Meet the Cast of Characters
ExcerptThe Fairy Midlands
Sting Crowwing, tall and thin in his fairy form, exited the Unseelie portal and led out his ebony stallion, Carrion. Sting was counting down the hours as the Change grew closer. He had one chance to build his own future, and he was determined to make that happen. But first things first, he needed Amera. As the runes faded the door disappeared into the trunk of the massive, rotted oak, closing the way to Omnion and the Court.
Sting slipped the heavy black reins over the large head of his war horse. The reins brushed the cat skulls and dog bones woven into Carrion’s mane. Sting pulled a silver clasp from his pants pocket, gathered his long black hair, and fixed it at the nape of his neck. Carrion stood still as Sting slipped his leather boot into the stirrup and mounted. He adjusted his over-long black wings on either side of the saddle. The fairy checked his weight in the stirrups, then gathered the reins and commanded the stallion forward into the night.
Carrion picked his way through the tangled roots and moved slowly through the Unseelie-marked land. Sting breathed a sigh of relief. The rules and expectations—the Court’s and his father’s—shackled him to a future he didn’t want. Outside Omnion, it was just him and his own desires.
He stopped the horse at the edge of the forest and studied the long grass undulating in the breeze, the feathered seed tips of which just brushed Carrion’s belly. The greens and tans looked like smoke under the night sky. Sting cast an invisibility glamour and, as they crossed the meadow, the massive horse and his rider appeared as nothing more than shadow.
Slowly, they approached the rolling hills of Seelie land. Honeysuckle and roses sweetened the wind. The trees appeared fuller, sharp branches softened by foliage. Sting listened to the cricket and frog songs, the harsh wildness of his home replaced by the touch of Seelie creativity and mirth. Even the moon appeared gentled, suspended like a white boat riding the dark currents of night.When they arrived at The Hill Sting halted Carrion, and they waited in front of the massive rose-covered mound that housed the portal to the Seelie Realm.Sting’s father had laughed at him when he’d found out about the girl, but instead of discipline his father didn’t seem to care that Sting kept slipping outside the Court to visit her, even though it was forbidden. His father had just smiled, showing his sharpened teeth, and warned the boy,
“Become what you are.”
But what did his father know? Old and wing-clipped, he lived according to all the rules and disciplines of the Unseelies. His father was an Enforcer, Vollstrecker of House Orba Alis, the Dark Queen’s punisher. He delighted in pain. There were plenty of Unseelies who loved his father’s lash, but none lasted. His father used them and tossed them aside. The thought sprinted across Sting’s heart and chilled his blood: maybe his father didn’t love anything, even their queen. Wasn’t he, even now, tacitly helping Sting by ignoring visits like this?
Sting studied the fully open blossoms on the hill and noticed that, like the grassland, Night, deity of the Unseelies, had her effect on Seelie land. In daylight, these roses reminded him of Amera’s lips and tongue, but under the moon they appeared the color of bones.
He smiled and let his thoughts wander, loving the sweet agony of waiting. The thought of Amera’s lips pressed against his, the smell of her hair, made his aching body thrum with magical possibility. Carrion tugged on the reins, seeking to lower his head and graze for insects. Sting let them fall slack. But then a buzz, like a trickle of lightning, got his heart pumping, indicating Amera’s approach.
He felt a coldness still clinging to him from the Dark Forest, and he shook his shoulder blades and wings to shrug the chill away. His chest feathers ruffled then smoothed down. His stallion, sensing Amera’s mare, tossed his head, the bones in his mane sounding like Brownie percussion. Carrion’s ears pricked forward, and he whickered softly.
With a shimmer, the gem-encrusted golden door appeared then solidified in the hillside. Seelie runes glowed blue, one of the sacred colors of the Seelie Court as it signified life and purity. The door swung open.
A palomino mare entered the meadow, prancing and moving until she finally stood head-to-head with Carrion. The horses blew softly at each other; Carrion stood stock still while the mare, Pear Blossom, tossed her head and shifted on her feet, dancing with impatience. But Sting’s eyes fixed on Amera, who walked out and closed the Seelie door. She glanced shyly at him and smiled. Her long golden hair glowed white under the moon and her dark skin appeared washed out, looking almost as bloodless as his own. Odd, he thought, then grinned at her, eager to touch her. She gracefully swung onto the mare’s bare back.
They both looked at the door to make sure no one had followed her out. It thinned, shedding solidity until it billowed like a ghostly curtain and vanished, the runes fading like fireflies in the dawn.
The horses started moving, knowing the way. As Sting looked at Amera, her shoulders sagged and her head angled downward. Her hair, which normally curled over her shoulders, thinned and drooped, and her youthful face sagged and wrinkled like a rotten apple. Her long, slim fingers curled claw-like, knuckles knobby and protruding. Startled, he reached for her.
She glanced at him and smiled faintly. The crone image flickered and disappeared. Slipping out of his reach, she urged Pear Blossom forward. The mare broke into an easy canter, and Sting and Carrion followed.
Once they left the meadow and entered the unclaimed land Sting and Amera began changing the landscape, moving toward their bower and far away from prying eyes. The final point of passage was a golden gate locked with mixed magic. He sang the lock open with a deep note laced with darkness, and her laughter, light and golden, pushed the barricade out of their way. They dismounted, leaving the horses outside, and entered the bower together.
As the gate swung closed soft candles flickered and caught, ringing the small room. Thrumming with anticipation he watched her, waiting for her transformation. Her forest- green riding tunic swirled into a sky-blue dress of spider webs and dew drops that sparkled in the soft light. His breath caught as he studied her face—high, sharp cheekbones, summer-sky eyes, and skin the color of a black deer’s hide.
He knew she had bespelled him but, in the radiance of her glamour, he didn’t mind. She was so unlike any of the dark females in the Unseelie Court that leaving her made his heart all the more shadowed. How he relished the sting of separation.
“I’ve missed you,” he said.
Amera reached up and tenderly stroked his cheek, but where light usually beamed in her smile sadness gathered across her face. She had dark shadows under her eyes and her aura appeared dull and flat. She embraced him, pressing her cheek against his chest feathers. He frowned, bewildered by the sadness that didn’t belong to her. He bent his head and breathed in the scent of her hair. He felt her tears spilling against his feathers, eliciting a nip of pleasure. He pushed it away.
“What’s troubling you?” he said.
Amera looked up, blinking wet lashes. “We’re in trouble.”
“What? Do your parents know?”
She shook her head. “No, not that.” She studied his face and frowned. “Do yours?”
Sting raised an eyebrow. “No.” The lie spilled off his lips.
Her eyes darted away.
“So, tell me already,” he prodded. Patience felt strange to him. He needed answers. Sweat gathered between his wings as her brow creased. He knew she was trying to find the words, was struggling.
“It’s better if I show you.”
She stepped away from him and circled her hand in front of her dress. Sparks glimmered and spun in the air, spiraling and brightening to reveal an object wrapped in green blankets. It hung suspended in front of her, and she reached out; taking it in her arms, the light faded. Sting stepped closer and looked as she carefully peeled the blanket away like a leaf of cabbage.
“What is it?” he asked.
“A mistake. You have to fix it. I-I can’t.” She tilted the bundle so that he could see the golden face of a sleeping baby.
A little bit of fluffy black hair stood upright. Sting frowned at the straight, ink hair with the tanned skin. It didn’t look right. The Seelie hair curled tightly. Some said from their laughter catching in the strands. While the Unseelie hair hung sleek, letting fear and love slip away from their minds. Amera waved her palm over the baby’s face and its eyes opened, revealing one sky blue one like hers and one toxic green like his own. He stepped back and hissed in surprise and disgust. Amera bespelled the child back to sleep, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Sting knew without asking that the baby was theirs. As impossible as it felt, somehow their need for each other contained just the right elements to make life.
“When did that show up?” he asked.
“Last night, I guess. I woke up with it next to me in bed this morning.”
A chill ran up his spine. The mixing of light and dark magic was forbidden to manifest life. Mixed magic had no place in Fairy; it belonged to neither the Seelie nor Unseelie Court. Whether plants or animals, they always caused trouble and heartache. But a child! There would be consequences, punishment for them both. And Amera! Did the Seelie have Enforcers? They must. Sting couldn’t bear the thought of someone’s lash nipping and slicing Amera’s silken skin. He looked at her tear-streaked face and knew he had to do something. This abomination had to disappear. Or, better yet, die.
“Give it to me,” he said. As he took it, he could feel the weight dragging on his magic. He looked at Amera, who smiled and stood straighter. Her aura brightened and the shadows under her eyes faded.
He placed the bundle on the ground and ran his hands over his feathers. He felt the magic blur his body, sharpening his nose and chin into a beak, feet into claws. His arms merged with his wings. His claws took hold of the baby and lifted it skyward. Amera glamoured the bundle, lightening the weight so he could fly with ease, and she camouflaged it to reflect the surroundings so that it was near invisible.Sting flew toward the edge of Fairy. When he returned, Amera would owe him for this favor. He was going to enjoy making her pay.