Things are looking up.
For the first time in what feels like years, October "Toby" Daye has been able to pause long enough to take a breath and look at her life and she likes what she sees. She has friends. She has allies. She has a squire to train and a King of Cats to love, and maybe, just maybe, she can let her guard down for a change.
Or not. When Queen Windermere's seneschal is elf-shot and thrown into an enchanted sleep by agents from the neighboring Kingdom of Silences, Toby finds herself in a role she never expected to play: that of a diplomat. She must travel to Portland, Oregon, to convince King Rhys of Silences not to go to war against the Mists. But nothing is that simple, and what October finds in Silences is worse than she would ever have imagined.
How far will Toby go when lives are on the line, and when allies both old and new are threatened by a force she had never expected to face again? How much is October willing to give up, and how much is she willing to change? In Faerie, what's past is never really gone.
It's just waiting for an opportunity to pounce.
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ONE March 11th, 2013
Thus he that overruled I oversway’d,
—William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis.
“So how long are you and the kitty-cat plannin’ on doing this whole ‘engagement’ thing?” Danny punctuated his words with a sweep of one heavy hand. The motion neatly swatted the enormous black dog that had been leaping for my head out of the air, sending it crashing to the ground. It yelped. Danny pointed at it, saying sternly, “Stay down, ya big mutt!”
“Could we focus on the Mauthe Doog for right now, and talk about my engagement later?” I asked, as I swung my sword at another of the shaggy canines. It dodged easily. They all had. I wasn’t as good with a blade as Danny was with his hands, and in the end, I was just too slow. “I don’t want to be torn to shreds because you’re planning floral arrangements!”
I would normally have felt bad about attacking dogs with swords. I like dogs. Most dogs aren’t feral teleporters the size of small ponies. Human animal rights groups have very different problems than fae ones. For one thing, most human animal rights groups don’t have to worry as much about being eaten.
“I’m just sayin’, maybe you need to start talking about dates.” Danny grabbed another dog by the tail, scolding, “No. Bad. We don’t eat people.”
The dog snarled and snapped at him, not quite managing to twist around enough to sink its teeth into his arm. That was a pity. Danny’s a Bridge Troll, with the solid, concrete-like skin to prove it. If the dog had tried to take a bite out of him, it would have probably broken several teeth, and made itself a lot less dangerous to me.
With most people, it’s unfair for me to expect them to play shield. I heal faster than anyone else I’ve ever met, to the point where if I watch closely I can actually see my skin knitting back together—and trust me, that’s even more unnerving than it sounds. Danny is one of the few exceptions to this rule. He’s huge, imposing, and virtually indestructible. He heals slower than I do, but that doesn’t matter, because there’s almost nothing that can actually injure him. All of this makes him uniquely well-suited to being my partner when I have to do something ridiculously dangerous—like, say, clearing out a pack of Mauthe Doog that should never have been roving the salt flats of Marin.
Not that we were out there alone. My squire, Quentin Sollys, and my boyfriend-slash-fiancé, Tybalt, were about fifty yards away, dealing with their own contingent of black dogs. Quentin had his sword, and was handling his share of the problem with a grace and finesse that I will probably never possess, even if I live to be a thousand—although he hadn’t managed to land a hit, either. The dogs were just too fast for something as clumsy as a sword. Tybalt was having better luck. He had shifted far enough into his feline mien that his hands had become heavy with claws and his mouth bristled with teeth, and he was taking out his share of the Mauthe Doog in the classic cat-meets-dog fashion. I could hear his feral snarls, and the dogs’ pained yelps, all the way down the beach.
Mauthe Doog are native to a few small islands in Avalon, one of the deeper realms of Faerie. All the deeper realms were sealed by Oberon centuries ago, as part of the process of locking up the house and hiding the valuables before he went on an extended vacation, leaving his descendants to fend for ourselves. Most of the really dangerous monsters fell under the “valuables” category, and were shut off from the rest of us, leaving our asses unchewed and our pets uneaten. Unfortunately, there’d been an incident about nine months ago involving an uncontrolled, overpowered teleporter named Chelsea Ames. Chelsea was strong enough to rip holes in those closed walls between the realms, leading to leakage from all the deep, dark places into the Summerlands, the last accessible Faerie country. Which also happened to be the one closest to the mortal world. Which meant that once something was there, it could easily wind up here.
We’d managed to stop Chelsea before she could completely destabilize Faerie, leading to the loss of the Summerlands, or worse. That didn’t do anything to stuff whatever had already managed to come through back into the places where it belonged. Sylvester, my currently semi-estranged liege lord, wound up adopting an Afanc, a docile lake creature big enough to squash cars. The local pixie tribes swelled by a factor of five, and promptly began battling each other for territory, shrieking in hypersonic voices and stabbing each other with tiny poisoned spears. And those of us unlucky enough to be on-call as knights errant or heroes of the realm got to spend a lot of time playing mediator between the warring swarms.
Guess what I do for a living. Lucky me.
“Toby, watch your back!”
Danny’s shout caused me to whip around, sword raised defensively. The leaping Mauthe Doog rebounded off the blade with a yelp, leaving a smear of red-black blood behind. The fae dog retreated a few steps, alternately whining and growling. I stared in surprise at the blood on the blade. It smelled like hot copper and distant fens, a rich, boggy smell that was as familiar as it was foreign.
They had been moving too fast before for me to draw blood. Danny had been doing a lot of damage, but it had all been blunt force trauma. Not much blood in that sort of fight.
“Danny, cover me,” I said, and brought the sword to my mouth.
“You’re not gonna—aw, shit, you are. That’s gross,” grumbled the Bridge Troll, and moved to shield me from the remaining dogs as I licked the blood from the side of my sword.
Faerie is a funny place. There are hundreds of different types of fae, all descended from the First Three: Oberon, Maeve, and Titania. We can look different enough from one another that it’s impossible to believe we could be related, much less share the same origin, but it’s true. And all of us have our own special talents to help us survive. Some are shapeshifters, like Tybalt. Others are built to last, like Danny. The rest of us have to depend on subtler magic. Like blood.
My kind of fae, the Dóchas Sidhe, are the best blood-workers of all. The fact that I’m a changeling—part human, part fae, although the fae part of me is getting stronger all the time, at the inevitable expense of my humanity—has never been enough to keep me from accessing the magic my lineage is heir to, even when I would have been better off leaving that magic alone. The fact that I hate the sight of blood is neither here nor there. If anything, it’s proof that the universe has a sense of humor.
The Mauthe Doog’s blood was tart and faintly bitter, like it had been tainted by some unknown substance. I closed my eyes as I swallowed, trying to find something—anything—that would tell me what the dogs wanted, or how to make them stop attacking joggers and eating people’s housecats. Instead, I found my own face, distorted by the Mauthe Doog’s fear until it became the visage of a monster. Danny loomed behind me in the red blood haze of memory, a walking mountain that dealt out death with every blow.
“They’re terrified,” I said distantly, only barely aware that my lips were moving. I swallowed hard, trying to chase away the shreds of blood memory. A faint headache was growing in my temples, warning me that I was pushing the limits of my powers again. Blood magic is hard on a body—harder, it seems, than regenerating most of my skin, or repeatedly healing broken bones. Louder, I repeated, “They’re terrified!”
“What?” The low rumble of Danny’s voice pulled me all the way back into the present. I opened my eyes and dropped my sword in the same motion.
The sound of the blade hitting the ground seemed louder than it was. Even Tybalt stopped his snarling, head whipping around as he stared in my direction. His ears were better than mine under the best of circumstances, and in his partially-transformed state, his hearing would be especially sharp. That was a good thing. I didn’t want to yell.
“They’re scared,” I said, lowering myself to a crouch. The three Mauthe Doog who were in any shape to fight watched me warily, but didn’t attack. I think they were just relieved that I wasn’t holding a sword anymore. “We’ve been acting like they were animals because they’re not shapeshifters, and that was sort of right: they are animals. They’re monsters. The Law doesn’t protect them, because they can’t claim its protection. But they’re not dumb animals, and they’re not attacking people out of malice. They’re doing it because they’re scared out of their minds.”
“What do you mean?” rumbled Danny.
“Imagine going from one of the deep realms—a place where there’s never been an Industrial Revolution, no people, no pollution, no cars—to modern-day Marin in the blink of an eye, just because you were standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.” I extended my hand toward the nearest Mauthe Doog, fighting not to let my nervousness show. I could probably grow back any fingers the big dog decided to bite off. Probably. I’d never actually experimented with regenerating limbs before, and this would be a lousy way to find out where the limits of my healing powers were.
“So you’re sayin’ that these are somebody’s pets?” Danny actually sounded halfway excited now. He had a big heart to go with his big body—and given that he was almost eight feet tall, that meant he had a lot of heart. He also ran the only Barghest Rescue Society in existence. He was supposedly trying to find homes for all his semi-canine, scorpion-tailed monstrosities, but since most Bridge Trolls didn’t live in houses with backyards and everyone who isn’t a Bridge Troll has issues with venomous pets, he hadn’t managed to adopt one out in the whole time that he’d been keeping them. I wasn’t sure he really wanted to anymore.
“I’m saying they used to be, a long time ago, before we went away and left them all alone.” Sometimes I questioned Oberon’s wisdom in sealing the deeper realms. Yeah, he kept the kids away from the guns and liquor, proverbially speaking, but he’d also kept them away from their quiet spaces and favorite toys. More, he’d locked them out while locking their companion animals in. Even fae creatures can live forever, under the right circumstances. How long could an abandoned fae dog wait for its master before it decided to turn loneliness into rage?
I turned my attention to the injured Mauthe Doog. “Hi,” I said, as gently as I could. “I’m sorry we hurt you. You scared us.”
Danny snorted. “They did more’n scare us.”
“Danny, hush,” I hissed—but he was right. Queen Arden Windermere in the Mists had asked me to gather my friends and take care of the Mauthe Doog problem in Marin after the third mortal jogger had come staggering back to his car raving about disappearing dogs with teeth like daggers. The fact that he’d been lucky to encounter the Mauthe Doog instead of something nastier—they’re not the only breed of fae dog, and some of their cousins are venomous—probably didn’t occur to him. He’d been so focused on convincing people that he wasn’t crazy that he’d actually managed to stammer his story to a local newscaster before he was whisked off to a hospital. Arden had called me immediately. I was a hero of the realm, after all, which made this my problem, whether I wanted it to be or not.
I had turned around and called for backup. Which is maybe not a very heroic thing to do, but is definitely the sensible thing to do, and if there’s one thing my friends and allies have been pounding into my head for the last four years, it’s the need for support when I’m going into a dangerous situation. Some people call it personal growth. I call it the slowly dawning understanding that I enjoy being alive, and that it’s easier to stay that way when I have people to help me.
The Mauthe Doog was still watching me warily, its ears pressed down flat against its head. All of them were about the size of healthy Rottweilers, but with thick, shaggy black coats that would have looked more at home on a Muppet. The other two had fallen back farther, whining in confusion. At least they weren’t attacking us anymore.
Excerpted from "A Red-Rose Chain"
Copyright © 2015 Seanan McGuire.
Excerpted by permission of DAW.
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