From one Court, two are born……
as a new Lord is crowned in glory
But a murderer risks all their secrets……
bringing shadows that could burn everything down
Jason Kilkenny is a quarter-human Vassal of the Queen of the Fae and the neutral arbiter of supernatural affairs around the Fae Court in the Canadian city of Calgary. He has spent half a year building relationships with the existing power structure—but all of that is thrown into chaos when the Fae leadership dictates that Calgary’s Court split into Seelie and Unseelie factions. Backed by the highest authority, the new Lord Andrell is there to build an Unseelie Court from nothing, and he will brook no interference, no challenges.
Meanwhile, a rogue Fae launches a vicious slaughter at Calgary’s largest public event, and Jason is dragged into an investigation and pursuit of a monster far more powerful than he is. The rogue’s Unseelie heritage brings him into conflict with Lord Andrell, and the city’s peace is threatened.
One wrong step could unleash civil war between the new Courts and Jason’s own secrets could lead to lighting the embers of a civil war amongst all Fae—embers that have slumbered since before his birth.
If only he knew what those secrets were…
The Calgary Stampede is supposedly the greatest outdoor show on Earth, or so its advertisements brightly proclaimed all over the city. It had a rodeo, barns to introduce your children to the farm animals they’d never otherwise see in a city, races, games and a carnival.
It might have been fun under other circumstances, but right now all I cared about was that it was cold, it was raining, it was full of people—and that somewhere among the hundreds of horses that show up for a rodeo event like this was a shape-shifting cannibalistic fae.
My name is Jason Kilkenny, and this is how I spend my Saturdays.
By now, everyone was used to the rain that the current summer was determined to drown Calgary in. Despite the storm, the wet streets were still crowded, and I could barely keep my eyes on the man I was supposed to be escorting. It helped, at least a little bit, that Robert Grace had acquired at least some of the instinctive arrogance of the Fae Noble he’d become, and that the crowd parted ways around him without thinking.
With Robert around, at least, I didn’t draw too much attention. The slim youth with the long dark hair that covered his ears attracted admiring glances from men and women alike in his cowboy boots and hat and long black raincoat.
Since we were trying to blend in, we were dressed identically. We had almost the exact same hair color and we both wore our hair long to cover visibly pointed ears. Robert and I could have passed for cousins to a stranger, but there was always something extra about Fae Nobles, even one as young and untried as Robert.
An older Fae Noble like Robert’s father, my friend Talus, would have been sent after a Pouka alone. Robert got escorts. Two Gentry, the lacking-in-magic but otherwise terrifyingly physically powerful middle tier of fae…and me.
A three-quarters fae changeling who was a sworn Vassal of the Queen of the Fae. Lord Oberis, the master of Calgary’s Fae Court, could order the Gentry to be here and guard Robert. Technically, he had no such authority over me.
In practice, my mistress disliked her Vassals aggravating their local Lords, and Oberis was teaching me to use the newly-awakening gifts of my unknown father’s blood. When he asked a “favor,” I didn’t argue.
Which left me sighing in the rain as I caught up to Robert through the crowd.
“Do we have any idea where she is?” I asked him.
“I’m thinking the petting horse stables,” he told me. “Public with plenty of prey but still easy to hide. We don’t know when she got into town; she’s probably hungry.”
“Too public,” I told Robert, considering as we continued to move through the wet crowd. “She’ll want more privacy—there’s prey in the public stables, but too many other people would see.”
“Prey.” What a wonderful euphemism for the fact that the fae we were hunting ate people. From what Lord Oberis had told me, terrified people by preference.
Robert stopped, and half-glared at me, ignoring the ripples he sent through the crowd. “What do you suggest, then?” he demanded.
Six months ago, as part of a political mess that had almost torn the city apart and nearly killed me, oh, three or four times, Robert’s previously concealed parentage had been revealed. He’d spent six months learning how to be a Fae Noble, but was still even younger than my own twenty-four years old. By the standards of the fae, we were both children. That didn’t make him any happier with his babysitter.
“She spends a lot of her time as a horse, right?” I asked in my quiet Southern drawl, glancing around the crowd to be sure no one was paying us too much attention as we stood still and got even wetter. Our renewed halt had caused further ripples that Robert hadn’t noticed, but they were fading and everyone else was more focused on getting out of the rain.
My question wasn’t just to salve Robert’s ego. I was more experienced, slightly, but he’d been raised fae. He knew things about the world we lived in that I didn’t yet.
“Pouka are insane,” he said bluntly. “They’re born looking human, like any other Unseelie fae, but once they can turn they’ll spend as much time in that form as their birth form, yeah.”
“So, she’s a horse, and will be hiding among horses,” I concluded. “But she’s not going to be one of the ‘pretty but not valuable’ ones they have out for petting—she’ll be one of the racers. No Unseelie is likely to resist the option to show up everyone.”
One of the two Gentry who’d slipped in beside us shifted uncomfortably at my words, and I belatedly recalled that the man was Unseelie. Seelie like Robert and myself had their prejudices against the other half of the fae species—but it wasn’t like the Unseelie disagreed with the point, however.
“Which means she’ll be in the stables for the rodeo horses and the racers,” I concluded. “How do we get in there?”
“You’ve met my father,” Robert said dryly as he pulled a cellphone from under his coat. “He has horses in there.”
A quick phone call later, we approached the private stables armed with a name and a new feeling of something resembling dryness as we ducked under the canopy over the door. A cowboy-outfit-clad security guard stopped us outside the door.
“Excuse me, gentlemen, this area isn’t part of the public exhibition,” he informed us politely. “I’ll need to see some ID, please.”
“I’m sorry,” Robert immediately told the man, equally polite.
What is it with Canadians and always being polite?
“We’re from Angolian, Inc. and we’re here to check on Strawberry Dancer. We were only issued one access card and I apparently left it in my hotel room. That’s back downtown and I’d prefer not to have to leave and come back!
“Can you call in to security and let us through?”
Angolian, Inc. was a shell company with no real employees, fully owned by Talus through about two other shells and a lawyer. However, by the time we got to the stable, our names should have been added to the authorized list under that company.
“Give me a moment,” the guard told us and turned away, shielding his radio from us as he called into the security center hidden somewhere in the carnival grounds. A short conversation followed, and then he turned back to us.
“What were your names again?” he asked, but it was mostly a formality. He might have thought we couldn’t overhear his radioed conversation, but we weren’t human—not by a long shot—and fae ears were far better than human ones.
“Robert Angel, Jason MacTavish and assistants,” Robert replied, giving the false names his father’s lawyer would have had put on the list, including our two Gentry bodyguards with an airy wave of his hand.
“All right, you’re on the list, go in,” the guard told us, gesturing us through into the building.
Stepping out of the rain and into dry air, the first thing we noticed was the sudden overwhelming smell. This was a working stable, and there was only so much you could do about the smell of horse manure in one of those.
Out of the view of the crowd and the guard, I took a moment in the near-privacy of the front entrance to the stable to check my weapon. I’d acquired a snub-nosed .38 Special revolver in recent weeks. For today’s excitement, I’d loaded with cold iron rounds, the ancient bane of the fae.
Since I could feel cold iron in a way even most fae couldn’t, carrying it was uncomfortable. I could also tell that the heavy semiautomatics our two Gentry companions carried were similarly loaded.
Seeing as how the Gentry were each capable of tearing large cars or small tanks apart with their bare hands, they probably didn’t need them.
Robert hadn’t bothered. Unarmed, the Fae Noble was probably the single most dangerous individual in the entire fairground.
“So, how are we going to find the feeder in here?” one of the Gentry asked Robert and me. “Is there any way we can tell her from the regular horses?”
“If she’s anything like me, wave the cold-iron-loaded guns around and see which horse spooks,” I said dryly. Of course, more likely than not, the Pouka—fae, yes, but also a feeder, one of the supernatural creatures that fed on mortals—was not an iron-seeker.
“I can sense her at close distances,” Robert told the Gentry. “Keep an eye out for humans; this building should be occupied.”
I was grateful that Robert didn’t mention that I would also be able to identify the Pouka, by sight if nothing else. We weren’t entirely sure yet of the full extent of the abilities I’d inherited from my apparently Hunter and Vassal-sworn father. Keeping what we did know secret was useful.
I’d already concealed my little revolver inside my coat, and at the reminder, the two Gentry followed suit. As we paused to work out where to go next, I listened carefully.
“It’s too quiet,” I told the others. While the Gentry were physically superior to me in, well, every way possible, my senses were on par with theirs—and they were nodding in agreement. “I don’t hear anything except horses—shouldn’t there be people in here?”
“Keep your eyes open,” Robert repeatedly, a new edge to his voice, and then led the way in what was, so far as I could tell, a random direction.
We’d made it down one row of stalls, during which even I could tell that the horses were spooked by something, before we all stopped as one. We could all smell it, even through the earthy scents of the stable. Blood. Human blood.
“That way.” Robert pointed, taking off at a flat run. Before he’d taken three steps, I was beside him and the two Gentry were already ahead of us.
We’d only made it a few more steps before a feeling of deep and utter foreboding hit us. Something was wrong; something terrifying was going on. The feeling hit me down to my bones with a chill that whispered in my mind it was time to run, time to leave—time to be anywhere but here.
“That’s her,” Robert snarled as even his steps faltered under the influence of the Pouka’s aura. Her Power could be turned to this purpose, weaving an aura of fear around her so that none would interrupt her feeding.
With a swallow, I pressed onward. Robert and I led the way again, with the two Gentry catching up a moment later, staying even with us. Numbers gave us the extra bit of willpower to overcome the miasma around the stables and approach the heart of the dark aura.
At the end of the row of stable stalls full of horses cowering against the back walls, a single door marked the entrance into what I guessed was an office. Both the scent of blood and the miasma of fear emerged from the door, and Robert led us to it with a sharp gesture.
“Now,” he whispered, and the two Gentry kicked the door open. They charged in first and Robert and I followed, guns now fully in the open.
The office behind the door was a small, cluttered room. Filing cabinets, several drawers overflowing with paper, lined the walls. A door on the opposite side of the office showed a storage room through a window. The plain desk in the center of the room had once held a computer, now brushed off the desk and shattered on the floor as the desk had been turned into a table—and the office’s presumed owner into a meal.
A small black horse, little larger than a pony really, had its face buried in the woman’s guts. The Pouka reared back, whinnying and spraying gore from its fangs as we broke into the room. Three pistols focused on the horse, a frozen tableau of potential violence as Robert entered the room carefully, avoiding the line of fire, and faced the horse.
“Maria Chernenkov,” he greeted the horse quietly. “Surrender or be destroyed.”
“I am fae,” the horse spat at us, a perfectly human and feminine voice that was utterly strange emerging from the Pouka’s very inhuman mouth. “I have rights.”
“You are a recognized Pouka of the Unseelie Courts,” Robert agreed, calmly facing her as if her miasma of fear was nonexistent. “This grants you certain rights and certain assistances in meeting your…dietary requirements.
“You chose, however, to enter this city by stealth and murder one of its mortal inhabitants,” he told her. “Surrender and face the Court’s justice, or I will deliver the justice required by the Covenants here and now.”
Chernenkov’s response came in the form of a crippling wave of fear. My bones seemed to melt in my flesh as that fanged horse became more terrifying than anything I’d ever faced. Even a Wizard in full rage paled beside the terror the Pouka’s Power drove into my flesh and mind.
I heard the two Gentry groan, their weapons falling to the ground as fear drove them to their knees. There was a thud as Robert backed into one of the filing cabinets—but my attention was focused on the Unseelie fae as her Power drove into my mind.
Unfortunately for her, whatever else my late and unknown father had been, he had been a member of the Wild Hunt, and had passed his gift of stepping Between onto me. The reaction of a Hunter or a Hunter’s changeling to fear is to step Between worlds to dodge the blow.
The cold of that place Between realities crashed into me like a bucket of water. The shaded hues of the world I’d left behind still took the form of rooms and stables around me, but the fear was gone. The Pouka’s Power didn’t cross the wall to affect those Between, which gave me a moment to regain my composure, check the cold iron rounds in the chamber of my Colt Special, and then calmly, slowly step back into the real world.
I’d been gone only a few seconds, long enough for the Pouka to advance on my fallen compatriots while clearly wondering just what had happened to me.
Her answer came in the form of cold iron jacketed rounds at point-blank range. The first slammed into the Pouka’s long horse head from less than two feet away, and I kept firing as the revolver dropped back onto her, each round pushing her farther back until she stumbled over the desk where she’d been feeding.
The hammer finally clicked home on an empty chamber. Six cold iron rounds would kill any fae, so I was starting to turn to check on Robert when the harsh, high, laughter echoed through the room. I returned my gaze to the Pouka to watch the fae, suddenly in the form of a human woman clad in a black, formfitting bodysuit, stand back up, her cackling laughter filling the tiny office.
“You’ll need to do better, my little friend,” she told me. “I have walked the path of shadows and darkness, child, beyond where mere cold iron can bring me down. You will die, and I feast upon your flesh and Power.”
“Jason,” Robert’s voice murmured, barely audible even to my hearing, and I glanced at him. Still clearly struggling to overcome the fear my jaunt Between had cleared from my head, he gestured. A tiny, tiny flicker of Power trembled through the room, and then my two Gentry friend’s heavy pistols shot into the air, flying directly at me.
I had just enough warning to drop my own pistol before the guns arrived. I managed to somehow grab a gun in each hand before turning back to face the Pouka with a cold smile.
She’d finished transforming, but even in human form, her mouth was filled with fangs as she snarled at me.
“Right,” I said dryly. “Let’s try this again.”
A human who tries to dual-wield .45 caliber automatics firing full-metal-jacket rounds would find hitting anything impossible. For a changeling like myself, well, it’s merely very difficult. Half of the heavy slugs missed, but each slug that hit Chernenkov was like a hammer to her chest. The bullets drove her back through the room, and she crashed backward through the door into the storage room behind her.
With a handful of rounds left in the guns, I charged through after her. She was back on her feet like nothing had happened and met my entry with a clothesline punch straight at my head—of course it wasn’t going to be easy.
I didn’t have time to dodge the strike, so I just emptied the last few rounds into her as it hit me.
I went flying one way and the Pouka went flying the other, both of us crashing into racks on racks of what looked like gas canisters. I guessed one of them had cracked in the impact, as the entire room began to smell very strongly like a swimming pool.
“I don’t think that’s working,” she taunted me. “You should have done more research, little fae. I am immortal.”
I sighed and tossed the guns aside as I calmly stepped between the fanged horse-woman and the door. I don’t know why I even bother with guns sometimes. With an effort of will, I called on my half-will-o’-the-wisp mother’s gift and conjured a whip of crackling green witchfire as I faced the Pouka.
“You only get to be immortal if you live to leave this room,” I told her. She snarled at me, and then I wiped the snarl off her face with a slash of the whip.
Unlike the bullets, where the wounds faded almost as quickly as they were inflicted, she felt that one. The faerie flame, a construct of fire and Power, burnt into her skin and she lurched back in pain and shock.
That seemed to work. Unfortunately, since Chernenkov now felt threatened for the first time since we’d shown up to bring her in, it also pissed her off. With a snarl, she partially transformed, suddenly producing six-inch-long razor claws out of her hands as her fangs extended and she charged at me.
I slashed my whip at her feet, not doing a lot of damage but throwing off her balance so that instead of ripping out my throat, her claws merely stabbed through the upper right side of my chest. I felt my lung give way as she ripped her claws out, and gasped for breath as she smiled evilly.
“You still lose,” she snarled at me through a mouthful of fangs.
By now the smell of chlorine in the storage room filled the air. A number of the canisters were leaking, and the thought of just why this much chlorine was in a storage room at a giant public event was niggling at the bank of my head.
What was also tingling at the back of my head was that this was a maintenance storage shed, and chlorine reacts explosively with turpentine. Like the several jugs of it on the shelf behind Ms. Chernenkov.
My whip vanished away, and the Pouka closed in to finish me off as I gasped for breath. Finally, somehow, I got a full breath of air into my functioning lung and a half and used it to focus.
I shot my hands out as she stabbed down, and launched a blast of something that caught her mid-strike. My right hand hit her with pure force, enough to pick her up and throw her into the rack with the jugs of turpentine—and then flung a blast of green flame from my left, which surrounded her and blasted the turpentine cans open.
The Pouka struggled back to her feet, opening her mouth to say something when the chlorine in the air met the turpentine spilling onto her and the sparks from the bolt of faerie flame that had thrown her across the room.
It was a relatively small explosion, all things considered.