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Wild Magic: The Gatekeeper's Fate Book 1 (Ebook)

Wild Magic: The Gatekeeper's Fate Book 1 (Ebook)

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Book 1 of 3: The Gatekeeper's Fate

Being the villain is easy. Being heroic is a thousand times harder.

Once, Holly Lynn was the Winter Gatekeeper, wielder of the powerful magic of the Unseelie Court. Now, she's shunned by humans and faeries alike, reduced to hunting troublemaking fae beasts to pay the bills and trying to convince her landlord not to kick out the traumatised teenage death faerie who's moved into her room.

When a serial killer starts picking off the local faeries, Holly's hopes of lying low are shattered. A local half-fae detective takes an interest in the case, and he seems to think Holly can help him solve it. The slight problem? Puck is a descendent of the notorious Robin Goodfellow, the master prankster from the Summer Court and sworn enemy of the Unseelie. If he finds out Holly's past, she can say goodbye to keeping her former vow to the Winter Court a secret.

With the clues to the killer's identity pointing directly to Faerie itself, though, Holly finds herself in a dilemma. She knows better than to make bargains with the fae, but to solve the murders and stop the killer's rampage, she might have no choice in the matter…

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Never make a promise to a faerie.

I’d learned the above lesson before I’d learned to walk, and nowadays, almost everyone agreed that it was better to anger a faerie than to be in their debt. Despite this, there were certain situations in which it would really help if I had access to the magic the fae had once granted me in exchange for the promise which bound my family to serve them.

Like today, for instance, when I’d been tasked with shutting down an illegal fae gambling den run entirely by redcaps. Two fae greeted me at the doorstep, their sharp teeth bared in identical grins. Pointed ears stuck out beneath crimson hats marked with the coppery stains of old blood. They wore ragged, sack-like garments which hung off their spindly bodies, and they might have seemed as fragile as small children if not for the fact that one of them carried a serrated knife with a wooden hilt, presumably to prevent the iron from burning its skin, or that said knife was pointed at my leg, the highest part of me the creature could reach.

“Get out of my pub,” growled the redcap. “Unless you’d like me to carve out your entrails and string them up on the walls.”

“No, thanks.” With one eye on the knife, I jabbed a finger over his shoulder. “That is the shoddiest glamour I’ve ever seen.”

The room behind him appeared to be empty at first glance, but if I looked out of the corner of my eye at the grimy tables, the chairs were suddenly occupied by all manner of lesser fae. Hobgoblins drank pints of ale, hulking ogres and trolls too big for the barstools stood at tables that came up to their knees, and a redcap wearing an oversized trench coat he must have “borrowed” from a human stood on top of the bar and yelled out bingo numbers at anyone within earshot.

The second redcap’s face fell. “It’s the carpets, isn’t it? I knew we should have gone for burgundy rather than crimson.”

His mate shot him a disgruntled look. “That wouldn’t have helped, dimwit. You can still see the bloodstains.”

It wasn’t the carpets that were the problem; the row of cages along the back wall was. Cages containing people. Hence my reason for being here. I didn’t care if the fae wanted to gamble away their spare time in the human realm, but kidnapping the locals was against magical law and patently unfair to boot, given that most of them wouldn’t be able to see past even the shakiest glamour. The odds of convincing a redcap to come quietly were lower than the odds of walking out of the faerie realm in the same state one walked into it, so I wasn’t holding out much hope for rescuing the humans without turning those carpets an even deeper shade of crimson.

Keeping a careful watch on the knife, I edged forward and closer to the room. One step caused the illusion covering the tables to waver like a rippling curtain. Amateur, if you asked me, like putting a pair of wings on a troll and calling it a piskie. I’d once been able to conjure up better glamours in my sleep, but these days, I had nothing but the false authority in my tone as I said, “Release those humans at once.”

The first redcap bared his teeth. “Why should we?”

“You’re breaking the laws of this realm, for a start.” I didn’t expect that argument to hold much weight, and sure enough, both of them burst into laughter like a pair of shrieking hyenas. With an eye-roll, I reached into my pocket for a sealed container of iron filings and popped off the lid.

When I raised my arm and scattered the iron fragments at the redcaps’ feet, the illusion masking the pub wavered before my eyes and then vanished altogether. The second redcap let out an indignant noise when one of the pieces of iron bounced off his spindly shoulder, leaving an ugly red mark behind. “You will pay for that, human.”

“We could lock you up in a cage too,” said the first redcap, his knife poking my knee through my jeans. “Once we’ve cut off a few limbs.”

“Which one do you want to do first?” said his friend eagerly. “The left arm, do you think?”

“Both arms.” The knife prodded at the joint of my arm. “I’ll take the left, and you can take the right.”

“I really wouldn’t.” Despite the sharp object digging into the skin of my arm beneath my thin coat, I had to suppress a sigh of exasperation. “Do you know who the Winter Gatekeeper is?”

The redcap’s grip on his weapon faltered. “The Unseelie Queen’s most favoured human?”

I suppressed a snort with difficulty. Even as Gatekeeper, I’d hardly been “favoured” in any sense of the word, though it was true that Winter’s monarch had even less regard for other humans than she did for me. “The very same. Did you know they say the Winter Gatekeeper can freeze the blood in your veins droplet by droplet or immobilise your neck until it snaps and takes your head along with it?”

There’d been a time when I’d had the magic to back up my threats, but as it was, the redcap’s brief moment of panic came to an abrupt halt when his friend exclaimed, “There is no Winter Gatekeeper any longer! The curse was broken.”

“That’s right!” said the other in gleeful tones. “There’s no such thing as a Gatekeeper.”

Damn. Ah, well, it had been worth a try. “Who told you that?”

“Everyone knows,” said the second redcap. “The Gatekeepers gave up their titles to stop the Courts from going to war. I wish that I could have feasted on the blood of that battlefield.”

“Oh, if only,” his friend said wistfully.

Bloody scavengers. Redcaps had once served my family and been loyal to the Winter Gatekeeper, but that arrangement had dissolved long before I’d become Gatekeeper myself. I hadn’t known these fae were plugged into Faerie’s gossip, but the breaking of the Gatekeeper’s curse had been monumental enough to reach even the most remote locations.

Abandoning all notions of liberating the humans without bloodshed, I said, “Gatekeeper or not, I’m going to give you a choice. Let those humans go or die. I’ll be generous and give you a second to think on your decision.”

Silence spilled through the pub, the hoarse shouts of bingo numbers and general chatter fading as the patrons finally realised their illusion had lifted and their illicit dealings were laid bare for the world to see. Some rose to their feet, while the redcap staff dropped their drink trays and skittered over to join their buddies by the door until a line of them barred the way into the pub.

A couple of them shrieked when they trod on the scattered iron fragments with their bare feet, and the others collectively lost their shit. Within seconds, a wall of pointy-eared creatures with knives and sharp teeth stood between me and the cages, interspersed with angry patrons.

So that’s how it was going to be.

I drew my iron knife from the handmade sheath at my waist. Unlike the redcap, I didn’t need to protect myself from being burned by the metal—one of the few perks of being fully human—but everyone with a smidgeon of sense backed away from me. I turned the knife over in my hand and held it point-forward, clearing a path to the cages.

“Easy does it.” I strode through their midst, my gaze trained on the miserable-looking humans. “See? Nobody gets hurt this way.”

Still, it came as no surprise when one of the redcaps tried to jump me from behind. My blade shot out, nicking the skin of his hand and causing him to drop his weapon. I’d barely left a scratch, but redcaps had a nose for fresh blood, and in an instant, a dozen pairs of eager eyes fixated on their friend. He hissed in annoyance, swatting away their grabbing hands, and then made another lunge for my leg in an attempt to trip me up.

I swung a booted foot at him, kicking him into the air and out of my path. Two more took his place, clawing at my legs, and instinct took over. A swipe of my knife brought a shower of crimson from their cut throats, and their bodies toppled backwards onto the floor.

Pandemonium broke out. The redcaps turned on their fallen companions with bloodthirsty cries, pulling off their hats in an attempt to soak them in the fresh blood. Turning my back on the unpleasant scene, I ran to the cages to free their unlucky captives. The redcaps hadn’t done a particularly thorough job in locking the cages, and it didn’t take long for me to pick the locks one at a time, occasionally sticking my knife in a redcap who got too close.

Even with their doors unlocked, the humans didn’t budge, hunched and shivering with terrified eyes. Poor things. They might be smarter than their captors, but humans were so damn vulnerable. When they weren’t walking obliviously into faerie traps, their slow reactions would do them in every time. Frustratingly, I knew that if I’d lost my Sight along with my powers, I might have ended up in the exact same position… except for one key difference.

The faeries hadn’t taken away my knowledge of how to kill them.

I sliced open the throat of another redcap and threw the body into the midst of the others then reached through the nearest cage door and grabbed the occupying human by the wrist, dragging him out on shaking legs. “Go on. Run straight for the iron near the door, and don’t stop.”

As he broke into a jerky run, some of the others snapped out of their shock. I kept a close eye on them as they climbed out of their cages to make sure they didn’t trip or get stabbed on the way out. When the cages were free of human inhabitants, I made to follow them, and a loud screech rose from somewhere behind me, causing me to pivot on my heel. One of the cages was still occupied, by a jet-black bird and not a person, its stubby clawed feet unable to get the door open. Shapeshifter fae? Or a bewitched human?

The crow screeched indignantly again, and I caved in. “I’ll let you out, but you’d better keep that beak away from me.”

I reached for the cage, and the bird beat its wings frantically at me as I picked the lock. The cage door sprang open and the bird toppled out, turning into a person as it did so. I staggered back under the weight of the lanky form of a teenage girl with long black hair, whose beseeching eyes looked up at me. “Help me.”

Then she fell unconscious, her head lolling over my arm.

You have got to be kidding me.

I staggered away from the cage, nearly tripping over a redcap in the process. Most had fled or passed out, drunk on the blood they’d devoured, but I had to watch my step to avoid dropping the kid. She might have been anywhere between twelve and fifteen, and while she looked fully human in this form, she was either a shifter or half-faerie. I’d bet money on the latter, given the circumstances in which I’d found her.

Out in the street, the humans had scattered, their survival instincts finally kicking in. While I fully intended to send the authorities to clean up the rest of the mess, leaving the girl here as redcap bait was out of the question. I racked my brains for ideas as to where to leave an abandoned half-fae and came up with exactly one option, so I slung her unconscious body over my shoulder and made my way to Edinburgh’s main half-blood territory. I figured she’d likely prefer to be with her fellow half-faeries rather than in a human orphanage, but even their own territory could be downright brutal on anyone who wandered in there alone.

I pushed open the thorn-covered gate to half-blood territory and headed to the house that belonged to Blaine Reyes, the person typically in charge of all matters involving abandoned half-faeries who had no knowledge of their parentage. Given the Sidhe’s proclivity for ditching their half-human offspring without warning, there were rather a lot of them. When she’d spoken, the girl had had an English accent, so she presumably wasn’t local, but it was hard to tell with the faeries.

Adjusting my grip on the unconscious teenager, I rapped on the wooden door with my knuckles. Blaine Reyes, a tall Summer half-faerie with silver hair and pale, elegant features, answered the door and raised his brows at me in surprise. “Holly Lynn? You need something?”

“Hey,” I said. “Sorry to bother you, but I have an unconscious half-faerie kid I found in a redcap den. I didn’t want to abandon her while I fetched the human authorities, but I figured she’d be better off staying here rather than with the humans.”

“Let me see.” He peered down at her face. “How do you know she’s half-fae?”

“She shifted into a crow.”

Blaine recoiled. “A crow?”

“Yes…” Had mentioning the shapeshifting been a mistake? I wouldn’t have thought a pair of wings would be a deal-breaker, considering half the territory’s inhabitants had claws or tails. “Why?”

“That is the Morrigan’s daughter,” said Blaine. “I won’t have her staying here on our territory.”

“What are you talking about?” The Morrigan? “How do you know whose daughter she is? She’s unconscious, for crying out loud.”

“The Morrigan’s feral child has been sighted several times in the area recently,” said Blaine. “By all accounts, she’s a soul-eating monster who’s a danger to all of us.”

“She’s a kid.”

“Then by all means, leave her with the humans.” He closed the door firmly, while the girl didn’t stir, unaware of the rejection.

“What the hell?” I gave the girl’s face a brief scan, trying to see the resemblance to the Morrigan, the shapeshifting menace who was feared by even most Unseelie faeries. I hadn’t known the queen of the death fae had any children, much less half-human ones, but half-faeries could be surprisingly superstitious for beings who lived in a magically created section of the city fuelled by the magic of the Ley Line running through the heart of Arthur’s Seat.

How had the daughter of the death fae’s queen ended up in Edinburgh of all places? Admittedly, the Unseelie Court’s darkest corner was hardly a decent place to grow up in, but I doubted the Morrigan had abandoned her in the human realm out of the kindness of her cold, shrivelled heart. Shaking my head, I turned my back on Blaine’s house and began to retrace my steps to the gate.

I halted at the sound of rustling from among the nearby bushes. For a heartbeat, I thought I saw a pair of eyes watching me, but when I looked closer, nobody was there. Still, I knew if I left the kid alone here, she’d end up dead within hours, if not minutes. Wondering if I shouldn’t have just let the human authorities take care of her instead, I carried her out of half-blood territory via the gates and resigned myself to leaving a teenage harbinger of death in my house while I went to report the redcaps to the local mercenaries who’d posted the job listing. I figured she couldn’t do any harm while she was unconscious, at least, but it’d be a fine way to end the day if I got kicked out of my house for a brief act of kind-heartedness.

As I turned the corner into my street, the wind blew a bright mass of leaves past me, painted in autumnal shades of orange and red like leaping flames. A shiver ran down my spine, and I quickened my pace until I reached home.

My house was a rental, shared with two mercenaries whose unpredictable work shifts ensured we rarely ran into one another—which was more than fine by me. I was theoretically part of the mercenaries’ collective myself, but mercs were dull as shit to hang out with and were often as unscrupulous as the monsters they hunted. While their job was technically to ensure ordinary humans felt safe enough to sleep at night, the dudes I lived with were more interested in seeing how much loot they could smuggle out on the side, so the house was full of random crap like piles of jewels from trolls’ lairs and pilfered faerie weapons. Meanwhile, their favourite activity was comparing the size of the teeth they’d pulled from monsters they killed and having mock sword fights that left holes in the walls and furniture.

The mercs wouldn’t be happy with my new guest, but thankfully, nobody was in the house when I entered, so I carried her to my room without being waylaid. The cupboard-sized room contained little more than the most basic wooden furniture and the paltry belongings I’d managed to salvage from the ruins the faeries had left of my house after the curse had broken. I did at least have my own en-suite bathroom, so I stopped there first to clean the blood off my hands and face.

Even after several months, the muddy-brown eyes which stared at me from the mirror brought an unpleasant jolt. I barely remembered the days before my eyes had turned icy blue with Winter magic, while my forehead seemed bare without the swirling silver mark of the Winter Gatekeeper. Without the magical means to dye my hair black, it’d begun to fade back to brown, though I kept it short enough that nobody could tell.

Honestly, the biggest casualty from the loss of my magic was my fashion sense. These days, I lived in threadbare hoodies and jeans and boots which became waterlogged whenever it rained—which was often. At one time, I’d been able to use glamour to turn the plainest outfit into finery suitable for interacting with Sidhe nobles, but I’d settle for clothes which weren’t riddled with holes and faded bloodstains and which didn’t hang off me. I’d lost a good ten pounds or more since my last trip to Faerie, and given the tall, strong frame I’d inherited from my mother, half-starved was not a good look on me.

At least I had a roof over my head, which was more than I could say for my guest. She lay unconscious on the bed, her dark hair spilling like a waterfall over my pillow. If I hadn’t known her for a half-faerie already, her fine glossy curls and porcelain skin would have given the game away. She made an incongruous sight on the sagging mattress of my secondhand bed, but this was all I had. The remnants of a life I’d tried to rebuild, as one might plant a seed to grow into a tree… while trying to forget the Winter faeries’ tendency to strangle any life before it could take root in the ground.

When I looked at the sleeping kid, though, I had a hard time imagining her as an immortal devourer of souls.

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