell me what’s going on.”

Dash knew he shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but if it was something about Em …

Calla took a deep breath. “I saw something. Last night. When I went up to ask Em if she wanted to join us this morning. It made me hope that maybe … somehow …” She shook her head. “I mean, I know it’s crazy to even think it. My brain is still playing through everything that happened back then and how it could even be possible. But if it’s true …” She grabbed the front of Chase’s T-shirt in both fists. “Chase, if it’s true, then we have to make sure Em comes back.”

Chase took Calla’s hands in both of his. “You’re not making any sense. What did you see?”

“You can’t tell anyone, okay? Not until I know if it’s true. I don’t want to be responsible for any more broken hearts.”

“Broken hearts? When did you—”

She leaned closer to Chase and whispered, her words too quiet now for Dash to hear through the window. He watched as Chase’s brow furrowed further. “Not possible,” he said as Calla stepped back. “Or … is it? When I first saw her, I thought …”

“Thought what?”

Chase’s gaze became unfocused as he stared over Calla’s shoulder for several moments, clearly lost in thought. A small smile stretched his lips as he returned his attention to her. “I think you could be right.”

Her answering smile lit up her face. “I think so too. But I don’t know for certain, and I refuse to get excited until we confirm this. I know someone who can tell us beyond a doubt, but I don’t know where he is. You need to help me find him.”

“Vi can help if she has …” Chase’s words trailed off as he shook his head. “But you don’t want her to know.”

“No. Not yet.” Calla took his arm and pulled him down the stairs with her. “We first need to find out if it’s true.” Her voice grew fainter as she and Chase headed away from the house, leaving Dash with more questions and no answers. He had his own mystery to solve, though. Where are you, Em? he wondered silently as he opened the door and stepped onto the porch.

His amber shivered in his hand, and he stopped to read the Unseelie liaison’s reply: No recent info from the Unseelies. Nothing interesting anyway. Of course not. The Unseelies would never choose to inform the Guild if they happened to be in possession of a powerful Griffin Gifted girl. But Dash had to check, just in case the liaison had heard something. Now he’d have to contact the Seelie liaison. After that, it would be time to move on to unofficial channels. “Somehow, Em,” he muttered as he strode away. “Somehow, I’ll find you.”

One

Things I never imagined: One, escaping the miserable town of Stanmeade long before I ever dreamed it possible. Two, becoming almost-friends with the guy I hated for years. Three, climbing the outside of a faerie palace tower with a stolen stylus in my pocket so I can hide at the top and open a faerie paths doorway with magic. Oh yeah. And I never imagined using words like ‘palace tower,’ ‘faerie paths’ and ‘magic’ without sounding like an inpatient at a mental institution. But that was before I discovered I’m a faerie, and that a hidden world of magic exists alongside the one I grew up in. That was before I landed at the top of everyone’s most-wanted list for possessing a unique and dangerous faerie superpower. And that was before I took the biggest risk of my life and agreed to marry a faerie prince of the Unseelie Court in the hope of saving my mother.

So yes. I imagine things now that most people from my old life would consider impossible. Like a dark hole of nothingness materializing across the gold-veined marble walls at the top of the tower I’ve climbed. I needed to get away from the watchful eyes of the palace guards, and this turret forming the highest point of the Unseelie Palace seemed like a good spot. Unfortunately, the spell I’ve been whispering and the words I’ve written repeatedly across the wall seem to be producing nothing.

I heave a frustrated sigh and clench my fingers around the jewel-encrusted stylus. I stole it from Aurora’s room yesterday. Only the best of the best for a princess, so I doubt there’s anything wrong with it. Which means … perhaps my magic is the problem? I place the stylus on the turret floor and cup my hands together, then breathe out slowly and feel for the core of power within me. Almost instantly, a roughly spherical shape of white glitter and wispy fragments hover above my hand. It seems almost easy to produce magic now, after having practiced so much in the past few days. No need to squeeze my eyes shut, furrow my brow, and imagine dragging the magic out of myself like a mouse tugging on a truck.

So if my magic and the stylus aren’t the problem, and the spell itself is correct—which I’m certain it is, given I used it to leave the oasis—that leaves only one answer: the faerie paths are not accessible from this tower.

“Dammit,” I whisper. I shove the stylus back into my pocket and stare out across the endless lands of perfect summer. Brilliant green lawns, flowers in every color, enchanted water features surrounded by shrubs clipped into ornamental shapes, and various areas for entertaining: a pergola here, a gazebo there, the queen’s bower off to the right beyond that little bridge. And just beyond the palace grounds, the turrets of manor houses belonging to Unseelie nobles rise above the trees.

And almost none of it, according to Aurora, accessible via the faerie paths. No one leaves this palace and no one arrives except through the main entrance. “It’s not as though you need to go anywhere else now,” she told me when I asked about the faerie paths. “Just relax and enjoy your brand new palace life.”

Relax? I don’t think so. If almost no part of this palace and its grounds can be accessed by the faerie paths, that means there must be some areas where doorways can be opened. And if I’m hoping to escape once I’ve learned everything I need to know from Prince Roarke, then I have to find at least one of those areas. If I can’t, I’m going to have to get creative with my Griffin Ability. And that will require figuring out how to actually use it.

“My lady?”

My body tenses at the sound of the unexpected voice. I whip around, my heart already thrashing in my chest. But it’s only Clarina, the handmaid Aurora ‘gifted’ to me upon my arrival. She stands beside the ruby-studded gold trapdoor. The open trapdoor I’m certain was locked until now because I found my way to the other side of it yesterday afternoon and couldn’t get through it. I wouldn’t have bothered opening one of the lower windows and scaling the wall otherwise. I clear my throat and clasp my hands together. “Um, yes?”

“Her Highness, Princess Aurora, sent me to fetch you,” Clarina says, her eyes fixed on the floor near my feet. I’ve told her not to worry about averting her gaze when speaking to me, but it’s made no difference. Just like when I told her I’m no ‘lady’ and she doesn’t have to refer to me as such. “But how else will I show you respect, my lady?” she asked. “I can’t simply call you by your name.” I told her that of course she could, but that didn’t go down well either.

“How did she know I was up here?” I ask.

“One of her guards saw you from a window.”

I wipe my hands on my jeans. “Did, uh, did it sound to you like Aurora—Miss—Her Highness—” Darn these stupid titles. “Did it sound like she was angry with me for being up here?”

“No, my lady,” Clarina says. “She was concerned, but not angry. She reminded her guards that you’re welcome to explore your new home, but that they’re also supposed to keep you alive.”

“Right. Cool. That’s what I thought. I mean, about the exploring part.” Aurora gave me a brief tour when I arrived three days ago, then told me I could go pretty much wherever I wanted, other than people’s private suites or chambers or whatever she called them. Since then, I’ve wandered all over the palace under the guise of curiosity, doing my best to pretend I’m at ease in a home as vast and opulent as this palace. I attempt to ignore the guards who watch me and the court members who smile politely before whispering to one another. And I try not to shiver when the atmosphere shifts, as it does occasionally, into something cold and unsettling.

“Uh, well, I guess we’d better go then,” I say, realizing that Clarina is waiting for me to speak. She nods and steps onto the staircase below the trapdoor. I follow her down, flinching when the trapdoor bangs shut of its own accord behind me. Together we descend the spiral staircase all the way to the ground floor of the palace and into a vast column-lined hallway. Its black marble floors are polished to a glassy shine and the precious stones embedded in the ceiling reflect the enchanted lamps burning on pedestals between each column. The rest of the palace is much like this: gleaming black edges, gold embellishments, and glittering gems. Rooms large enough to get lost in, and furnishings so lavish I’d probably vomit if I knew what they cost.

It’s impossible to imagine ever being at home here.

We climb more stairs, cross more hallways, and pass more fae dressed like they belong on the set of a period drama. They all give me curious glances as I pass. Unlike Clarina and Noraya—Aurora’s other handmaid—none of these people know who I am. They have no idea I’ve agreed to marry their prince. How could they possibly suspect that he and I have anything to do with each other when Roarke’s been gone since the moment he dumped me here in his sister’s care? Aurora said he’d return this morning, but I’ve seen nothing of him. I’m starting to wonder if he’s planning to avoid me until the day of our wedding—whenever that may be.

Finally, Clarina and I reach the wing housing the royal family’s quarters. I’ve never been far enough into it to see the rooms belonging to the king and queen themselves, but I’ve passed Roarke’s suite, and I’ve been into Aurora’s every day since I arrived here. I look over my shoulder at the door leading into Roarke’s rooms as I pass. The door is closed and no guards stand outside it, which I take to mean that Roarke isn’t inside.

“Darn,” I mutter, quietly enough that Clarina won’t hear me. A frown pulls at my brow as I face forward again. And then that strange feeling of unease, that inexplicable sense of wrongness, pervades my senses. As if cold, rotting fingers are about to reach from the shadows to clamp around the back of my neck. A flicker of a shadow scurries across the edge of my vision, but when I look over my shoulder again, it’s gone. And so is that sense of discomfort.

“Lady Emerson?” Clarina says. I look ahead and see her waiting with one hand resting against Aurora’s door. “Is everything all right?”

“Um, yes. I’m fine.” Perhaps I keep imagining that odd feeling. Perhaps that’s what homesickness feels like. Maybe, as unlikely as it seems, I’m actually missing the rundown home I lived in with Chelsea and Georgia. No way, I think to myself, almost laughing out loud at the farfetched thought. I may miss my best friend Val, and all the fun we had together, and the freeing feeling of not being hunted down by various members of the fae realm, but I certainly don’t miss that horrible little house and my spiteful aunt and cousin.

Clarina opens the door to Aurora’s suite and stands aside to let me walk in. She bobs into a quick curtsey as I pass, then closes the door behind me. I hear her feet tap away across the polished marble floor outside. On the other side of the sitting room, which is decorated in muted tones and floral fabrics, Princess Aurora, adopted daughter of the Unseelie King and Queen, sits at a small round table. Laid out in front of her is a variety of food, a teapot and two teacups. She leans back in her chair and surveys me. “Really, Em? Climbing the outside of the east tower? Are you trying to scandalize the entire court? If you wanted to see the view from the top so badly, you could have just asked someone to unlock the trapdoor instead of risking your life.”

I cross the room and stop beside the chair on the opposite side of the table from her. “Well, you know. It was earlyish. I didn’t want to bother anyone. And besides, there was hardly any risk involved. I can handle a simple wall. Those great big marble bricks have gaps between them that are perfect for hand- and footholds.”

Aurora tucks her hair—black and blueish purple—behind one ear and reaches forward for her teacup. “And if you’d slipped? Aside from the enormous trouble I’d be in with Roarke and my father if you fell and got yourself killed, it just isn’t appropriate to go around climbing walls.” She gives me a pointed look over the top of her teacup. “You know, given your future position in this palace.”

I choose to ignore her reference to the fact that I’m supposed to be a princess soon and cross my arms over my chest. I begin pacing to and from the window. “Where’s Roarke? You said he’d be back by now, but I didn’t see anyone standing guard outside his rooms, so I assume he isn’t in there.”

“He and Dad must have been delayed, that’s all. They have important business to deal with at the moment. You can’t expect them to rush back simply because you’re desperate to see your betrothed.” She smirks. I stick my tongue out at her. She throws a strawberry at me, then laughs when I dodge and continue walking. “They’ll be back soon, I’m sure. And please stop pacing. You’re making me nervous.” She waves to the chair opposite hers. “Sit down. Have you had breakfast yet?”

“No.” I drop into the chair with my arms still crossed. “I was too busy taking risks and climbing walls, remember?”

“You should choose breakfast next time.” With a neat twist of her hand, a plate of butterfly-shaped pastries rises on its own and moves toward me. She’d no doubt be pleased if I used magic to lift one of the pastries and move it to my own plate, but that kind of thing seems like laziness to me. And I don’t think I could do it without knocking the whole plate over.

“You know why I want to see Roarke,” I say to her after placing a pastry on my plate—with my own perfectly functional hand. “He and I have an agreement, and he’s done nothing to fulfill his part yet.” Agreement. Such a simple word. It doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as the word ‘marriage.’

“Of course he hasn’t fulfilled his part yet. I hope you know he doesn’t plan to give you any information on how to get your mother out of her enchanted coma or fix her mental illness until after the union ceremony.”

“Yes,” I say quietly, still staring at my plate. “I do know that.” What I also know is that I don’t intend for that ceremony to ever happen. Everyone needs to think it will happen, but I plan to find out everything I need to know before the marriage takes place. Of course, I have no idea how I’m going to do that yet, but being in possession of a powerful Griffin Ability—speaking things into existence—can’t hurt. If I can use it at just the right moment in just the right way, I should be able to get out of here alive with all the information I need. I clear my throat and add, “I know, but he needs to prove himself to me. He needs to tell me something so I’ll know he isn’t just lying to get me to marry him.”

“My dear brother would never do something like that,” Aurora says, directing a few more items of food onto her plate.

I don’t know her well enough yet to know if she’s joking or if she really believes that. Either way, I’m not willing to trust Roarke. I need my own plan, and that involves gaining control of my Griffin Ability. I break off a piece of pastry and stare at it for a moment or two before saying, “Since climbing tower walls isn’t appropriate, perhaps my time would be better spent practicing my Griffin Ability. With the elixir, I mean, not just waiting for the random moments when my magic chooses to switch itself on.”

She shakes her head and finishes swallowing another mouthful of her tea. “I’m sorry, Em, but I was told not to give it to you until Roarke and my father return. Here, have some citrullamyn.” Several segments of a fruit that looks like a blood-red version of an orange fly in an arc from her plate onto my mine.

“Uh, thanks.” I slowly chew one while trying to figure out what I can say to change Aurora’s mind. I need that elixir in order to stimulate my Griffin Ability. The first vial I had was crushed to pieces during my encounter with Ada—the supremely nasty faerie who almost destroyed the whole of Stanmeade with her glass magic—but one of the Griffin rebels made more elixir so I could try to wake Mom from her enchanted coma. It didn’t work, but at least I had some of the elixir left. I brought it with me, planning to secretly consume tiny amounts in the hope of gaining control of my Griffin Ability without the Unseelies knowing. But I was searched before entering the palace. A guard discovered the elixir, and Aurora confiscated it. Roarke, who didn’t seem interested in spending more than a few minutes with his betrothed, had already left by that point.

“But Aurora,” I say to her in my most reasonable voice, “I’m no use to your family if I can’t figure out how to control my Griffin Ability. That’s the only reason Roarke’s marrying me, remember? So I need that elixir to help me learn how to use it.”

“Yes, but you don’t need to learn right this moment. You can practice under supervision when Roarke and Dad return.”

I look her squarely in the eyes. “Don’t they trust you to supervise me? Do they think you can’t handle me?”

She tilts her head back and laughs. “Oh, my dear Em. If you’re going to try to manipulate me, you’ll have to be a lot more subtle about it. That was a terrible attempt.”

I slide lower in my chair with a defeated sigh. “This is all such a waste of time,” I mutter. “Mom’s still stuck in some kind of evil, magic-induced coma, and I’m getting absolutely nowhere in figuring out how to help her.”

“You’re not wasting time. You’re learning how to use everyday magic and how to live as one of us,” Aurora says. “Speaking of which, please sit up straight. My mother would have heart palpitations if she saw you slouching like that.”

Aurora’s mother. The Unseelie Queen herself. I had dinner with her and Aurora on my first night here, with servants waiting on us the entire evening, filling our goblets with oddly colored drinks and our plates with food even better than the food Azzy cooked back at Chevalier House. I found it difficult to enjoy anything, though, given the anxiety cramping my stomach and making my fingers shake. It wasn’t as though Queen Amrath was cruel or unfriendly. She was over-the-top polite, in fact, but I knew she was watching me the entire time. Sizing me up. Waiting for me to prove myself completely unworthy of marrying her son. With every awkward moment that passed, I reminded myself of my highly valuable Griffin Ability. That’ll keep you alive and safe, I kept telling myself. They want your power more than they want a well-mannered princess.

“Em?” Aurora says. “Are you listening to me?”

I clear my throat and push myself up so I’m sitting straighter. I force my shoulders back. “Sorry. What did you say?”

“I said we need to have a talk about what you’re wearing, and also that you should try the honeystar tea. It’s quite invigorating. Noraya, come pour some tea for Emerson.”

Noraya, who was standing so still by the bedroom door that I didn’t notice her there, moves closer to the table. With a brief wave of her hand, the teapot rises into the air. “Oh, don’t worry,” I say quickly, sitting forward. “I can pour the tea.”

“Let her do it, Em,” Aurora says.

“But it’s just tea,” I argue as the teapot tilts over my cup and dark steaming liquid streams from its spout. “I can pour it myself.” Not with magic, since that would probably result in tea splashing all over the table, but my own two hands would do the job just fine.

“It doesn’t matter whether you can do it or not,” Aurora tells me. “What matters is that when you’re a member of the royal family, it’s proper for servants to wait on you.”

“I’m not a member of the royal family yet.” And I hopefully never will be.

“It’s also proper for you to wear court-appropriate clothing,” Aurora adds as Noraya steps away from the table, “and those—” she eyes my jeans and T-shirt with disapproval “—are not appropriate. Clarina and I will have to have another chat. She clearly hasn’t understood her instructions.”

“What? No, it isn’t Clarina’s fault. She gives me a new dress every morning, just as you told her to, but I don’t want to wear any of them. They’re ridiculous. Hundreds of layers of fabric with corsets and feathers and jewels and … stuff. It isn’t me.” The jeans, T-shirt and hoodie I’ve been wearing for the past few days are the clothes I had on when I arrived here. I hang them over a chair in my bedroom every night, and every morning I find them folded and clean, on the same chair.

Aurora arches an eyebrow. “Ridiculous?” she repeats. I realize I may have offended her, given the long skirt, tight bodice and bell-shaped sleeves of the dress she’s wearing. “I’m afraid it doesn’t matter what you or anyone else thinks, since that’s the way my mother and father wish the members of their court to dress.”

“Well, your parents have a seriously outdated sense of fashion. Everyone looks like they’re playing dress-up or getting ready to shoot a steampunk film.”

Her expression grows serious. “I wouldn’t say things like that if I were you.” She lowers her voice, leans closer, and adds, “My father has eyes and ears everywhere, and he wouldn’t appreciate comments like that.”

A chill creeps across my skin. Seems I haven’t been imagining the feeling of being watched. I wrap my arms around myself, feeling naked despite the fact that I’m dressed. “Even in the bedrooms?”

“Well.” Aurora leans back. “Perhaps only ears in the bedrooms.”

“That’s just … wrong,” I whisper.

She laughs, and again I can’t tell if she’s joking about all of this. “Only if you have something to hide,” she says. She bites into another unidentifiable fruit and watches me as she chews and swallows. “Now tell me: how are you coming along with the magic I’ve taught you so far? Can you move things yet? Try to lift your plate and move it around in the air.”

“Uh …” I begin twisting a strand of hair around my forefinger. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? What if I drop it?”

“Then Noraya will gather up the broken pieces and throw them away. No big deal.”

My gaze slips down to the hair wrapped around my finger. I’m almost used to the bright blue color mixed in with the dark brown. It’s part of what marks me as a faerie. As someone who belongs in this world. Slowly, I lower my hand. “Yeah, okay. I’ll try.”

Drawing magic from deep inside me is easy now, but sending it toward the plate, coaxing it around and beneath and telling it to lift something up, is a different story. Ever so slowly, with my hands clenched in my lap and my eyes just about boring holes into the plate, it begins to rise. It wobbles slightly, and the half-eaten pastry and pieces of red citrus slide to one side. I try to right it, end up overcompensating, and the whole plate flips over. The food lands on the table with several soft thumps, and the plate remains suspended upside down in the air. It shudders and sways before I imagine my magic lowering it carefully. It drops the final few inches, landing neatly on top of my breakfast.

Aurora claps her hands. “Well, that was entertaining. Hardly perfect, but it’s a good start.”

“I guess.” I turn the plate over and begin cleaning up my mess.

“Em, you could barely do anything when you arrived here a few days ago. This is an achievement. Oh, and I have some more books for you.” She gestures over her shoulder, and a pile of books on the low table between the couches rises into the air before dropping down again, the individual books smacking loudly into each other as they land. “You can carry them out with magic when we’re finished here.”

“Sure.” I try not to work out how long it will take me to get back to my own rooms if I have to magically transport a pile of books the entire way there. Hopefully I can convince one of the guards who surreptitiously follow me around at a distance to help me once I’m out of Aurora’s sight.

As I get back to eating my mess of a breakfast, the door opens and Clarina slips into the room. She moves silently to stand beside Noraya and, after a moment’s pause, begins whispering to her.

“What’s going on?” Aurora asks loudly, not bothering to look around at them.

Clarina falls silent, her wide eyes darting across the room toward her mistress. From across the room, I see her throat bob as she swallows.

“Clarina.” Aurora pushes her plate away and turns in her chair to face the two handmaids. “Part of your job is to report secrets to me, not to whisper them in my vicinity. Now tell me what’s going on.”

Clarina bobs her head. “Yes, Your Highness. I apologize. It’s just that … it’s so horrible.”

“What’s so horrible? What happened?”

“One of the guards …” Clarina’s eyes shift to Noraya, whose chin shudders as she stares at the floor. Clarina clears her throat and returns her gaze to Aurora. “One of the guards was found dead in the garden,” she says in a shaky voice. “Grey and wrinkled and dead.”

Two

I pace across the sitting room of my suite—smaller than Aurora’s, but no less luxurious—waiting for someone to come and tell me what’s going on. Aurora sent me back here in the company of several guards immediately after Clarina’s creepy words about someone grey, wrinkled, and dead in the garden, but I’ve received no news since then. I walk onto my balcony and look down yet again, but I still can’t see anything interesting. This death must have happened on the other side of the palace.

I wander inside again, between the armchairs and around the table. I sit at the writing desk and try to read one of the books I’m supposed to be studying, but I can’t focus. Thoughts of Mom and all the Griffin rebels I ran away from keep slipping through the cracks of my concentration. Guilt over vanishing with no explanation. Sadness at having to leave Bandit behind. I’m even starting to miss Dash, of all people. And then there’s the avalanche of questions: Who am I? Who is Mom? How did we come to live in the human realm with our magic blocked? Just to name a few …

I abandon the book and end up lying on the divan, watching the glow-bugs that are fixed to the ceiling, and slowly lifting and lowering cushions with magic. It requires my full attention to get this simple maneuver right, which means there’s no room in my mind for questions and distracting thoughts.

Without warning, the main door to my suite is thrown open. My two levitating cushions land on my chest and tumble to the floor. I push myself up hurriedly, twisting around to face the door, and find Aurora striding into the room. Someone pulls the door shut behind her as I stand and ask, “Is everything okay? Did you find out what happened?”

“I don’t know what happened, but I’ve spoken to the people who found the dead guard.” She walks onto the balcony. I follow her out into the warm mid-morning sunshine. “I saw him, Em. It was …” She sucks in a breath and shakes her head. “Horrifying. The color in his hair was completely gone, and his face …” She turns away and rests her hands on the balcony railing. “His skin was sagging and wrinkled. It was just awful. That doesn’t happen to our kind, Em. That doesn’t happen. Not naturally anyway. And this means that—” She cuts herself off, her fingers tightening on the balustrade.

“Means what? That this guard was attacked with magic?” I mentally kick myself for that unimpressive feat of deduction. Obviously this guard was attacked with magic.

“Yes. Something like that.” Aurora shakes her head and returns her gaze to me. “Anyway, I received a message from Roarke. He said we shouldn’t speak of it to anyone. Only a few people know what the guard looked like, and we don’t want everyone finding out and getting scared.”

I can’t help raising my eyebrows. “You think the rest of this palace doesn’t already know? Someone must have told Clarina, and surely Clarina and Noraya have told others by now.”

“They won’t have told a soul. Clarina and Noraya have been with me forever—well, Noraya’s been here forever, and Clarina’s been with me for at least three years—so they know how to keep their mouths shut. Clarina was with one of my mother’s handmaids when she saw the dead guard, and she came straight here afterwards. A few other guards have seen him, but they’ve also been told to keep quiet.”

I lean against the balustrade and stare across the garden. In the distance, two large birds soar across the sky. At least, I assume they’re birds. Their wings seem a little too big for their bodies, though. “Does anyone know who did it?” I ask, looking away from the flying creatures. “I mean, if it’s impossible to sneak into this palace, then it must be a guest or someone who lives here.”

Aurora exhales and plasters a fake smile onto her face. “We mustn’t speak of it anymore, Em. Forget about it now.”

“Forget? That’s unlikely. Don’t you want to know more?”

“No. Roarke and my father will take care of it when they return. Which should be just before dinner, apparently.”

“Oh.” My unease shifts into something more positive. “That’s great.”

“Yes. Now, what other magic was I showing you yesterday?” She rubs her hands together and walks back inside. “You practiced moving things, and there was also …”

“Fire,” I remind her. “Well, tiny flames. So I don’t accidentally burn the palace down.”

“Yes, that’s right. Have you made any improvement?”

I snap my fingers together and open my hand, palm-up, hoping the spell has become instinctual enough for a flame to appear automatically above my hand. My palm, however, remains empty. “Um … apparently not.”

“Yes, well, you’re not even trying.” She sits primly at the edge of the divan. “You need to focus. You’re not at the point yet where it happens automatically. Now, try again.”

I grumble beneath my breath before lowering my hands to my sides, closing my eyes, and telling myself to relax. I need to be able to release magic, then focus fully on the moment when it’s ready to shift from something raw and formless into anything else. At that point, I have to mentally shape it into a flame before it disappears. And all this, apparently, will happen almost instantly once I’ve done it enough times. I’ve just about reached a relaxed mental state when a tap on the other side of the door interrupts my concentration.

“Enter,” Aurora calls out.

Noraya walks in and hurries to Aurora’s side. She bends and whispers something before straightening.

Aurora rises with a sigh. “Of course. I’ll come now. Sorry, Em, but my mother would like to see me. You should carry on practicing, though. And get started on reading those books. You have a lot to learn if you’re going to fit in here.”

I watch her leave before dropping into an armchair and slumping back against the gold-embroidered cushions. Then I force myself to sit up straight and focus on producing a flame. I have no intention of fitting in here—not in the long run—but I need to at least pretend I’m planning to see this union through. Besides, I’ll probably need to use magic to get myself out of here. I may as well take this opportunity to learn as much as I can.

After trying repeatedly to produce a flame and succeeding about fifty percent of the time, I settle down with the smallest book from the pile Aurora gave me this morning. It’s a collection of basic spells that reads as though it was written for a first grader. Perfect. As embarrassing as it is, this is exactly the kind of thing I need.

Once I’ve successfully managed to shrink a cushion to about half of its size, then enlarge it, and then return it to normal, I pick up a different book and settle into an armchair. It contains accounts of history even older than the history I learned at Chevalier House. The initial dividing of the courts, and the very first Seelie and Unseelie families. I haven’t got very far when I hear a faint scratching sound. I lower the book and look around, trying to figure out where the scratching is coming from, but whatever it was has stopped. With a frown, I return to reading.

But the scratching begins again. From the direction of the desk, perhaps? I stand slowly, wondering what exactly I’ll do if I tug open one of the drawers and a nasty magical creature pounces out at me. For some reason, my imagination conjures up an image of a disembodied hand, which doesn’t help my pattering heart rate at all.

Three sharp taps at the door cause the book to slip from my fingers. I close my eyes for a moment and breathe out shakily, almost laughing at myself for becoming so jumpy. “Come in,” I call as I bend to pick up the book.

“Your lunch, Lady Emerson,” Clarina says from the doorway.

I straighten, leave the book on the armchair, and push my hair out of my face. “Right. Thanks.” I’ve eaten lunch with Aurora each day since I arrived here, but she obviously has other matters to attend to today. Clarina carries the tray of food to the table near the balcony doors while I edge closer to the desk on the other side of the room. Feeling silly now for having been afraid of a simple scratching sound, but still a little wary of what might have been causing it, I yank open the drawer on the left and quickly stand back. The stolen stylus rolls toward the back of the drawer—and nothing jumps out at me. I push the drawer closed and open the one on the right. It’s filled with the blank scrolls that were on top of the first pile of books Aurora gathered for me.

“Is everything all right, Lady Emerson?” Clarina asks.

My cheeks flush as I look over my shoulder at her. “Yes, sorry. I thought I heard something, but …” I turn back and peer into the drawer. “But there’s nothing here.”

“There are many small creatures living in the gardens here,” Clarina tells me. “Some of them come inside on occasion. Most of them are harmless.”

“Most?” I repeat.

She smiles faintly at the floor, but doesn’t elaborate. “Do you need anything else, my lady?”

I pick up the history book on my way to the table. “I don’t think so. This looks amazing.” She bobs her head and walks back toward the door.

“Clarina?” I ask as I lower myself into a chair.

She stops and looks around, her eyes meeting mine for only a moment before focusing on the floor. “Yes, Lady Emerson?”

“What makes you an Unseelie faerie?”

She hesitates before answering. “What do you mean?”

“Are you even an Unseelie faerie? Is everyone who lives and works in the palace considered Unseelie?”

She frowns at the floor. “Yes, I believe so, my lady.”

“What makes you different from someone who isn’t Unseelie? I’m trying to remember what I was told when I first arrived in this world, but it wasn’t much. I think someone said the magic here is slightly different? Something about dark magic?”

“Any magic they don’t agree with they call dark magic.”

“They?”

“Those who are not Unseelie. Some of our magic is the same as theirs,” she explains. “Like the power that resides naturally within all of us, or the power we absorb from the elements or the plants. But they don’t like it when we take power from other living beings—lesser beings—and they don’t like some of the procedures involved in certain spells. So that’s where the divide comes in. I think,” she adds, folding her hands together demurely in front of her.

My eyes graze over the spread of food on the table. It’s far more than I could ever eat in one meal. I wish I could ask Clarina to sit down and eat with me while I ask her more questions, but I know she’d never agree to that. “What counts as a lesser being?” I ask.

Again, she looks confused. “Well, everything that isn’t a faerie, of course.”

A chill raises the hairs on my arms, despite the warm breeze wafting in through the open balcony doors. “Do, um, do you do that often? Take power from other living beings?”

“No, my lady. I haven’t ever needed to. I’ve been healed before by spells that were specifically Unseelie, but I personally haven’t absorbed raw power from another being.”

“Okay. I see.” I’m not sure what else to say, aside from telling her that taking someone else’s power sounds downright creepy and just plain wrong.

“Do you have any other questions, my lady?”

“Uh … not right now.”

She turns, then adds, “You don’t need to be disturbed by all this, my lady. It’s unfamiliar to you, I know, but it isn’t wrong. It’s just different. And, well, I’ve always been told that we shouldn’t be afraid of something just because it’s different.”

“Um, yes, that’s true. Thank you, Clarina.” I give her a smile that fades the moment the door closes behind her. I know I shouldn’t be afraid of something simply because it’s different, but if it’s different and it’s hurting someone, that’s not okay. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood it, though. Perhaps this ‘taking power’ thing isn’t nearly as ominous as it sounds. It may only be a little bit of power, not enough to kill someone. And perhaps they only take it from beings that are willing.

I help myself to some food, reopen the book, and continue reading. After only a few minutes, a subdued thump comes from the direction of my bedroom. I lower the sandwich that was halfway toward my mouth and slot a fork between the pages of the book to keep my place. I silently lift a knife and rise from the chair to face the half-open bedroom door.

And then I spend far too long frozen in place, wondering whether I should investigate on my own or risk looking stupid by asking a guard to go into my bedroom and hunt down the mysterious thing that hasn’t made another sound since that first thump. I decide in the end to risk looking foolish. Better than getting chomped by one of the non-harmless creatures from outside—or by whatever it was that killed that guard this morning.

I open the main door, stick my head out, and find two women in guard uniforms standing just outside. They spend at least twenty minutes searching every inch of my bedroom while I pretend to read. And when they leave, having found no hint of a threat, I’m almost certain I see one rolling her eyes at the other.

Three

“Has your Griffin Ability appeared again?” Aurora asks that evening as we retire to the couches in her private sitting room. It’s late, dinner is over, and Roarke still isn’t back. Asking when he’ll return is useless, so I’ve given up, but I still find myself burning with frustration every time I picture Mom permanently asleep. My hands want to curl into fists whenever I think of all the minutes, hours, and days passing by.

“I felt it in my sleep last night,” I tell her, removing a cushion from behind my back and hugging it to my chest. Better to squeeze the cushion than to continuously dig my nails into my palms. “It woke me up. By the time I figured out what was happening, the moment had passed. I didn’t manage to get a single word out before the magic was gone.”

“What would you have said?”

I shake my head as I watch the dancing flames in the fireplace. Given that it’s summer here, I wouldn’t have thought it necessary to light a fire at night, but the room feels pleasantly warm and cozy. “I don’t know. I was half asleep and trying to think of something, but the feeling was gone before I’d come up with any command.”

She watches me for some time, while I continue to stare past her at the flames. “Do you really think the elixir is going to help you?”

I focus on her, my mood lifting instantly. Could she possibly be thinking of giving the elixir back to me? “Of course it helps. It turns the ability on so I can use it.”

“Yes, I know, but you said the point of the elixir is to somehow teach you to use and control the ability on your own. It’s supposed to help you recognize what your Griffin magic feels like, right? So that you can call on that magic at will without the help of the elixir?”

“Yes, something like that.”

“But you already know what it feels like.”

I look down at my arms wrapped around the cushion. “Yes, I do.”

“So then why—”

“Why can’t I do it on my own?” I sigh, my excitement dissipating. She isn’t going to give me that elixir. “I don’t know. I’ve tried. I imagine the feeling. I picture pulling magic from deep inside me, but nothing ever happens. Maybe if I had that elixir, I could—”

“No,” she says. “I’m not giving you something that will become a crutch, especially since there isn’t a lot of it, and once it’s gone, we don’t know how to make more. Not to mention what a bad idea it is to give you something that will immediately switch on a dangerous ability you could then use against me.”

“Aurora, I would never—”

“Yeah, yeah.” She rolls her eyes. “You’re going to be part of my family soon, so I’d like to be able to trust you, but we’re not there yet. No, the reason I’m bringing this up is because I’ve been thinking about how your ability might work.” She tilts her head to the side and stares thoughtfully across the room at the curtains concealing the balcony doors. “Perhaps, because it’s such a powerful ability, it needs to sort of … replenish itself. That would explain why you can’t use it all the time.”

“Okay. Maybe. Do some kinds of magic work that way?”

“Well, all magic works that way, actually.” She shifts her position, folds one leg neatly over the other, and faces me. “It’s just that we hardly ever use it all up in one go, so we don’t realize that it’s constantly replenishing. If you do something that’s particularly strenuous on your magic, like lifting something very heavy and holding it in the air for a long time, then you’ll eventually tire yourself out. Magically, I mean. Then you need to rest while your magic restores itself.”

“Like replenishing energy if you do something that’s physically exhausting?” I ask.

“Yes. So I wonder if maybe your Griffin Ability works in a similar way, but in quick bursts rather than slowly over a long period of time.”

I nod. “That sounds like it could make sense. It always feels as though it comes over me in a sudden rush, gets used up immediately with whatever I happen to say at the time, and then it’s gone.”

“Or it ends up released into your surroundings with no purpose if you don’t say anything at all.” She taps her chin and purses her lips. “Hmm. I wonder if you could hang on to it and use it at a later time instead of having to release it whenever it’s replenished.

“Uh … I could try that?” I suggest, having no idea how I would actually ‘hang on’ to this elusive power of mine.

“Anyway, this is all speculation at this point,” Aurora continues. “We need to gather some actual evidence. Take note of exactly when it happens. The day and time. And keep track of other things, like whether you’ve used an unusually large amount of your normal magic on something else. Because we don’t know whether your normal magic has any effect on your Griffin magic, or if the two are independent of each other.”