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Emma L Adams

Faerie Blood: The Changeling Chronicles Book 1 (Paperback)

Faerie Blood: The Changeling Chronicles Book 1 (Paperback)

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Book 1 of 7: The Changeling Chronicles

I’m Ivy Lane, and if I never see another faerie again, it’ll be too soon.

Twenty years after the faeries came and destroyed the world as we knew it, I use my specialist skills to keep rogue faeries in line and ensure humans and their magically gifted neighbours can coexist (relatively) peacefully.

Nobody knows those skills came from the darkest corner of Faerie itself.

When a human child disappears, replaced with a faerie changeling, I have to choose between taking the safe road or exposing my own history with the faeries to the seductively dangerous head of the Mage Lords. He’s the exact kind of distraction I don’t need, but it’s work with him or lose my chance to save the victims. It’ll take all my skills to catch the kidnappers and stop Faerie’s dark denizens overrunning the city — but if the faerie lords find out about the magic I stole last time I went into their realm, running won’t save me this time…

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When I was sixteen years old, I walked out of hell, thinking I’d finally be free of the faeries.

Ten years later, the joke was on me. Instead of spending my Saturday morning sleeping in, there I was, deep in a troll’s lair with a piskie hovering over my shoulder.

“He took my friend’s charm,” whined the piskie.

“Yes, you said.” I hoped the faerie wasn’t mistaken, if just because it’d mean I’d climbed into a troll’s nest for nothing. I gritted my teeth, sorting through the array of junk the troll had gathered, searching for the tell-tale glint of a spell. Charms were notoriously tricky to get right, but given the wad of cash on offer, this one must be the real deal. I’d get a nice bonus if I returned it to its rightful owner. 

In the suburbs, you took what work you could get. Even skulking around a troll’s nest. I’d had to wait until it went off hunting before I risked sneaking in. I’d rank the danger level up there with putting a harness on a kelpie. But at least kelpies didn’t smell like a blocked drain. Grimacing, I shoved a heap of what looked like human clothes aside—hopefully stolen, not the remnants of past victims. Trying to make faeries obey human laws was tricky at the best of times, but I was not sifting through troll dung to figure out if it had recently consumed a human being or not. Luckily, that job fell to the clean-up squad, who were one rank below me on the less-than-impressive ladder of poor souls freelancing for Larsen Crawley.

The word “freelancer” sounded like it ought to mean something like “dragon slayer”. In my case, that was almost literally true. But right now, the only things getting slayed were my already tattered new jeans and shoes. The low ceiling forced me to kneel in unappealing wetness to sift through another heap of old junk. Trolls had magpie-like tendencies for reasons I couldn’t fathom. I shoved a pile of expensive-looking jewels aside and found what I was looking for. 

“Gotcha.” I picked up the small, glinting cylindrical charm. “What kind of spell is this?”

“Beautification,” said the piskie.

That figured. Damned half-faeries were posers and narcissists, one and all. I slid the charm into my pocket and headed towards the exit.

A shuffling noise ahead made me stop. Oh, shit. I’d planned to confront the creature later on for extra cash, but definitely not here in its cramped nest. Trolls were notoriously territorial. Great job there, Ivy.

Damn. The ceiling was high enough to account for the troll’s hulking frame, but the nest contained nowhere for me to hide. Which meant I’d have to break my own rule.

Don’t spill faerie blood in the mortal realm.

I reached for the sword I kept strapped to my waist. I don’t kill if I can avoid it, but it’s amazing how quickly an adversary will back off if you’re pointing a sword at them.

As per usual, I’d hoped for too much. The troll saw the blade and bellowed, swinging a giant fist at me. I ducked, cursing the cave’s tight walls. I needed to get to the exit, but the troll didn’t seem inclined to move out the way. As the light filtering through the cracks in the ceiling landed on the creature, it was revealed in all its ugly glory. Trolls resembled misshapen boulders, which meant none of my hits would do any damage. Its huge, lumpy body was resilient to virtually anything. Except—like all faerie-kind, with no exception—iron.

I repositioned myself, raising my sword, hoping it’d have the good sense to move. Unfortunately, expecting good sense from a troll is like expecting manners from a brain-eating boggart.

Rather than ducking, the troll took the hit. I hadn’t put all my weight behind it, but a few years swinging a blade in defence of your life makes it difficult to hold back. Especially with faeries. The bright spray of blood made the troll scream in alarm, stomping its huge, hairy feet. Its fists drove me against the wall, step by step, until I stood ankle-deep in… troll dung.

Worse, the piskie had disappeared into thin air, leaving me to deal with the fallout.

“Take a hint,” I snarled, swinging the blade again. A second spray of blood made the troll fall over its own feet towards me, driving me further back into the dung heap. “I’m sparing your life, you idiotic creature.”

Said idiotic creature aimed another punch at my head. I ducked, and the troll’s fist went through the back wall instead. The troll roared and tried to pull its hand free, sending bits of crumbling rock over my head.

Abandoning all restraint, I dropped to the ground, crawled between its legs and pointed my blade at its spine. 

The troll flailed its free arm, howling—its other hand was stuck in the wall. I’d have laughed if I wasn’t doing my absolute best to forget what I’d just crawled through. 

My blade gleamed, even covered in blood. Irene was my beauty: my faithful companion through ten years of fighting the evil forces of Faerie and laying down the law.

“Enough,” I said in my most dangerous voice. “I’m confiscating the charm you stole. A representative from the city’s council will be here shortly to question you and search for anything else you might have stolen.” I suspected everything here in its nest was stolen, but I couldn’t help being fervently glad the interrogation didn’t fall on me. No. I was just the sword-for-hire, the runner of dangers. Someone who played nicer with others would be in charge of the interrogation.

As for me, I gave the troll one last warning tap on the spine with my sword. Faint red lines rose where I’d hit it: a result of faeries’ incurable allergy to iron.

“Evil Sidhe!” wailed the troll.

“I’m not Sidhe,” I said. “I’m human.”

The hilt of my sword struck the back of its head, and the troll crumpled, its hand still wedged in the earthen wall.

I grimaced. Blood and troll dung covered every inch of my clothes, which meant risking the landlord seeing me walk back into the flat in this state. I’d figured the job wouldn’t go smoothly and had set up a cleansing spell to remove the blood from my clothes ready for when I got home. Once I’d dealt with that, I’d collect my bounty. Faerie blood attracted all kinds of trouble. The kind worse than a pissed-off troll.

Twenty years on from the faeries’ arrival and we’re still cleaning up their mess. Summer and Winter Sidhe might have come to Earth to stop humans destroying one another, but when they buggered off home, they left us saddled with their henchmen squatting under our bridges and nesting in our rafters. Most of the faeries who live around here have no allegiance either to the Seelie or Unseelie courts, because there’s no way back to Faerie. They probably fare better in our realm because there’s a marginally lower chance of being flayed alive.

Isabel sometimes says faeries got the raw end of the deal. I’m not inclined to agree.

The piskie reappeared at my side as I set up a ward outside the troll’s nest in case it woke up. “Thanks for the help,” I said.

The piskie fluttered its tiny gossamer wings. “I am honoured, human.”

I rolled my eyes. Faeries are the most literal creatures in existence.

My flat’s on the east side of what used to be a suburb of south Birmingham. After the hot mess the faeries left behind when they left following the invasion, most newly exposed supernaturals laid claim to various parts of the newly created town. I lived between witch and shifter territory, while Larsen’s place was situated between shifter and necromancer territories, right at the town’s edge. In other words, the place there was most likely to be trouble. The building I approached was a squat red-brick construction. It served as the base for Larsen’s offices as well as the clean-up squad, with various facilities open to freelance employees like the gymnasium and the target practise hall. I spent half my time there when I wasn’t on jobs.

Larsen accosted me at the doors, wearing his usual scowl. His sloppy T-shirt and jeans getup wouldn’t be out of place in a seedy bar. Then again, the local supernatural police unit’s place was hardly an elite establishment. Anyone who couldn’t afford to hire a mage to solve their supernatural problems came to Larsen, but everybody knew his place was a last resort.

“There you are. I was beginning to think I’d need to send someone after you.” He looked me up and down in the suspicious way I always hated, like he was looking for an excuse to lock me away. Why he thought being the head of what amounted to a magical garbage disposal unit was worth lording it over everyone else was a mystery to me.

“I couldn’t come here covered in blood,” I countered. I’d showered and changed, leaving my ruined clothes to soak, and cleaned away every trace of the faeries. I still felt like the stench clung to my skin, though. Places like the troll’s nest smelled more like a sewer than pure Faerie, but my nose is sensitive to every trace. The faint aroma of decaying magic made my skin crawl like it wanted to leap clear of my body.

“Blood?” Larsen raised an eyebrow. “You were supposed to retrieve a stolen object, not cause a scene. Especially after last time.”

“Don’t worry. No one’s hurt. I got the charm, knocked out the troll and put a ward around its nest. When clean-up go down there later, there are a bunch of other items I’m pretty sure are stolen.”

“And just how did you take down a troll?”

“I cut it a little.”

“I thought you did.” He gave me another of his suspicious stares, eyes lingering on the sword re-strapped to my waist. I met his gaze, daring him to ask. My cover story was airtight, and I was hardly the only human capable of defending herself from supernatural creatures. I’d had more incentive than most.

Regularly escaping intact from fights with Faerie’s biggest, ugliest denizens tends to make people ask curious questions. Mostly it’s a combination of witch charms and a handy skill with a blade. Larsen wouldn’t know I had faerie magic unless I hit him in the face with it. Humans, even witches and shifters, aren’t Sighted.

“Come in,” said Larsen.

I walked in through the grimy glass doors. A gorgeous woman waited in the lobby—the unnatural kind of gorgeous that practically advertised her Summer Faerie heritage with a neon sign. Golden curls flowed to her waist, and her ears were slightly rounded. She couldn’t pass as human, as far as half-bloods went.

“You found my charm?”

I pulled out the sparkling object. “No problem. This is a beautifying spell, isn’t it?”

“Yes. I need that.” She snatched it from my hands. Please. She thought she needed a beautification spell? Her smile might have caused a traffic accident, if she wore one. As it was, her full lips were curled down in a melancholy manner. Nobody pulled off melodrama quite like faeries.

It’s a common trait in half-faeries whose parentage is from Summer or Winter, one I’d seen a lot. Those who didn’t accept the human side of themselves often went out of their way to seem ‘pure faerie’ in any way possible. She was stunning. Model-worthy gorgeous. But she couldn’t see past her own blood, which would never be good enough for Summer.

She might have sent me crawling into a troll’s nest and showed zero gratitude for it, but I knew too well how easily the words of the Sidhe could worm their way into your head. I held her gaze. “Take it from me, though—you really don’t need it.”

My good deed for the day done, I left the building before Larsen could jump on me again. I needed a stiff drink.

Stopping at my flat to change into something nice—finding a clean, bloodstain-free outfit was unsurprisingly difficult—I headed out to the local pub.

The Singing Banshee was a dingy place that catered to supernaturals and humans alike, so I wouldn’t get too many stares walking in armed to the teeth. Two knives concealed up my sleeves, two at my ankles. Boots rather than strappy shoes, jeans rather than a short skirt. Long brown hair tied back, just in case. Simple, practical. The bartender, Steve, knew who I was, so I perched on a stool in the bar’s corner, safely hidden amongst the artificial smoke the pub used to hide supernaturals’ auras so they wouldn’t pounce on one another. My own magical aura was only visible to people with the Sight and most faeries would have more sense than to wander into an establishment like this, but I appreciated the anonymity.

Two shots later and my annoyance faded to a pleasant buzz. Nobody approached me at the bar. I’d acquired a reputation since a sleazy necromancer tried to grope me a couple of years ago and triggered the stinging spell I kept hidden on me. The story ended up being exaggerated. He’d regained the use of his hands again… eventually.

Being a weekend, the pub was more crowded than usual—scruffy shifters hanging out near the pool table, witches sipping cocktails in groups, and even the odd vampire sulking in a corner. I didn’t expect to see the mages until a flock of them walked in, all long coats and posh, cultured accents. This wasn’t your typical mage hangout, so it came as no surprise when they started whining loudly about the terrible lighting. I liked this old, dingy place precisely because mages didn’t come inside. Their territory was way over the other side of town, so what the hell they were doing here was anyone’s guess.

A couple of them shot cursory glances my way, but I ignored them, concentrating on my drink and glad of the low light level. The word ‘necromancer’ floated my way and I tuned into their conversation long enough to gather they’d had a disagreement with the leader of the local Guild of Necromancy again. Luckily, the necromancers never came in here either. Nothing ruins a night out quite like an oncoming undead horde.

After I’d finished my vodka and coke and was about to quit, the mages traipsed off, still complaining that the place was a shithole.

The bartender, Steve, rolled his eyes after them. “Those mages think they’re too good for everywhere.”

“About right,” I said.

“I heard Larsen was being a dick again," said Steve, pouring me another shot. “This one’s on the house.”

“Cheers,” I said. Steve had been on my side ever since I’d helped him kick out a piskie infestation a few years ago. “I needed that. Ended up neck-deep in a troll’s nest earlier.”

“You ought to ask for hazard pay,” he said. “It’s exploitation, what Larsen does.”

“It’s work.” I shrugged. “I get the benefits and accept the hazards. If I asked for a raise I’d be out on the streets.” I had no intention of ending up out there again. I’d grabbed the job ten years ago when people were desperate enough to hire anyone to help with their supernatural-related problems, even a sixteen-year-old girl. I’d clung to the position ever since, though I wondered why I bothered more than I cared to admit. I grimaced as I knocked back the shot, knowing Isabel would accuse me of running away from my problems again.

I don’t see anything wrong with running away from problems that’d happily eat me alive.

A shout rang across the bar and I snapped my head around, the back of my neck prickling. My eyes traced over the crowd until they landed on a short, dishevelled man in jeans and jacket, too far away for me to make out his features.

“Not Swanson again,” said Steve, resting his elbows on the counter.

I turned back to the bar, watching the man out of the corner of my eye. “Who?”

“Swanson. Guy over there… his kid went missing last night.”

A chill raced down my spine. Hearing those words always sent my mind careening in directions I didn’t want it to, even though children disappearing was hardly uncommon here in the suburbs where supernaturals and humans mingled and the faeries had left irreversible damage.

Swanson stood, moving into the light so I had a better view of the scene. The man he spoke to, who’d been hidden in shadow, wore a suit entirely too well-tailored for an establishment like this. His strong-boned face, well-combed hair and smart attire would have drawn my attention even if he hadn’t pulled out the sword.

It’s not unheard of to see someone carrying a sword on the street. It’s less common to see someone pull a hand-and-a-half-long sword out of thin air. 

My second thought was that the first guy had picked a fight with the worst possible opponent in the room—including me.

I kept stock-still. If I moved now, I’d draw attention to myself. Mage Dude lazily pointed the sword, but from his stance, I could tell he knew how to use it. If the other guy so much as moved, his opponent could lunge in one quick motion and take his head clean off.

Yeah, I shouldn’t have left the flat tonight.

I couldn’t look away. It was like watching the burning aftermath of a car wreckage. The guy who’d yelled sank back in his seat, stark terror flitting across his expression.

“Shit,” he said. “I didn’t know you were—”

“Lord Colton, the head of the mages,” said Steve, behind me. “Oh, boy. He’s in trouble.”

I felt the blood drain from my own face. The guy was the head of the goddamned mages, and he’d just walked right past me. If he’d seen me… if he’d seen the tell-tale glow of faerie magic around me… my cover would be blown. 

I looked down, the table cold against my hands as I gripped the edges. Few things in this world scare me, but this particular master mage had acquired a reputation and a half in the last few months he’d been in office. Rumour had it he kept a bunch of troll heads hanging from the corridor walls inside the mages’ headquarters. Yet I didn’t give a rat’s ass whether he knew about my unconventional magic—I cared more about word reaching places I didn’t want it to.

I glanced up at the Mage Lord, unable to help myself, but whatever glow magic cast around him was smothered by the dim bar lights. He wasn’t all that old, not like the last Mage Lord I’d had the displeasure of meeting. He didn’t look mad, either, but then again, appearances can be deceptive. Anyone who’s been around faeries knows that.

Lord Colton leaned across the table to watch the man who’d shouted at him, who now looked like he was pretending to be part of the furniture.

“If you’d like to have a more civilised conversation before things get nasty, what did you wish to ask me?”

“My kid,” said the guy. “He went missing a week ago. The police are doing nothing, your people are doing nothing, and we’re out of options.”

“I thought that’s what you shouted at me,” said the Mage Lord. “Missing persons aren’t my area, unless you wish to hire one of my mages. We charge reasonable rates.”

“Do you, now?” The man appeared to recover some of his confidence, leaning forward. “Your doorman slammed the door in my face.”

Oh, man. He’d picked a fight with the wrong guy, that was for sure. Mage Dude didn’t look angry—that I could tell from this distance, anyway—but the sword’s gleam had drawn the attention of everyone in the bar. Most people seemed glad of the fake smoke to hide behind. Including me, come to that. I couldn’t help giving the Mage Lord a cursory examination, wondering what his gift was. And also wondering why all their leaders seemed to be Generic Thirty-Something Man in Suit. This man, though… I wouldn’t call him generic. The light of his blade was reflected in stormy grey eyes visible even through the smoke, and barely-restrained power crackled above his shoulders like he’d brought a full lightning storm right into the bar. How in the name of the Sidhe had nobody noticed him before?

To have so much power and still be able to sneak around unseen made the man possibly the most dangerous human magic user I’d ever seen.

His voice, however, betrayed nothing. “If you wish to hire one of my mages, please address all correspondence to my receptionist, Wanda. I don’t take bribes, and unless magic is involved in this case, it’s absolutely none of my business.”

Friendly. What a piece of work. And I’d thought the other mages were bad. Why had they gone while their leader stayed behind, anyway? Weird. Missing kid or not, threatening the head of the mages was a good way to end up with your head on a pike.

I shouldn’t have had the impulse to get involved. Gritting my teeth, I ducked my head as Mage Dude’s gaze swept the bar. Go away, I thought at him.

At last he left, his long coat sweeping behind him. Like the sword wasn’t dramatic enough.

I breathed out, the tension in the room easing. Everyone returned to their previous conversations, though considerably muted. Mages never come in here, I heard more than once. Creepy as the necromancers, they are.

“Scary dude,” said Steve. “I didn’t even see him come in.”

“Probably blended into the crowd,” I said. Or used a mage trick. Like with the sword. What the hell kind of magic was that? Most mage magic was flashes and sparks, fire and lightning. Not screwing with the laws of physics. Magic rarely astounded me these days, but that was a hell of a party trick.

“Right, I’m off.” I hopped off my stool. I’d had entirely too much excitement for what was supposed to be a quiet night off. Isabel was off at a coven meeting, so I’d have an early night before anything else happened.

Wishful thinking.

I trailed up to the flat, scanning the shadows out of habit. Our small flat lay in the grey area between witch and shifter territories, the best we could get for as low a price as possible, so occasionally, nasties from work followed me home. Wards blazed from every corner, protecting us from just about every kind of supernatural threat, and an unbroken ring of magic-forged iron also surrounded the place. Just in case. The garden was empty save for some flowerbeds of herbs Isabel used for her spells. The closest I’d come to telling her about Faerie was when I’d explained why I’d prefer not to have plants inside the house. The scars all over my body from a bad experience involving a faerie’s magical thorns turning me into a human pincushion spoke for themselves. But even Isabel didn’t know how it had really happened.

Once over the boundary, I relaxed my guard and approached the doorstep. Then I stopped, heart sinking, as a figure stepped from the shadows.

Angry Dude Swanson from the pub waited outside my flat.

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