Authors: Christopher Shields
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Christopher Shields
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of the publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the Author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Contact the Author at www.wealdfaejournals.com
Cover Art © 2013 by Christopher Shields
Cover Art by Derek McCumber
Editor Richard Shelton
To Mike and Priscilla, my family,
who are also my friends,
and to Susan and Summer
, my friends,
who are in every way my family:
I would accomplish nothing without you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
—William Ernest Henley,
Invictus (IV, Echoes)
A Book of Verses
New York: Scribner & Welford, 1888
he Florida sun felt warm on my skin, like a favorite blanket wrapped gently around my body. I watched the small wisps of clouds drift east to west a mile above me. Mitch yelled at his friends, calling plays in a makeshift game of beach football. Curling my fingers in the coarse sand, I tried to ignore him and focus on the crashing, relaxing sound of the surf. The waves were already getting bigger than usual. They’d be larger still in a few days’ time.
“Set, hut,” Mitch hollered.
Unhappy with the wide-open receiver he had racing down the sandy gridiron, Mitch tucked the ball into the crook of his elbow and shot forward, dodging one defender, plowing over another.
Trevor, a shaggy-looking blond kid with buckteeth, gave Mitch a fist bump in reward for his triumphant touchdown. Mitch had been scoring a lot lately. He was taller than the other eleven-year-old boys, and much stronger. Still a gentle spirit off the field, his competitive nature during games, even impromptu beach football, reminded me of me.
“He grew a lot in Arkansas,” Lizbeth said, holding her sunglasses against her nose before settling back into her lounge.
“Yeah, a lot changed in Arkansas,” I said.
Lizbeth smiled, revealing her short, gleaming white teeth. “I’m just glad you came home. I still can’t believe you lived in that place for two years.”
I exhaled loudly—a signal to lay off.
“Okay, okay, I’m just saying,” she said defensively.
“Yeah, I know, but you’ve been saying it every day for eight months—ever since I got back.”
“Maggie’s right, lay off,” Megan chimed in.
Ignoring Megan, Lizbeth said, “Have I? That often? Well, must be true.”
I flicked sand on her wet-looking arms.
“Watch it,” she said, brushing the particles away.
“I don’t get it. Why do you insist we lay out but cover yourself in so much sun screen? A little color wouldn’t hurt you a bit.”
She grinned, rolling her eyes up into her head. “You suck.”
Lizbeth’s pure white skin didn’t fare well in the sun, ever, and she’d mentioned on more than one occasion how jealous she was of my melanin. Megan rolled over on her side, facing me, and tried not to laugh.
“You are glad to be back, aren’t you?” Megan asked.
“Yes, I’m happy to be back. Jeez, enough already,” I said, without further explanation.
Megan’s face grew serious, her stare intense. “So what really happened in Arkansas?”
“Yes,” she said, “that again. Come on, tell us. You seemed to love it there and then, just like that, you were back here.”
“I told you, I did like it there, but I woke up one day and realized that I belonged here, in the sun, on the beach. What better place than Florida for a swimmer?”
“Total non-answer. So, where are you going in the fall?” Megan asked.
I exhaled again. The lay-off signal didn’t work—they both stared at me. I hadn’t told either of them where I was going to school. Megan was enrolling at Florida, and Lizbeth had narrowed her choices to Florida and Miami. Of course, I had intended to go to Arkansas on a swimming scholarship, but everything had changed. Before we moved back, I withdrew my letter of intent and had two dozen universities courting me. “I don’t know.”
Megan huffed. “Just pick Florida. We can all go to Gainesville together. Don’t they have one of the best swimming programs in the country?”
“They do, but I haven’t made up my mind. I like being pursued. Besides, I still have time.”
“Umm, no you don’t,” Lizbeth countered. “You’ve been saying that since graduation. It’s the middle of July. You’re eighteen…allegedly an adult. Adults make decisions.”
“Yes, they do. So decide already.”
Megan ran her thick fingers through her black hair, pulling it off her round face. “She’s right, Mags. Time’s running out. I know you’re a national champion and all, but you need to make up your mind.”
I laughed and laid my head back against the blanket. “When I decide, you’ll be the first to know.”
Megan fetched a few cubes of ice from her drink and flung them at me. I’d been friends with Megan and Lizbeth longer than anyone, and I knew I was driving them both nuts. It had been that way before I moved to Arkansas. For years, Megan knew she was going to be a doctor. Lizbeth, after toying with accounting for a while, was dead set on becoming a lawyer. Me? I was the girl who’d flunked career day back in the ninth grade. As far as they knew, I was still putting off the inevitable. They would just have to wait, however—I didn’t know where I was going to be in a few months.
I turned my attention back to the game as Mitch, playing defense, made his way past one of his friends and tackled the gangly quarterback on the other team to end their drive. Back on offense, he passed the ball to his new best friend, Cody, a skinny kid who lived two houses down the beach from us. Cody ran down the beach and got himself tackled, fumbling the ball in the process. I laughed as Mitch gently “coached” him on a better technique for holding the football. Cody smiled and nodded, treating Mitch’s words of encouragement like they’d come from a seasoned veteran. Mitch was maturing so quickly.
“I think it’s probably time to go,” Megan said, staring east at the dark clouds moving toward us. Overhead, the patchy clouds disappeared behind a solid band of low dark clouds swirling counter-clockwise.
Our perfect summer was about to be interrupted by a tropical storm. It was a little early in the year for one, but according to Grandpa Vic, it wasn’t completely unheard of. The main part of the storm was still a hundred miles east of us, but as the temperature began to drop and the wind continued to pick up, there was no denying the obvious. We’d have to spend the next few days inside before reclaiming the beach.
I pointed to the sky. He looked up and his shoulders slumped an inch before he looked back and nodded. “Guys, X-box, my house, you wanna come over?”
“Well, I guess that settles it,” I said to Megan and Lizbeth. “Party at my house.”
We’d moved to a palatial beachfront home on Ocean Boulevard, the only place with a garage big enough for all my cars. I refused to sell them when we decided to move back to Boca. I was instructed—commanded, really—to move back to Florida, commanded to forget my friends back in Arkansas, commanded to forget everything. Back in Arkansas, Ozara had taken complete control of my body, and she thought she had taken control of my mind as well. She was wrong.
Eight months ago, the moment I slipped back into my body, with her and Zarkus leering over my helpless form, I fought to keep my mind behind the shield and away from her brutal attempt to compel me. It was painful, like having ice picks jammed into both eardrums, but somehow she’d failed. I assumed it was because I was in astral travel for most of it, but in truth I didn’t know why. I just knew that I woke up completely aware of everything that had taken place. I heard everything Ozara told me and have been playing along for eight months watching for an opening—some way of striking back.
Yeah, that’s right. I’m still here, and I’m pissed off
n the surface I maintained a happy face, but nothing had been easy about the move back—leaving the Weald, the Fae, and my friends was gut wrenching. Nothing had been easy about Florida, either. I loved it there, but it felt like a prison sentence. I had Fae guards, just as I had in Arkansas, only in Florida they were constantly watching me for any sign Ozara’s compelling procedure hadn’t worked. The guards had followed me to Eureka High when I withdrew from school there. They were there when I curtly said goodbye to Candace, Doug, and Ronnie. And, good lord, they were always near me in Florida. They followed me everywhere—my first day back at Boca High, at practice, and the beach.
Ostensibly, the Fae shadowed me for my own protection. At least that’s what Ozara told the Council when she explained what she’d done. I’d witnessed the Council’s reaction—dumbstruck and speechless. Sherman and Victoria were furious, but they didn’t challenge Ozara’s decision. That upset me, but then what could they do? She’d announced her plan to draw the Second into the open, and sending me away was the first step. She promised the rest that I would be kept safe and returned if the need arose. I knew better. I was returned to Florida as bait. But she hadn’t realized that I was no ordinary sacrificial lamb.
Faye, the tall blonde Seelie who had stalked Candace, was among the guards ordered to keep an eye on me. I trusted her back in Arkansas, and in my gut I still did, but there was another part of me that was completely wary. In Florida she answered directly to Ozara, and I knew she would never choose me over her.
There were two other Fae. One was named Vilas, and from what I could figure out he was a powerful Water-aligned Fae who Ozara had left in charge. I’d never seen him in human form—he never took human form—but I’d listened to him bark commands to Faye and the other guard, a Fire-aligned Seelie named Sasha. He frequently took the form of different people and casually wandered around me in public. I never saw Sasha take the same form twice: one day a scraggly old man combing the beach, and the next a hot, muscular cop with piercing blue eyes.
For my part, I played along and did exactly as Ozara had instructed. She didn’t order me to forget my friends in Arkansas, but to pull away gradually. I was cool and aloof with them, sending a silent message, I hoped, to Candace and the rest. Candace reacted exactly as we’d planned—wounded at first, and bitter later on. She and I had made the plan just before I followed Ozara to Caer Bran. I assumed it had worked, as her last words to me were about how ashamed Aunt May would be of my behavior. Using Aunt May’s name had always been our signal. I prayed it still was, and more than anything I hoped she’d managed to retrieve my journals.
I hadn’t talked to Candace since I left Arkansas. My guards would be watching for that, and they were always watching. She did try to call once around Christmas, and she’d sent a couple of text messages before spring break, but I never responded to either attempt. Instead, I settled into a routine of homework and practice, mixed with frequent visits from Megan and Lizbeth. My guards seemed fooled, as did everyone else.
The Fae compelled my parents, Mitch, and my grandparents to return to Florida. No one in my family resisted. Vilas was still compelling them to be happy. We settled into the garish oceanfront mansion and sold the Weald. My stomach turned just thinking about it. I kept the guilt buried, and tried not to think about the new family, the Pembreys, living in my house.
My plan? I wished I had one. For the time being, I waited for the Fae to disappear and leave me alone—if they left me alone long enough to get out of south Florida, I’d try to make contact with Billy or Tse-xo-be. My gut told me that wasn’t about to happen anytime soon. Beyond that, I didn’t have a plan. When I got the chance, I projected, but I kept my distance from Ozara when I did. I still didn’t know whether she detected me in England when my consciousness passed through her Aether barrier, so I wasn’t going to risk it again. If she realized she’d failed, there was no telling what she’d do.
Nobody knew, except Gavin. If I hadn’t found him that night and engaged him with our awkward Morse code, he would have gotten himself killed. Ozara’s mental invasion had pulled us apart. He was streaking across the Atlantic when I found him after Ozara left. We talked for hours, just floating above the ocean’s surface. After I answered a barrage of questions, his rage faded and he agreed not to storm into the Weald. He told me over and over that he’d willingly die to protect me—I’d gladly do the same for him.
Every day after that I found him, and every day he was waiting for me. Each time he felt my presence, he relaxed and began entertaining me. Some days he told me stories of people and places from times past, some days he sang with a voice that left me weak and trembling when I flashed back to my body, and on other days, when he sensed anger or despair, he made me laugh. I’d never been closer to anyone or anything in my life. And the best part: I realized early on that he needed me as much as I needed him. We were bound to one another in ways I’d never thought possible. Only my visits kept him safe. Only my visits made him happy. Despite my every attempt to keep him far away, he’d taken up residence in Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica, insisting that he remain close.
* * *
Beginning at midnight, the rain came sporadically. By eight in the morning, the deluge was non-stop. Rain pounded the hurricane windows, but the idle chatter of my parents continued uninterrupted even as the vicious wind howled around the eaves of our house. I stared out the huge glass window at the violent, white-capped surf just a few hundred yards away. I wasn’t worried. We’d been through tropical storms in the past, and according to all the weather experts the worst of the storm was expected to blow past in a few hours. It gave me plenty of time to excuse myself and drop in on the Council before my evening swim practice.
I crossed the huge travertine tiles of the great room and climbed the stairs to my enormous bedroom. Through the gauzy curtains hung around the water-smeared heavy French doors by my bed, I watched rain pour off the terracotta-tiled roof and puddle a few inches deep on the little balcony before rushing over the edge between gaps in the stone railing. The palm trees outside whipped violently under the force of the gales. They were distracting, so I ignored them.
Settling onto my bed, Justice, unhappy with the storm, curled up next to me. “Don’t worry, boy, this is a little storm. It’ll be over before you know it.”
He nuzzled my right hand and let out a whimper. Justice only ignored the storm long enough to focus on the Fae outside my bedroom window. Vilas was closer than ever. That didn’t matter, though. He had no idea what I was about to do. The Fae were oblivious when I projected. I rubbed Justice’s head and began.
A few seconds after my eyes closed I felt my consciousness flash through nothingness to the Council clearing. The beautiful blue sky and puffy white clouds welcomed me back to Arkansas like old friends. With a lot of time to practice over the past eight months, I had learned to virtually eliminate the mist that used to accompany my astral travel. Still, I couldn’t use my abilities, though I was dying to. I hadn’t so much as flicked a speck of dust since Ozara’s visit.
Immediately I noticed there was nobody around. They were gathered elsewhere, back to the north near Sara’s old cottage. I hadn’t seen Sara on any of my visits. She’d disappeared from the Weald the week I left. I hadn’t been permitted to say goodbye and I knew that hurt her. On one occasion, I’d searched and found her essence in Ireland. I hadn’t heard any discussion about her during my visits to the Council, so I didn’t know what was going on.
Concentrating on the Council’s position, I glided effortlessly to Sara’s old cottage, or what was left of it. A bulldozer was scraping the last remains into a huge pile. Back in Florida, I felt my heart break. Choking back a scream, and fighting against my tether, the bulldozer just kept pushing. Remnants of the old blue front door, shattered into dozens of pieces, poked out of the limestone rubble.
How could they let this happen?
They, the Seelie Council, watched the destruction from the bluff. Several people, the new family I assumed, stood a hundred feet away wearing smiles. He was a short, thick, balding man with yellowed teeth and deeply wrinkled skin. The only things attractive about him were the expensive clothes. She was a rail-thin, pasty woman with thick mud-brown hair and crooked teeth. After a few minutes, I realized they were building a new house—a glass and steel monstrosity, judging by the blueprints. I felt sick to my stomach. Without any concern for its historical relevance, they’d bulldozed one of the oldest buildings in Northwest Arkansas. In the process, they erased the handiwork of Pete O’Shea, who’d built it as our family’s first home.
The tether tugged me again. The pain, the anger, was almost too much to bear. I hated all of them—the humans for doing it and the Council for allowing it to happen. Eight months earlier, I’d made the decision to leave Arkansas because my gut told me I could learn more at a distance with Ozara and Zarkus believing I was out of the way. I hadn’t considered what another family might do to the Weald in my absence.
I swear I’ll figure out a way to right this wrong. I swear it.
Though it was probably a bad idea, I had to see the cottage. My cottage. I focused and found myself in the middle of the cottage garden. My heart ached. The garden was gone, mowed down, cleared out. In its place, a splotchy lawn of fescue and weeds coiled in clumps. Some of the plants near the garden wall had been spared, but the spectacular work of my ancestors was gone. Tacky lawn furniture with big colorful cushions sat in the middle of the stone patio, and strewn around it like a yard sale were toys and other bits of the Pembreys’ possessions.
Not too far from where Aunt May had lifted the violets two years earlier and shown me Lola’s Ballet, stood the new Steward. He looked about seventeen. Pointy nose, wide-set blue eyes, and a milky complexion like his mother, my replacement practiced starting fires. I watched, sizing him up. Fire inclined, but apparently not inclined to Air or Earth, he tossed balls of paper with his skinny arms and attempted to burn them before they landed. He was neither accurate nor powerful, but he was persistent.
Guilt welled up when I thought of Aunt May. She wasn’t there, and I couldn’t blame her. Those people were destroying our family legacy, and my decision had allowed it to happen. Perhaps she’d crossed over and found peace with Uncle Frank and Kyle.
In my gut I knew she was still near, somewhere, probably mortified by it all.
The pulling sensation overpowered my will to remain, and I found myself hovering by the front gate. When I concentrated on the Council again, willing myself forward, the anguish I felt tugged me several miles closer to my body.
Dang it, calm down! God, I hate this!
Several more miles flashed by. I hovered in a wooded area in the middle of nowhere.
It was no good. I was too upset to return to the Weald, or what was left of it. So I concentrated on Billy, his hooded gray eyes, his sculpted jaw. I felt my body relax. An instant later, his familiar face appeared directly in front of me. Under a cloudy sky and through a light drizzle, Billy walked up a gorgeous valley. Two- and three-hundred-foot-tall limestone cliffs towered all around him, and a stream burbled over mossy boulders and through an opening it had carved out of the gnarled bluffs. The wetness seemed to enhance the deep green of the canopy and the moss that grew on everything there. The stunning scene calmed me, as did the sound of falling water.
Billy stopped and stood at a small blue-green pool at the base of a stepped waterfall over two hundred feet tall, all situated in the crux of the valley. He wasn’t alone—I sensed several Fae nearby.
. Tadewi appeared from the air, gliding and shifting from a bald eagle into her human form. She was as radiant as ever. As if on cue, Pavati rose as a burbling fountain of water from the pool. All the legends I’d read about the Lady in the Lake and every tale about water sprites I’d ever heard came to life in front of me. Like a wellspring in human form, with gentle seductive movements she gradually took solid shape. Her poetic transformation further calmed my nerves. She looked exactly as I remembered her on the day I met the Ohanzee at Thorncrown Chapel: impossibly beautiful, angular features, flawless russet skin, and silky black hair gently cascading to the small of her back.
The rest were there, too. Hulking Wakinyan waited above us at the top of the bluff. Enapay and Nodin, the Fae twins, stood to his left, and Drevek lingered close by. Sinopa, the Fae with rounded facial features and elaborately braided hair, waited across the water. And Amadahy, who never took human form, was several hundred yards away prowling in a circle—I only caught a glimpse of the tawny cougar through the trees. They seemed to be guarding the small dell. When I concentrated, I realized they were all under a Clóca screen—I’d projected right through it. Tse-xo-be was the source and I felt his presence at some distance, deep within the mountain.
“Billy!” I screamed.
They all froze for an instant when the noise, garbled and indistinguishable as a human voice, grated on their senses. Billy spun in my direction, transforming into a massive black leopard and baring his fangs.
“Billy!” I cried again.
Several bolts of lightning struck harmlessly near the place I lingered. Shredding gusts of wind, frozen spikes, and razor-sharp stone projectiles followed. The Ohanzee and Billy backed away from my voice.
Crap! Just like Gavin, they have no idea who I am. They probably think I’m the Second.