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Faerie War: The Changeling Chronicles Book 7 (Ebook)

Faerie War: The Changeling Chronicles Book 7 (Ebook)

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Book 7 of 7: The Changeling Chronicles

 

I'm Ivy Lane, and I've had about enough of Faerie.

The enemy has captured the surviving Mage Lords, and death faeries are preparing to unleash terror on this realm. Torn between saving the people I love and saving the world, I'm forced to appeal to the very faerie lords who ruined my life.

It's up to me to unite faeries and non-faeries alike to take out the oncoming threat. Failure isn't an option. Good job I'm used to defying the odds…

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When I was thirteen years old, Faerie slammed into my entire world, and changed it forever.

Fourteen years later, it’d done the same again. The manor I’d called home for the last few months was sealed, the doors closed on the scene of carnage until the other mages arrived to take the bodies away. A faerie had killed the entire mage council and captured the rest. A Summer faerie, judging by the marks on the bodies. And here I was, about to step into the Summer Court itself, and gain the trust of the enemy to save my lover from the hands of the murderous wannabe-god who’d just tried to kill me. All the while hoping they wouldn’t slaughter me on sight for destroying their property.

I hadn’t been known for making great decisions lately.

I arranged my backpack on my shoulders so it wouldn’t hinder my ability to carry my sword. I’d packed for an impromptu visit to Faerie—spare clothes, food, water and even a sleeping bag. I couldn’t count on the faeries to provide decent hospitality, and the number one rule of Faerie was “don’t touch or eat anything”. Even if you didn’t, you ran the chance of ending up spending the remainder of your days as a prisoner. Or an ornament, depending on their mood.

I couldn’t quell my guilt at the notion of skipping town right after Fionn had almost destroyed it. Again. But the mage council were either dead or missing. The necromancers had no leader and were virtually powerless. The half-bloods had scattered, the survivors of Fionn’s latest scheme having been forced to leave their territory, and the last I’d seen of the Chief, he’d been fleeing like a coward in the middle of battle. One reliable leader remained in the whole city: Isabel, my best friend and leader of the largest witch coven in the area. But she couldn’t single-handedly hold the entire supernatural community together, not with so many people dead or missing.

“They took Vance,” I’d told Isabel. “Fionn isn’t dead. I left him with the cauldron after I broke it. In our geography, that’s way up in Scotland, but if he travels via the spirit paths, he might be back here in a day. I want you to know, if I don’t make it back—”

“You’ll make it back,” said Isabel. “If Fionn does attack—it’s okay. We have hiding places. Get Vance out first.”

Fionn had hit me where it hurt the most. I wouldn’t leave Vance to die in Faerie. Never. “Will you be okay, Isabel?”

“Yeah, I will. Don’t worry about me. The veil—according to the necromancers, it’s not normal, but it doesn’t seem to be damaged like it was in the invasion. I don’t think we’re going to get a horde of undead swarming the streets. Or ghosts.”

“Not normal… how?”

“I mean, the necromancers kind of can’t cross into Death at all,” said Isabel. “I don’t know all the details, but Rick told me—every time someone tries to cross into Death, they’re blocked.”

“Okay. That’s weird.” Sounded like the opposite of the last invasion, actually, because when the realms had collided, it’d messed up the spirit lines so badly that ghosts were able to interact with the living, and tear people out of their physical bodies and into Death itself. There were too many similarities between what was happening now and the faeries’ invasion. I’d never have left Isabel to deal with it alone if Vance’s life hadn’t been at stake.

“You’d better go,” Isabel said. “Are you sure—?”

“Hell, no, but Vance needs me. I’ll see you when I’m back.” A promise. I’d get Vance away from Fionn, no matter the cost.

Hmm. That’s probably not a good outlook to have if you want to get away from Faerie alive this time.

My nails bit into my palms, and helpless fury rolled through me. I’d sworn I’d never be forced to choose between survival and saving someone I loved again. My first experience in Faerie as a helpless human imprisoned by a callous Sidhe lord with a liking for torture had stripped away the child I’d been before and left someone slightly broken in her place. Eleven years had passed since I’d escaped, but the marks remained. Some things never faded. They became part of you. And I had a hell of a lot to say to the Sidhe, who’d been at least indirectly responsible for this shit show. Depending on a brownie who’d betrayed me already wasn’t on my plan, but I wasn’t in a position to be picky. Vance’s family servant, Quentin, was the only way for me to get into Faerie. Though I’d recently found out that the Coltons weren’t his only family: he had another master, in the Seelie Court. He claimed not to have passed on our secrets to his second family, but I still didn’t trust the two faerie knights who waited outside the manor to take me with them into Faerie. Lord Raivan and his companion, Lord Burdock, sat astride their horses, wearing gold and green in the fashion of the Seelie Court. Like most Sidhe, their eerily stunning looks were easily used as a weapon to ensnare us. I’d be keeping my sword, Helena, close at hand.

Lord Raivan hissed out a breath as his gaze caught on the iron dagger conspicuously attached to my weapons belt. I gave him a look, challenging him to comment, but I’d made it quite clear that I was the one risking my neck here, going into a realm which was toxic to mortals. I’d take all the weapons I damn well wanted. And I’d move hell to get Vance out. Literally, if necessary. Lord Raivan looked away first.

“Ready?” I asked.

“This is foolish,” said Lord Raivan. “You should have returned our property to us, human.”

“I told you,” I said, “Summer’s ring is gone, thanks to Fionn. You shouldn’t have taken your eyes off it in the first place.”

“You—”

“She has an audience with Summer,” Quentin said. “There’s no denying a direct order from the Court.”

Yeah, thanks, Quentin. I just hoped the slippery bastard wasn’t leading me into a trap. Of all the times to be without my magic. Whether because the magic in this realm had faded too much, or because I’d used an Invocation to break Fionn’s cauldron of resurrection, I didn’t know. But without my magic working, I’d be lucky to survive Faerie.

“You’ll have to step after us, and hope that Faerie doesn’t object. You have an invitation, but it may not be enough.”

“It better be.” I was human, one hundred percent so, but I had a faerie’s magic and the ability to cross realms which was supposed to be unique to the Sidhe. Stealing magic from one of them had come with a few extra perks—the ability to travel into Death and cross the spirit lines. Plus, when I was in Faerie—at least, the Grey Vale—I could also heal from almost any injury, too. And I could speak Invocations. Leaving the documents containing those powerful words behind felt like a bad idea, but if I walked into Faerie carrying a paper with their Invocations written on them, it might be an instant death sentence. Even after my three-year captivity, I didn’t understand all of Faerie’s rules.

As had become clear recently, I didn’t even understand all the rules underpinning the supernatural communities in this realm. Like the fact that there’d been an alliance only a few decades ago between the Sidhe and the other supernaturals, a secret council which consisted of representatives from the various groups. Almost all of them had died in the invasion, leaving only Quentin, the Hemlock witches—who were cursed to spend eternity in their forest—and Frank, the necromancer Guardian of Death’s gates. So, I was going into Faerie on the word of a brownie, a bunch of cursed witches who weren’t the most reliable of people, and a dead man. And the two Sidhe knights, who turned on their giant horses and gestured at thin air.

A flash of green light enveloped the lawn, dazzling my eyes. My hand locked onto Helena’s hilt, my other on the iron dagger. A tingling sensation ran up and down my body. Not like when I was passing into Death. More like when I ran into the effects of a particularly powerful witch spell. My skin shivered, my body tensed, and the light grew ever-brighter until I had to close my eyes. Then my lungs constricted, and panic shot through my nerves like I’d plummeted fifty feet off a building.

Then it was gone. The only clear sensation was my hand gripping the hilt of my sword. My vision cleared a little. Brightness surrounded me, shades of green so intense they burned my retinas. Grass more perfect than I’d ever seen in the mortal realm swayed in a breeze at the perfect temperature for a summer afternoon. We’d landed in a clearing of knee-deep grass. Bright flowers bloomed alongside us in all shades of purple and red, varieties I’d never seen before. Wide, thick trees didn’t quite block out the perfect blue sky. Summer was the land of smiles and harmless mischief. Until it turned you into a deer and cursed you to run forever.

I didn’t trust appearances when it came to the faeries. The two knights and their horses glowed even brighter here, surrounded by an aura of green magic which surely wouldn’t be visible to normal human eyes. Mine were altered enough that I could see through glamour, but there were some parts of Faerie that no mortal could look at without losing their mind. 

And the lack of response from my magic only cemented my certainty that I’d lost it for good.

“Nice,” I said. “Pretty. Where are the death traps and the man-eating plants?”

Lord Raivan twisted in his seat and gave me an ugly look. “You won’t be able to speak to all our nobles with such disrespect. Our magic is at its full capacity here.”

“Yeah, I know that.” I’d hoarded information on the Courts during my captivity, learning from an old man named Gerry who’d been imprisoned there longer than I had. My memory wasn’t the greatest, but when lessons were punctuated by attacks from Faerie’s darkest creatures, you’d better believe I listened. However, mostly Winter’s creatures survived the Grey Vale. I didn’t have quite as much experience of Summer, except amongst the half-bloods.

“Is this the Court, then?” I looked around the clearing.

“This is one of the places in Summer’s territory where it’s possible to cross between realms,” said Quentin. “This part of Faerie is closest to the human realm. Like your human world, the realm itself is extensive and has many parts, not all of which are inhabitable. However, if you are at any point on this path, the human world is easy to reach.” He pointed between the trees, where a path wound away into the shadows, flanked by sprawling trees. The ancient oaks and ashes were as big as any I’d seen in the Vale, but brighter, larger, more solid and present. Basically, they looked as though if you tried to take an axe to them, they’d laugh and eat you alive.

The sound of water flowing mingled with birdsong and other animal noises. The two knights wheeled their horses around and led the way through the trees, on a path which somehow widened itself to accommodate their steeds. That didn’t surprise me. The cornerstone of Summer’s magic was a level of control over nature. Summer fed on life and fuelled it. Trees moved out of the knights’ way like subjects stumbling aside to allow royalty to pass by. I was pretty sure these guys were minor royalty, not involved deeply in the Summer Court, but if they got me inside unscathed, I’d take it.

I hadn’t gone a hundred metres before a vine shot out and grabbed my ankle.

Faerie had tried that one on me so many times, it didn’t even surprise me when the vine flipped me upside down, dangling me over the path. Quentin stopped, alarm flickering across his face, but I could barely summon up any reaction. I’d run out of fucks to give long before I’d left the mortal realm.

“What?” I asked the plant. “If you want to eat me, be my guest. I have iron in my pockets.”

The vine responded by shaking me violently. I gritted my teeth, the blood rushing to my head. Normally, I’d use my magic as a shield and push outward, forcing it to let go of me. Unfortunately, my magic was still playing hide-and-seek and nothing responded to my thoughts. I inched my hand towards my iron dagger and managed to free it.

A vine locked onto my wrist. I tightened my grip and twisted the dagger, then lunged at the nearest part of the vine within reach.

The plant let go, a screaming noise coming from it as the iron pierced the surface. I fell several feet, managing to land on my feet.

Lord Raivan gave me an appraising look. “Are you certain you’re pure-blooded human?”

“Yes,” I said irritably, shaking the residue of the plant from my weapon. The dagger was one of a pair Vance had given me, reinforced with iron and with mage marks which made it easier to find if I lost it. I doubted those defences would work here in Faerie, though. “Believe it or not, I’m used to being dangled upside-down, thrown out of windows and beaten up.”

“Then you might survive this trip after all,” said Lord Raivan, following his companion.

Quentin waited for me to catch up. “They know we’re here.”

“Didn’t want to use your magic to help me out?”

“I thought you had your own magic,” said Lord Raivan, regarding me with a shrewd look over the back of his horse, a look I didn’t like at all.

“I do. Winter. I figured using it’d draw more attention than iron would. My talisman isn’t iron.”

“No, it’s ash,” commented Lord Raivan. “Not one I’ve seen before.”

“Nobody gets my story,” I said. “Not even the Seelie King, if he wants to lower himself to speak to me. I’m here to learn how to free my partner from whoever the hell kidnapped him.”

Actually, I was also interested in getting answers about my talisman. And my magic. How to do that without admitting my magic had stopped working, though, I hadn’t yet figured out. 

We continued through paths that wound between bramble thickets and hedges. The trees seemed to be stuck in a perpetual evergreen state here, unlike the ones in the real world. Which was to be expected of Summer, really. The flowers probably bloomed eternally. Their fragrance drifted on the breeze and made my eyes water and my nose sting. I’d have the taste of flowers in my mouth for the next week.

Yet despite the amount of vegetation, I wouldn’t call this part of the territory ‘wild’. It was too carefully put together, the trees in neat lines, flowers grouped together by colour and species. By magic, most likely. Not like the patches of forest which sprang up unpredictably in the mortal world where Summer magic left its traces. Despite the sounds of birds in the trees, nothing disturbed our path. Perhaps the wilder fae sensed my iron and kept away.

“We are currently in the territory of Lord Raivan,” Quentin said from my side. His short form kept disappearing into the tall grass. “My own family lives on the adjacent estate, but neither has the knowledge you need. If you wish to know the truth, you’ll have to go into the centre of the Court.”

“And you’ll take me there?” My sense of geography wasn’t terrible, but Faerie defied all normal logic and it wasn’t like I had a map.

“I will, but they might not offer you what you seek. I requested an audience for you. It’s up to them whether they decide to listen.”

“They’d better. Otherwise Fionn and his pals won’t stop with our realm. All this is in danger, too.” I gestured at the perfectly arranged plants. 

We reached a point where the paths diverged, one heading deeper into the woods, the other skirting around a large, pleasant-looking house reminiscent of the mages’ manor. A reminder that, similar to the mages, the Sidhe families were long-lived and cultivated their wealth over many generations. And as an added bonus, they were immortal, too.

The path led into another, the air shimmering oddly until we were on a different path entirely, one fringed with huge leafy plants with long spiky vines. It halted at an elaborately carved gate which appeared to be made entirely of thorny stems. Like the Thorn Princess had had a field day in here. I halted, my spine stiffening.

“This is the Court of Summer,” Quentin growled.

My heart thumped suddenly. This is it. The gardens stretched on for miles, so the palace in the distance appeared unreachable. Another image flashed through my head and a trickle of cold sweat ran down my back. Welcome to your new home, Avakis’s voice whispered in my ear. I’ve made it comfortable for you.

I clenched my jaw. I’d interacted with the faeries a thousand times since escaping the castle, and yet I still couldn’t quell that instinctive reaction. The thorns didn’t help in the slightest, not even when the gate opened harmlessly at a word from Lord Raivan. 

One hand clenched on my dagger, I made my way after the others until we reached a fast-flowing river through the heart of the Court. A perfumed aroma lingered in the air, thick and overwhelming. I suspected none of the flowers here existed in our realm. Summer’s power came from a total sensory overload. They liked pretty things, but living and thriving, unlike Winter’s habit of freezing humans they liked in ice until they suffocated. Summer was more likely to turn you into a statue and then hang their coats on you.

Okay, I really, really don’t want to be here.

Another horse rode out to meet us, moving so fast my sight blurred. All my instincts spelled danger, yet I didn’t run. I stepped forward until there was no way the rider wouldn’t see me. A golden-skinned noble dressed in absurdly decorated finery looked at me with a disdainful expression, like I’d been called into the boss’s office for a ‘talk’. What had Quentin even told the Court about me? That I was a troublemaking human? Probably.

Of course I was in trouble. I’d lost the ring, let Fionn escape, and broken several important faerie artefacts. I was possibly more worried about their reaction to the cauldron breaking than the fate of the ring. The cauldron was the reason Sidhe considered themselves immortal. They could still die, from iron poisoning or death in battle, but the cauldron allowed them to be reborn in a new body. The Huntsman, leader of the Wild Hunt, was supposed to take their souls to be reborn. Problem was, Fionn, the Huntsman, had got bored with his job and gone rogue, starting the invasion of the human realm. While he’d been imprisoned in limbo, the cauldron had been shut away. Then he’d woken up, and tried to use the cauldron to create an army of Sidhe out of captured half-bloods who’d obey his every command. I’d used an Invocation to break the cauldron into pieces, and from Fionn’s reaction, it’d been permanent.

Nope. I wouldn’t be mentioning it to the faerie nobles. They’d do worse than kill me for it. The Sidhe prized their immortality above all else.

The Seelie noble jerked his head at me. “Human. You’re the one who wishes to speak to the Seelie Court?”

“My name is Ivy Lane,” I said.

“Lynn?” asked the warrior. “Another one? I thought I said don’t disturb the Court unless it’s an emergency.”

“What? I said, Ivy Lane. I’ve been granted an audience with your Court, according to Quentin.” I glanced down at the brownie. “Besides, it is an emergency.”

He squinted at me, then at the brownie. “Right. The Court has agreed to speak with one human, who claims to have information on the whereabouts of the Erlking’s missing ring. Correct?”

“Good enough,” I said, my heart sinking again. I was in their realm now, entirely at their mercy. No excuses would be enough to make up for what I’d done, but I hoped they’d be as reluctant to see Fionn take over their realm as I was to let him conquer mine.

“Very well,” said the knight. “Lord Kerien is currently taking all petitions from mortals.”

“It’s not a petition, it’s a warning,” I said.

Hope the guy listens to us. But I had one advantage: pure faeries, Sidhe or not, couldn’t lie. Not even under a vow.

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