Authors: Tera Lynn Childs
by Tera Lynn Childs
Eleven months ago
When Cathair O Cuana stepped beyond the edge of the fae veil, he felt his presence disappear. Felt the magic that hid him from human eyes prickle over him
like ice crystals in a fierce wind. He walked forward into the forest. Walked. Then ran.
As he moved between the trees, an unseen breeze that drew the attention of forest creatures, he willed himself to transform. First came the feathers—black,
white, and a thousand shades of brown and gold. Like his hair. His eyebrows drew out into great winged arches and his nose hardened, sharpened into the
beak of a deadly bird of prey.
Finally, he allowed the physical changes to overtake him. His arm bones hollowed and bent. His torso fattened. His legs shrank into short, scaly, clawed
things. One moment he was running, the next … flying.
He flapped his arms and soared.
He banked into a turn toward the mountains, toward the valley sanctuary protected by a legion of fae and seer guards. The sanctuary had been created to
ensure his people would pass their
—the one day each month they must spend vulnerable in animal form to maintain their magic—in peace and
After the worrying council meeting, spending a day as an eagle owl was the last thing he wished to do. The growing threat of war with the Arghail, a
conflict the Moraine could not hope to survive, coupled with the fading magic of his clan weighed on his thoughts. As high prince of his clan, heir to the
throne his family had controlled for generations, he felt the pressure of duty like no other. He needed to be back at the palace, helping his mother, the
queen, and the rest of the council decide on a course of action. Instead, he was trapped in feathers and claws.
Such was the price of immortality.
What he wouldn’t give to be as carefree as his younger brother. Aedan felt no such pressure, no such responsibility.
Cathair forced his worries from his mind. Now that he was in
, not only could the human world see him but they could also harm him. He
needed to remain ever-vigilant as he traveled through dangerous lands.
Far below, a flash of swift movement caught his eye. Even from the distance of two hundred feet, with his keen sight he could tell it was a human on a
A human girl.
There seemed nothing exceptional about her. An ordinary human girl with ordinary hair, an ordinary face, an ordinary appearance. Then turned her face up to
the sky and he saw her eyes. A perfect, clear green, the exact shade of the moss at the base of his mother’s throne. The human’s eyes sparkled with a joy,
an energy, a
he had not felt in any of the countless days of his life. And they felt immediately familiar.
Without conscious thought, he angled his wings and followed her home. Through the gridded streets, into the older part of town where the lanes began to
wander and the trees grew tall and broad.
He followed, as if drawn by an invisible force, to her home, to a tall and ancient oak in the back yard. To the branch that looked over a window he knew
instinctively to be hers. As his talons wrapped around the limb that offered a perfect perch, he had the oddest sensation that he had landed precisely
where he belonged.
Winnie Price woke as she always did, aching to remain in the dream world she had inhabited for the space of a night. She fought against the morning,
against the sunlight filtering in through lace curtains.
Last night she had dreamed of the prince.
She had imagined countless characters into her world over the years, but his distinctive, multi-hued hair set him apart from the first time she saw him,
almost a year ago. It wasn’t only his appearance that drew her to him, although being tall, broad-shouldered, well-muscled with dark slashing brows and
piercing golden eyes made him pretty much everything a dream hero should be. It was also his strength, the fierceness in his gaze when he stood before the
council, the pure power in his every move when he trained with the sword.
He was like a mash-up of magical being and medieval romance hero.
No wonder she never wanted to let go of those dreams.
She closed her eyes. Maybe if she focused hard enough she could bring back the imagined moment. He had been in conference with the queen, talking about the
dire situation in their clan. Winnie did not always understand everything they discussed, but she knew that of the dozen or so clans that inhabited North
America, the Moraine was the smallest and least powerful. The most susceptible to attack.
The queen had said something about animals, something about danger and hiding. The prince’s muscles flexed, his jaw clenched, like he wanted to tell her
off but couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. She was his mother, after all.
Winnie focused on him, on the way the dark brown linen shirt stretched across his chest. On the way the little muscle at his temple moved. On the way his
full lips still managed to look soft despite his tension. On how his lips would feel—
Winnie screamed as a cold nose nudged her neck, yanking her back into the morning. She stared at the ceiling for several moments while her pulse slowed
back to normal.
She had almost fallen back into the dream.
“Everything okay?” Aunt Maureen called up from the bottom of the stairs.
Winnie jumped out of bed and opened her door. “Yes, sorry!”
“I’m finishing the cupcakes for the White-Watson wedding. I’ll call you when I need help loading the car.”
Winnie closed her door, scowling at the pouf of gray fur that was supposedly a cat. “Was that really necessary?”
Nessa stared back with unblinking gray eyes.
Winnie shook her head. “Well, I’m up now.”
Tugging the elastic from her hair, she swiped her fingers through the unruly waves before re-securing the mop in a messy bun. After a quick stop in the
bathroom to ditch her morning breath, she setting in at the white desk in the corner of her room. She sat down, opened the top drawer, and pulled out a
The big red number on the cover read twenty-seven.
Her mom had bought her the first one. Beginning the morning after her first dream about the fae world—almost five years ago now, right after Gran
passed—Winnie had transcribed the stories onto paper. Her mom had loved hearing the stories. And then she was gone too, leaving Winnie alone in the world
except for Maureen. Her mother’s sister.
Five years of pouring her energy into an imaginary world. Maybe one day she would do something with them, share them with someone other than her best
friend. She dreamed of becoming a writer—she just didn’t know if these were stories she wanted to publish. They felt too… personal. So, for now, she kept
them in the drawer.
The first page in each was always the same. A quote from her Gran.
Magic is real. You just have to believe.
If only that were true. She would be living in the fae realm with the dark prince at her side. Real life was all too boring.
She flipped open to a clean page near the back. Twenty-seven notebooks, about to be twenty-eight.
By the time she started college a year from now she would have thirty.
She really should do something more with them.
It only took seconds to fall into her routine, to scratch ink across paper in an attempt to capture the events and emotions of last night's dream. She
began with the prince.
Lost in the world of her story, Winnie didn’t hear the first three text alerts from her phone. She had just written the end of the scene with the queen
when her phone beeped again. One glance at the screen told her Mel had been trying for an hour.
She was in the middle of typing out a response when Mel’s face appeared on her screen.
"You were writing, weren't you?" Mel demanded without preamble.
Winnie smiled. “Maybe.”
“I knew it.” Mel sighed and Winnie could practically see her flopping back on her bed. “I swear a nuclear bomb could go off next door and you wouldn’t
notice if you were writing."
“If a nuclear bomb went off next door,” Winnie replied, “I’d be instantly vaporized.”
“At least tell me you’ve got the next chapter.”
Winnie glanced at the open composition book. Her heart beat a little faster and her skin got hot. No matter how many times Mel read her words, no matter
how much Mel insisted that the stories were amazing, Winnie still got nervous showing her new material.
“Almost,” she hedged.
“When are you going to put this up on Wattpad already?” Mel said more than asked. “You would have a million reads in like a week.”
If words could make someone break out in hives, Winnie would be red and itchy all over. The idea of that many people being able to see her words—to judge
them? Being able to enter her world? It was terrifying.
She didn’t answer. Instead, she asked, “Want to come over later? Aunt Maureen is making cupcakes. There’ll be extras.”
“Sold,” Mel said. “I’ll be over as soon as mom releases me from chore duty.”
Winnie heard a slurping sound which probably meant Mel was sucking on an espresso toffee.
“And have the chapter ready when I get there.”
The connection dropped and Winnie knew Mel was gone. Her bestie could be brash, straightforward, almost rude, but she meant well. At least, Winnie thought
she meant well. With Mel she couldn’t always tell.
But she knew Mel would never leave her alone until she handed over the next chapter.
Winnie got back to work.
“This arrived at dawn.”
Cathair took the small square of parchment from his mother’s hand.
He read the words. Then reread them to be certain.
A traitor nests high in your palace ranks
It was not possible. A traitor in the highest level of Clan Moraine could not be tolerated. It might mean sudden death for the already dying clan.
“Who sent it?”
The queen shrugged. “There was no seal. No signature. The raven did not await reply.”
“It could be a fabrication,” he offered. “Meant to seed our court with mistrust and paranoia.”
She stiffened her spine and her golden eyes took on a glint that left no question that she was Her Royal Highness Eimear, Queen of the Clan Moraine. Their
clan might be weakening by the day, but her name still brooked fear throughout the veil.
“I have no doubt,” she replied, “that the aim is such. But that does not mean it is untrue. Our position is too precarious to ignore the possibility.”
Cathair drew in a deep breath. His clan’s vulnerability had become a source of constant concern. Like the other unseelie fae clans, the Moraine gained
power from negative human emotion. While seelie fae felt drained by fear, pain, and grief, the dark clans thrived on them. Fed on them.
At one time, the Moraine had been the darkest of the dark—resorting even to killing humans for the magical high their deaths brought. That was no longer
Since the time of the first human queen, when they enacted the
, changing their laws to ban
—sacrificial killing for
magical gain—their power had weakened. They subsided now on the barest minimum of magic, with the constant threat of invasion or destruction by clans with
no such restrictions in place.
The queen was right. They could not afford to dismiss this claim.
“We must investigate.”
Cathair nodded. “Without raising alarm.
His mother smiled without humor. “And without alerting the traitor, if he or she exists.”
“I will speak with Tearloch,” he said, “when I return from
Of anyone in the palace, the captain of the Royal Guard was beyond reproach. Tearloch and he had grown up together, play fighting in the courtyard and
stealing sweet meade from the kitchens. Cathair not only counted him as dearest friend, but also trusted him with his life. As well as with the lives of
his entire clan.
“Very well,” the queen agreed. “And speaking of your
Cathair tensed, betraying no guilt. “Yes?”
“It has come to my attention that you have not been passing your
at the sanctuary.” She leaned forward over her desk. “For quite some