Authors: Lola Kidd
Lena hurried through the forest. She pushed a branch out of her way and stepped over a root sticking out of the dirt.
“This is a terrible idea,” Ellia said as she swatted at a bug near her face.
“It very well may be, but I need to do this. You’re free to go back to the castle anytime.”
“You know I wouldn’t be able to leave your side. I just wish we had better clothes to wear for hiking.”
They had changed out of their dining clothes and into the dresses they had on earlier in the day. This was their second trek to the wall Sophia had built on Clan Blackfire’s land. Lena was starting to get her powers back and she figured it would be a good time to see if she could get behind Sophia’s wall. She also wanted to know where Margaret had actually come from. The girl seemed nice enough, but Lena didn’t believe that she was truly from hundreds of years in the future.
“We’re going to be late for the meeting on the beach and then Allen will kill us.”
Lena stopped. She could feel the pull of magic. “We’re close already and it’s taken us far less time than it did the first time to get here. We’ll be able to get back even faster, since the moon will be higher in the sky.”
Ellia looked up at the full purple moon. “It’s very bright for nighttime. I can barely feel the magic here, but when we came the first time I felt close to nothing.”
“I feel it strongly.” Lena raised her hand and the tree closest to her quivered before bending slightly. “I’m getting stronger. This world isn’t like our Earth, but it’s much easier for me to do magic the closer we get to the wall. I don’t think Sophia just chose a spot at random to build her wall.”
“Of course she didn’t. Your evil sister found the most magical spot on this entire world to make her home. Typical Sophia.”
Lena laughed. “At least we can count on Sophia trying to grab power no matter what world we’re on. You have to admire her consistency and drive. This couldn’t have been easy to find after she was toasted by Tavis.”
“Sophia has a bloodhound’s nose for power. I’m sure she found this spot very easily. What are you planning to do now that we’re here, exactly?”
Lena had her hands on the wall and was trying to open a small hole. She didn’t need much. Just something big enough for her and Ellia to squeeze through. She felt the wall giving ever so slightly. She concentrated her energy to the soft spot.
“Lena,” Ellia’s voice squeaked. “Please don’t try to get in there!”
“I have to see what’s behind here.” Lena pushed against the wall and felt the spot give. She stuck her hand through the space she had made and smiled triumphantly at Ellia. “See. We can get in and look around before the midnight meeting.”
“No!” Ellia hissed. “This is a very bad idea. We can come back tomorrow with Allen and Troy.”
“We cannot bring Troy here to go behind the wall,” Lena scolded. “If he saw whatever it is Sophia is up to, he would throw us all out in the cold.”
“All the more reason to leave it alone! The last time you saw her, she was trying to kill you.”
“Sophia is always trying to hurt me,” Lena said breezily.
She slipped through the hole and waited on the other side for Ellia to follow. It was clear Sophia had been up to something in the last few days. They had barely been here for a week and Sophia had made major changes to the landscape.
The first and most obvious was the water and the sky. Lena was standing on a very small strip of beach that was surrounded by water. She could see far in the distance that there was a little village on another beach. That had to be where Sophia and the rest of the tribe were staying. The sky overhead was darker than it had been on the other side of the wall. The moon was white, just like the one on Earth. Lena had no idea how Sophia had done it, but this place looked very much like their vacation home in the West Indies.
“What in the hell?” Ellia looked up at the white moon. “She must be much more powerful than we imagined if she can do this.”
“Not that powerful, since she’s trapped here with us.” Lena put her hand on the water and froze a path to the other beach. “Come on. Let’s go say hello.”
Ellia shook her head. “Please, Lena. Let’s just go back now. You can open a hole in the wall again and we can come back with more people.”
“She won’t hurt me. She hasn’t killed me yet and she won’t now.”
“Troy and Tavis stopped her on the beach. There’s no one here to protect us now.”
Lena raised an eyebrow. “You have the Princess of the Northlands Fae to protect you. Your powers should work now too.”
Lena tested the ice with one foot before putting her full weight on it. She started walking toward the beach without looking back. Ellia wouldn’t let her down, though she was acting strangely. Usually it was her blonde friend who was fearless. Lena had never been the one having to coax Ellia into anything. Sophia must have really rattled the rest of the tribe if Ellia was too afraid to walk near her. It was going to be very hard to win over any of the other tribe members if they were all this afraid of Sophia. Most didn’t even have the history with Sophia that Ellia did.
Ellia skittered on the ice behind her. “I swear, if I fall into whatever this liquid is, I will make you pay, dear Princess.”
“That’s the spirit. We’re going to need that spirit when we get to the beach.” There were people gathering as they got closer. Lena braced herself for an attack but they stepped onto the beach without incident. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest. She could feel Ellia pulling magic into an attack. Better safe than sorry.
Lena put her hands up in greeting as they got within reach of the beach. “Hello.”
A beautiful, blue-haired woman stared at them with wide eyes. “How did you get here?”
Her handsome twin shook his head. “You should leave before Sophia comes. You’re not welcome here, Princess.”
“Renn, Reno, how lovely to see you again.” Lena smiled so wide her cheeks ached. “Is Sophia coming? Good. I’ve very keen to see my dear sister.”
Reno shook his head again. “No. You need to go.”
Renn frowned. “We don’t want you here, anyway. Just go.”
“You don’t talk to your princess like that,” Ellia hissed at the twins.
The other people on the beach mostly looked at their feet. Some looked back at the hill over the beach and then back at Lena. That had to be where the tribe was living. The beach was pristine but it didn’t quite match the village on the cliff. There was something off that Lena couldn’t put her finger on. It was like Sophia couldn’t make up her mind about the look of the village and had smashed two different locales together. Lena recognized the beach. She could guess where the village inspiration had come from. There were only four or five places Sophia loved to frequent.
“We’re going to the village,” Lena told Ellia. “I have no doubt Sophia will be able to find us wherever we go here.”
Ellia nodded curtly and followed Lena closely. They had to walk up the beach to get to an incline they could climb up. Lena again wished she had a pair of hiking pants like Catherine had worn. She had to hold her dress high even to walk up the incline and it weighed heavily on her. It was difficult to walk with purpose wearing the heavy dress on the sand. She was glad to get to the grass and let her dress drop.
“This looks like the Americas,” Lena murmured. “Remember?”
Ellia smiled. “I do. That was a fun night.”
Sophia had convinced Lena and Ellia to come with her to America for one night when their parents were at a ball. Sophia hated being left home with the “babies” while the adults were out having a good time. She had opened a portal to the wilderness in America. It had been very scary at first because she had gotten the destination wrong and they were in the middle of the forest at twilight. They had gone into a little village and crept around. They had been caught by the town drunk and Sophia had pretended to be a ghost.
Ellia and Lena had joined in quickly and then the trio had run off screeching into the forest. When they got back to the manor, they had laughed for hours. They had kept going back until too many people had seen them and it wasn’t safe to bother the town anymore. Lena had never even known the name of the town but she would never forget what it looked like.
Sophia had copied all the little details of the outsides of the houses.
“Do you hear that?” Ellia asked, looking around. She let the magic she was holding dissipate. Lena listened harder. “Oh no. They couldn’t be!”
“I think they are, Ellia. I have to remember to talk to those of us at Castle Blackfire about this.”
They made a few turns and came to a group in front of a fire fucking furiously. Lena didn’t recognize her sister in the tangle of bodies but she did recognize her old knight, Gavin. There couldn’t have been more than thirty people in the orgy. It wasn’t uncommon for members of the tribe to engage in group sex. It was one of the things other fae hated about them. Most fae didn’t live in groups as big as the Northlands fae and they certainly didn’t have orgies five nights a week.
It had never fazed Lena, but Ellia didn’t take part in the tradition. She had no problem finding someone to keep her bed warm at night but she didn’t like to share. Sophia joined in half-heartedly but Lena got the impression that she was only doing it to gain new followers. Lena herself had only participated a handful of times. She didn’t disapprove of their bed parties. It just didn’t particularly interest her. It was all so impersonal. She never knew whose face she was touching or who was inside her at any moment.
“Like the show?”
Lena closed her eyes and fought back the fright that her sister’s voice brought clawing up her throat. “I was just looking for you.”
Sophia put her arm around Lena’s waist as she used to when they were kids. She pushed Ellia away with a swing of her hips. “You’ve never been with a man outside of the parties, have you, little Lena?”
Lena nodded at Ellia to stop her from attacking Sophia. “So we have another sister?”
“From what I’ve heard, you weren’t very skilled when it came to your night moves. I could show you a thing or two. Maybe you’ll be able to tame one of those dragons. We could really use them in our fight.”
“I’m not here to join you,” Lena said sharply.
“Yes, you are.” Sophia squeezed her hard. “I know you must have met that useless fox. You know I’m going back home and you want to come with. Don’t worry, little sister. There’s always a place at my side for you.”
Lena tried to step away but Sophia held her close. “Sophia, haven’t you already done enough? They don’t want us on Earth. If you try to go back they will kill us all.”
Sophia laughed loudly. “They can’t kill us! If they could, they would have the first time. None of those stupid creatures can come close to the power we have.”
“Is the girl our sister?” Lena asked, trying to keep her calm.
“Impossible!” Ellia declared. “You’re trying to trick us into thinking you have the power to go home. I don’t know what your plan is, but I do know you’re up to no good again.”
Sophia gave her a withering look. “Silly girl. I’ve told you what I’m doing. I’m going to take us home. Now, I’ve forgiven my soft-hearted sister for her earlier mistakes. She and all of you are welcome to join us when we go back.”
“Why would you want to go back?” Ellia asked incredulously. “They don’t want us. It will be hell on Earth for us there.”
“It will be hell on Earth for all of them!” Sophia said venomously. “Once we take our revenge, those pathetic creatures will rue the day they tried to stand in the way of the Northlands Fae.”
Lena’s blood boiled. She chose her words carefully. “Thank you for forgiving me, Sophia, but we won’t be joining you in your quest for revenge. I don’t know what you want with the shifter woman, but don’t come to the castle. You are not welcome there.”
“I’m not going to your stupid castle. The girl can’t help me. I’ve found someone who can,” Sophia said slyly. “Once you see what I’m going to do, you’ll be begging to come along.”
“Thank you. We’re going to go now.” Lena pulled herself from her sister and took Ellia’s hand to lead her from the hidden village.
“Slow down!” Ellia complained. Her long blonde locks were caught in a branch.
“Sorry. I thought I was giving you enough time to get through too.” Lena stopped and helped her friend untangle her hair. “We need to get back so I can talk to Allen before the meeting.”
“He’s going to be very mad you went to see Sophia without him.”
“We aren’t hurt and we got information. That’s all that matters.”
“Are you mad? We didn’t learn anything other than that Sophia doesn’t currently want to kill you. I’m sure she’ll change her mind about that by the time the sun sets again.”
“It doesn’t matter. She can do as she pleases. I have a plan.”
Ellia snorted. “I love you like a sister, Lena, but planning is not your strong suit.”
“It is this time. I know how we’re going to stay safe and keep out of whatever it is Sophia has planned.”
“Oh, really?” Ellia sighed heavily as she stepped out of the forest. She looked down the beach. “There’s Allen, and he doesn’t look too happy.”
The tall knight’s eyebrows were drawn together and his mouth was screwed tight. Lena put up her hand before he could say anything.
“Sir Allen, Ellia and I have just come back from seeing my sister and have much information to relay. Let us not waste time with childish arguments. You’re not happy we went into the forest. Wonderful. Now are you curious about what Sophia is up to?”
He opened his mouth three times before anything came out. “Yes. I am curious.”
“Good. The girl that Tavis and Troy found is in fact my sister and I also believe she is from the twentieth century.”
“You believed that?” Ellia looked shocked. “She was lying!”
Lena shook her head. “No, she wasn’t. Sophia is trying to get back home and she can’t do it alone.”
“She wants your help,” Allen said. “Fat chance there. That dolt is on her own.”
“A sibling, yes, but not me. I’m all fae, just like she is. She’s going to need another supernatural creature. Preferably a magical one.”
“What are you talking about, Lena?” Ellia asked.
Allen rubbed his chin and nodded. “The shifter wouldn’t have enough magic to draw on to get her across. She’s going to need a witch or possibly a vampire.”
“Exactly. I’m not sure how she’s communicating with the other side, but I think she’s had help. She was far too prepared for this.”
“Oh!” Ellia’s face lit up. “This is some kind of magic lesson stuff. The only way to undo what was done is with similar magic, right?”
“You really should have paid more attention when we were having our lessons,” Lena scolded. “I’m very curious who she still has on Earth, but I would wager it’s a vampire. Someone who helped her before she was stopped.”
“That list is very long,” Allen mused. “The time change is a shock, but not unexpected. I had hoped all that theory was wrong. I am disappointed to have missed so much.”
“Don’t be sad, Allen. We aren’t going back anyway,” Lena said.
“Oh, no. Here comes her plan,” Ellia said. “Brace yourself, Allen.”
Lena raised her eyebrows. “Have some faith in me. I’m about to sacrifice for you, and this is how you treat me?”
Ellia sighed. “What is this plan?”
“I’m going to marry Prince Troy and we’re going to stay here in Castle Blackfire.”
“What? Are you out of your mind?”
“I can never allow you to do that, Princess.”
“It is my duty as princess of the remaining Northlands Fae.”
Ellia put her hand on Lena’s arm. “There aren’t even two dozen of us. You don’t need to do anything outlandish to help us. It’s a noble gesture but we’ll be fine without you doing any of that.”
“Has he made an advance on you?” Allen’s face was red and his hand was on the hilt of his sword. “Don’t lie to me, Lena. I knew I shouldn’t have let you spend time with him alone.”
“We’ve only been alone for a small flight.” Lena blushed, remembering the feeling in her stomach while she was flying with Troy. “He has never been anything but a gentleman.”
“Then where would you get this outlandish idea?”
Ellia crossed her arms. “Catherine.”
“Yes and no. Catherine was the one who said it aloud, but it’s the most obvious solution to all of our problems. Troy needs a royal wife and we need a place to stay.”
“If he doesn’t marry Queen Hera, there will be war,” Allen said darkly. “It’s clear what the woman wants. If you stand in her way, you are going to be causing more problems than you solve.”
Lena smiled. “No, it won’t. We’ll get married in secret. Then he will tell the clan that he married to keep the royal lineage strong. If he and Hera married, who would their children marry? There are no other royals on the planet.”
Ellia and Allen looked at each other. Allen frowned. “That does make some sense.”
“It sounds good,” Ellia said reluctantly. “That doesn’t mean I agree with your plan. I’m just saying I can’t find anything wrong with it right now.”
“You won’t find anything wrong with it. This is the best plan we have available to use. It’s been hundreds of years since we left Earth, but it sounds like they still don’t want us on their planet.”
“Are we really going to give up so easily?” Allen asked. “There is a new Council now. They may change their minds about punishing us all.”
“And then what? I’m sure they’ve already sold off all of our possessions.” Lena’s heart ached thinking of their manor being torn down or given to the humans. “We would have to start over no matter where we were. At least if we stay here, we won’t be in a hostile environment. We’ll have a chance to thrive again. We can make a home here in Castle Blackfire.”
Allen nodded. “If this is truly what you want, I will stand behind you, Princess.”
Ellia shook her head. “This is insane. You know I’ll support you in anything you do, Lena.”
“Wonderful.” Lena waved at an approaching fae. “I’ll announce my intentions to the tribe.”
Troy rolled over and threw off his covers. It was no use. He wasn’t going to be sleeping this night. The princess was on his mind. It bothered him more than he wanted it to. Why did he want to trust her so badly? He didn’t know anything about her or her people. He didn’t even know what she was! Yet he wanted her to stay in Castle Blackfire. At least his dragon wanted her to stay.
His dragon had reacted when they had flown over the water. He didn’t let anyone besides his siblings ride him, but he hadn’t even thought twice before letting the small woman climb onto him. It had been exhilarating. He wished they could have flown more. There were other places much more beautiful on Manna to show her. The water was one of his favorites, but there was a mountaintop filled with wildflowers that was a perfect spot for an afternoon nap after a long flight.
Troy sat up in bed. He was still thinking about taking her across the countryside. He wanted to spend more time with her. There was much he hadn’t been able to discuss with her yet. He hadn’t even gotten to ask her about being a royal in her clan. None of it made sense. Just hours earlier at dinner, he had been so angry with her. She had lied to him and kept things from him. He knew she was hiding more…but he didn’t care anymore.
A few hours had passed and he was already over it. If she was going to hurt him or the people of Blackfire, she would have already done it. He had other things to worry about that would actually be a problem for his people. There was no point wasting anger on a young woman who had only asked for his help. In fact, he had offered her help when he first saw her and Ellia. Unless she was a very cunning liar, she hadn’t been expecting him and Tavis on the beach. He didn’t think she knew Margaret either. Maybe Lena could lie, but Ellia was an open book. She was indignant that Margaret had claimed to be related to Lena.
He went to his balcony and leaned on the railing. The sky was black but clear. The moon provided more than enough light to see by. If he wasn’t going to sleep, he might as well take advantage of the quiet. He slipped off his sleeping pants and jumped off the balcony. He beat his wings a few times so he could stay above the water. He spun around and flew in a corkscrew just skimming the top of water.
He was going to take a long flight before he had to deal with his Hera problem. Maybe he would stay out until she was gone in the morning. He really didn’t want to see her again. There was nothing else to say. He didn’t know how he was going to get out of this little predicament. Blackfire was much stronger than Eternal Sun. But Hera’s knights were more deadly than his. She chose the most savage of her people to train until they were a deadly killing force.
Ostensibly, this was for hunting. Eternal Sun hadn’t cultivated their land like his family had been sure to do. There wasn’t much to hunt close to their castle and their hunts had to go far to find anything that wasn’t on Blackfire land. Her knights had a clear advantage over his more refined men. No matter what, it would be a bloody battle. Not something he wanted.
There was only one way he could see out of all of this. He would have to marry Hera and give up his place at Blackfire. He roared angrily at the thought. He loved Castle Blackfire. It was his home and his birthright. Yet there was no other way he could protect it unless he left for good. If he publicly turned over the crown to Tavis at his wedding, Hera would have a very hard time convincing Eternal Sun to go to war. Especially if their new king battled vehemently against it.
He surveyed his castle from high above. There was no movement as the people slept peacefully. He wanted it to stay that way. He would do it. He would marry Hera and leave them. Troy roared at the injustice of it all.
Why couldn’t Hera’s parents have had another child? Why were there no other royals on all of Manna? It wasn’t fair! He would wait. He wanted to take care of the beast woman problem and make sure that the princess and her people were getting along alright in the castle. He would try to get the magical wall torn down too, but he didn’t know if he had the time to wait for that. Hera was going to rush the wedding, he was sure. He would do what he could to make it an easy transition for Tavis.
Tavis. He would only see his brother a few times a year once he was married. His brother would have to take a wife for the sake of the people or turn the crown over to Catherine. It didn’t matter either way. Catherine would make a wonderful queen if Tavis refused the burden.
Troy flew across the beach lost in thought. He was flying so distractedly he almost missed the group of people running into the forest. There shouldn’t be anyone on the beach at this hour. He flew back and forth a few times but there was no movement in the trees. Whoever it was, they were waiting for him to leave before they moved again.
He debated going and getting more knights for backup. It wasn’t worth it. He was curious. If it was the woman from behind the wall, she would have already been trying to kill him. It was probably kids from Blackfire having a party on the beach. He wasn’t so old that he didn’t remember sneaking out after dark for a quick flight. He landed on the beach and transformed back into a man.
“You can come out. You’re not going to be in trouble. There are wraiths out here, though. You kids need to be more careful.”
Troy waited on the beach alone until there was rustling in the trees to his right. He was astonished to see Ellia and Lena come out of the trees looking sheepish.
Lena kept her eyes glued to the ground and wouldn’t even look up at him. “Prince Troy. Nice to see you. I was just having a discussion with my tribe.”
Ellia looked him up and down with a small smile. “We think you would be interested in what we were talking about.”
“Back at the castle,” Troy said quickly. “You weren’t supposed to leave the castle grounds.”
“Don’t you own the beach too?” Ellia asked innocently.
“Yes,” Troy snapped. “We’ll talk when we get back to the castle. We don’t know who else is out in this forest.”
“And we don’t know who has ears in the castle,” Lena said pointedly. “Bring Tavis and Catherine here. I think they’d like to hear what I have to say. My people will go back to the castle and Allen, Ellia, and I will wait for you here.”
Troy shook his head. “It isn’t safe for you to be out here.”
Lena’s hand glowed bright as a fire erupted on her palm. “I think I’ll be just fine.”