A ragged newcomer… with a secret even he doesn’t know.
A backwater city… with a countdown to an explosion no one is expecting.
A secret Covenant… and a conspiracy to break it to pieces.
Jason Kilkenny is a new arrival in the Canadian city of Calgary. Unlike most newcomers, Jason isn’t looking for a job in oil and gas: he’s a half-fae changeling that wants to get away from the politics of the inhuman races.
He soon learns that despite being a supernatural backwater, the city is run by a near-godlike Wizard—and the shadows are full of unseen dangers. Jason’s here to hide, but he finds himself called to service by Calgary’s understaffed Fae Court.
As supernatural politics collide in his new home, Jason’s plan to keep his head down is shattered and he finds himself testing the limits of his meager gifts. He cannot run, he cannot hide…and if he loses, he loses everything.
My introduction to the wonderful people of Canada was literally running into a large, leather clad, blond man who stopped unexpectedly as I crossed the parking lot of the bus station.
The man turned to face me, sniffing exaggeratedly, and bared a canine smile. “Well, lookie here; I think I smell something…faerie.”
I raised my hands placatingly, wanting anything but a fight within an hour of my arriving in the city of Calgary. “Sorry, man, I didn’t mean to run into you,” I drawled quickly, only to see his grin expand. Somehow, the man knew what I was.
“I would think your kind would be more careful, little faerie,” the man told me, and with a sinking feeling I realized the canine impression was more than just a passing fancy. A wolf shifter had decided to pick a fight with me, in a parking lot.
“I just got into town,” I said as quickly as I could. “I didn’t know this was your pack’s territory.”
That, apparently, was the exact wrong thing to say.
“Pack?” the man snarled. “I am Clan Fontaine, you punk. Not some animal to run in a pack!”
I didn’t have time to apologize before the man swung. Normally, there are other tricks I can pull, but there were mortals in the parking lot. Unable to do more than stand there helpless, I took the massive fist in the stomach and folded.
A rough hand grabbed the back of my head, through the stolen hat, and kept me moving downward. I slipped on the ice and was introduced to the cold, frozen concrete.
The shifter’s knee drove into the blade of my shoulder, pinning me to the icy ground as he shoved my face into the grit.
“You’re new in town,” he growled in my ear. “So, I’ll let it go. Once. Your kind has a Manor north of here.” He yanked my bruised face up and pointed at a blue-and-white bus just pulling into the lot. “You want that bus.”
With that, my “welcoming committee” let go of my face, letting me drop back to the icy pavement.
I left the south because I was sick of it. Down there, “my kind” has been set up for centuries, if not long enough to stop some of the elders’ bitching about the “Old Country” and the “Old Ways.”
Maybe it would have been better if they had actually been my kind. The old fae run the Deep South of the United States, so far as the supernatural goes, but I’m not true fae.
My name is Jason Kilkenny, and I am a changeling. My mother, whatever Powers are listening preserve her soul, was a mortal woman with the misfortune to have a one-night stand with a frisky fairy—my father. I was the result, and she never saw my father again.
It’s not an uncommon story. Given the fae population of the Deep South, I’m surprised that changelings aren’t half the damn population by now. But then, the old fae disapproved. Which is why I was there, freezing my half-human butt off outside the Greyhound station in a Canadian city as far from home as I could think of.
My mother passed on when I was nineteen, before I’d discovered what I was. On my twenty-first birthday, some jackasses made a comment about her, and I was too young and too drunk to take it.
Next thing I knew, I’d laid out four of the biggest bruisers in the bar and set the last on fire with my mind for good measure. For about a week, I thought I might be some kind of superhero.
Further encounters with people like my “welcoming committee”, not to mention other fae, proved me very sharply wrong. This, again, leads us to me freezing in a Canadian winter, waiting in line for the indicated transit bus outside the Calgary Greyhound depot.
As fae go—hell, even as changelings go—I’m a pushover. I’m an Olympic-level athlete who never exercises, and I can conjure faerie fire—if I’m really angry, I can hurt someone with it. Most of the time, I’m lucky if I can light a cigarette.
Of course, even little changeling me could create a lot of havoc if I acted out in public, so everywhere we go, all changeling and fae check in at a Manor like the one the shifter had directed me to—neutral ground, a meeting place for fae. I assume other supernaturals have similar rules, and if they’re looking for one of us, they come to the Manor and speak to the Keeper.
My bus finally arrived and I got on, passing the driver some coins from the sparse collection of Canadian currency I had on me. My collection of currency was sparse in general—dropping out of college to dodge assault charges left me without much means of making ends meet, and the old fae are not generous.
The Seelie Court—the good guys, as much as any of the fae are such a thing—had helped me bury my old past and forge some kind of new identity. I was too weak a changeling to be much use to them though, so I ended up drifting from town to town, Manor to Manor, bouncing off rule after rule, true fae after changeling.
I got sick of being the bottom rung in a highly formalized ladder, so when someone mentioned that Calgary, way up north, had a tiny and informal Court, I bid my home states an unfond farewell and started catching buses.
Ending with this white-and-blue Calgary Transit vehicle whose heating could not possibly be working. There was no way it could be that cold in a vehicle with working heat.
When the bus finally disgorged me by the bar, surrounded by hotels, that my welcoming committee pointed me toward and the surrounding fae-sign told me was the Manor, I couldn’t feel my fingers, despite the heavy gloves I’d stolen somewhere in Montana.
A faded blinking neon sign announced VLTs and karaoke. Under that, a recently updated sign, barely lit by the streetlights, announced cheap draft of some beer I’d never heard of.
The wall behind that sign told me what I was looking for. Fae-sign, invisible to those without our blood, declared that this was a Manor, neutral ground, and that swift death awaited those who broke the neutrality of the Manor.
Walking in, I was almost stopped by a sudden blast of hot air. The inside was so warm, it took a minute for the noise to sink in. It was late on a Thursday evening, and the volume had been cranked on the bar’s sound system.
A blonde girl dressed in a uniform that would have meant swift death in the winter night outside flowed her way around the handful of patrons in the bar to me.
“Can I get you something?” she asked, her voice helpful. My system still in shock from the sudden blast of heat; it took me a moment to realize she was true fae—a water nymph with a bewitchingly delicate beauty to break the hearts and minds of mortal men.
Being a changeling made the effect much less bewitching, though she was still very cute.
“I am a wayfarer in need of succor,” I said softly, the ancient words sounding strange in my slow Southern drawl. “I must announce myself before the Keeper of the Manor and Lords of the Courts.”
I’d spoken quietly enough that I was sure no one other than the girl had heard me, but she quickly glanced around anyway, and then grinned at me in a way that made me regret my immunity to her kind’s power over men.
“Everyone here tonight is one of us,” she told me quietly. “I’m Tarva; have a seat and I’ll grab you a drink and Eric.”
“I don’t know if I can afford the drink,” I admitted ruefully.
“You’re on succor,” she answered. Which meant that for the first three days I was in town, all my food and lodgings would be covered by the Manor—it was a tradition I’d abused to survive down in the South. Normally, however, I’d get nothing until I’d announced myself.
“Then can you grab me a coffee, please?” I asked. After six days of bouncing from one bus to another, I wasn’t sure I wanted to meet the Keeper and Lords without some caffeine in me.
“Sure thing!” she answered with another smile. She disappeared for a moment and then returned with a steaming cup of black coffee. “Eric will be right out,” she told me.
The coffee was shit. I’d been spoiled by my three-day-long stopover in Seattle, where the Manor was an old independent coffee house that survived in the era of Starbucks by brewing fantastic coffee. Even realizing my bias, this was pretty bad coffee.
The bar was badly lit, so it took me a moment to realize just how short the man who came in from the kitchen was. In thick platform shoes, Eric stood just over three and a half feet tall. His hair was thick and white, and bushy eyebrows shadowed recessed eyes over a large hooked nose.
The gnome crossed the room to me and climbed into the stool opposite.
“I am Eric von Radach, Keeper of the Manor in Calgary,” the gnome said quietly. “Announce yourself, stranger.”
“I am Jason Kilkenny, changeling out of Georgia of no known fae parent,” I laid out quickly. “I seek leave to settle and take up a mortal occupation, as my blood is not thick enough for me to serve the Courts.”
Eric typed all of what I said into a tiny laptop that appeared from nowhere and vanished just as thoroughly a moment later.
“You’ve come a long way, Mr. Kilkenny,” the gnome observed. “What brings you all the way up here?”
“A hope for quiet,” I answered honestly, though my welcome to the town was now making me doubt that hope. Again. “I just want to live a normal life, and it’s hard to remove oneself from the Courts in the South.”
“A fair hope,” Eric agreed. “I see no concern for us here. You will need to meet Lord Oberis, of course—I called him before I came out. He should be here”—there was a burst of wind as the doors opened and closed again—“shortly.”
The man who entered was every inch a sidhe lord, fair and terrifying. Like everyone else in the room—including me—he wore his blond hair long to cover his ears, and it brushed against the shoulders of the heavy cashmere coat he wore. The tall fae walked across the room toward Eric and me, and I considered what Oberis would see.
I am tall for a human but short for a fae, at just under six feet tall. I probably looked scrawny and underfed to this perfectly chiseled specimen of inhumanity. My mixed brown hair was as long as Oberis’s but due to lack of care rather than style. I was dressed in a mismatched mess of clothes stolen or purchased for warmth more than color coordination on the way north. Every possession I owned was in a backpack at my feet.
There was no way—no way—that the fae lord would have dropped everything to come meet the new changeling in town. Fae lords had flunkies for that. And yet…
“I am Oberis,” he introduced himself superfluously when he reached the table. “Lord of the Court here in Calgary—there are hardly enough of us to justify two courts,” he explained with a grin that somehow shattered the cold inhumanity of that perfect face.
“This, my lord, is Jason Kilkenny, changeling of no known lineage,” Eric introduced me formally. “He wishes to settle and pursue mortal employment.”
“Is that so?” Oberis regarded me, his gaze level but warmer than I expected from the winter outside. “Why mortal employment? There are few changelings here, even fewer than there are fae. We may find some use for you.”
Well, if there were that few fae floating around this city, that would at least somewhat explain why his Lordship was here talking to the newcomer so quickly. It meant both that he wasn’t busy and that, weak as I was, even my presence might be considered important.
“With respect, Lord,” I answered slowly and carefully, trying to consider how to dodge politics without offending a fae lord in apparently desperate need of help, “my blood is too weak for me to be of much aid, and I desire more than anything to leave the world of Court and Manor behind. It has brought me little but grief.”
Oberis nodded. “Very well. I grant you both succor and the right to settle. However, there is one last formality.”
My sigh of relief stopped in mid-breath at his words. “What formality, my lord?”
“I am not the final authority here in Calgary,” Oberis explained. “In this city, we all answer to the Wizard and his Enforcers.”
“There is a Wizard here?” I squeaked. The last heirs of Merlin’s teachings were few and far between in the modern world—I’d heard one old fae guess less than twenty remained—and were basically demigods that only traveled because moving the continents around to bring their destination to them was a bit too flashy.