Enjoy Chapters 1 – 3 of Faerie Fallen, Book 1 of Feathered Fae, an all-new upper-YA romantic fantasy series!
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The night before we left Earth, I snuck out of our hotel and went to a club. Nobody guessed I was using a fake ID. Guess I should thank my dad for his beard-growing genes. I’m the only fifteen-year-old guy I know who never has a problem passing for eighteen.
I wish I could say it was fun, but I couldn’t get into it. All I could think as I watched people partying was: You’re trying to forget you’re stuck on a planet that’s killing you.
Journal of a Trasnan Colonist by Ellit Myers
February 7, 2552
Sela strode down the dark alley, the high heels of her boots crunching on dirt and trash. She stopped before an unmarked door covered in peeling, green paint. A quick glance left, then right, confirmed she was alone. She raised her fist.
Three knocks. Pause. Two more. Every rap sent specks of dry paint flying.
The door cracked open. “Password?” a low, gruff voice asked.
“Everything,” Sela replied.
The bouncer pulled open the door, allowing her to squeeze in. “Have fun.” He gestured down a flight of stairs.
Sela lifted her chin and met his gaze. “Having a password is overkill. I did the secret knock. The longer that door is open, the more likely someone will hear the drums.”
“There’s two more thick doors between us and the club. Can’t hear nothing up here.”
Sela released just enough of her glamour to reveal the points of her ears, then pushed her long, dark blonde hair behind them. “Some of us can.”
The bouncer’s thick, black brows rose, and a short chuckle exited his muscular chest. “I’ll keep that in mind. Have fun, faerie.”
“I plan to.” She returned her ears to their rounded state.
She was halfway down the stairs when he called, “You don’t need to hide who you are here, you know.”
Sela didn’t look back. “I know.” It was why she’d been looking forward to visiting this club, why she’d flown so far to get here. Faeries couldn’t legally establish close social relationships with mortals, but this place, hidden underground in the small human city of Taria, attracted people who didn’t much care for rules.
So why the glamour? She pondered that as she closed a door behind her and strode through a dimly lit corridor, the thump of drums now reverberating in her feet. At this club, she could reveal herself as Fae and attract neither worship nor fear.
But ever since she could remember, Sela had wanted to experience life as a human. With her ears rounded, wings gone, skin blemished, eyes lightened to gray-blue, and hair turned a bit frizzy and dull, she could imagine she was mortal, embracing the thrilling uncertainty that entailed.
The band got louder as she strode down the hall. At the end was a heavy door, which she pulled open. Music, full of percussive bass and enthusiastic strings, hit her full force.
All at once, hesitation weighed down her feet. She’d just come from a full-moon revel in the Seelie Court, the expansive Fae region where she’d lived since her birth. She dreaded such large, crowded parties, only enjoying them when she got the chance to act, sing, or dance before her fellow faeries. At tonight’s revel, she’d had no role to play but herself, and she’d felt as awkward as ever.
So she’d left . . . and instead of relaxing at home, she’d come straight to this club. Yes, it promised to be as loud and packed as the revel. But she always enjoyed herself more in mortal lands than in her own Fae Realm.
Now, confronted with a roomful of loud people she didn’t know, Sela regretted the choice—for a moment. Until a quick glance at her glamoured body reminded her why she loved coming to places like this. In her human disguise, she was blissfully anonymous. She could be anyone she wanted to be. Tonight, she told herself, you’re playing a confident human. Have fun. Be a little wild.
Flush with sudden boldness, Sela stepped into the club and let the door shut behind her. Several people’s gazes traveled over her long hair and tight, blue dress, but no one approached. She stood against the wall, taking in the room.
Most of the space was dim enough that a true mortal would have trouble making out details. Her Fae sight, however, allowed her to see it all. The crowded room was several times smaller than the Seelie courtyard she’d been in for the revel. A band played instrumental dance music on a small corner stage in the back.
A couple dozen people, more mortals than faeries, mingled at a bar that ran along the left wall. Dancing bodies filled the center of the room. The Seelies back at Court would be shocked to know that the humans in this room moved with as much abandon as the Fae.
More movement caught Sela’s eyes, and her gaze lifted. Eight raised platforms jutted from the walls above the corner stage. Two were empty, but colored lights highlighted dancers in the other six spaces. Narrow railings kept them from toppling to the floor below. A human man writhed on one platform. On the next was another mortal, this one a woman, dancing enthusiastically with a Fae female.
Sela’s gaze shifted to the next platform, and she froze.
Two faeries danced in the cramped space, pressed close together, hands wandering over each other’s bodies. One was male, his starkly pale skin reflecting the lights. Curled horns protruded from either side of his head, and three large, flat, triangular growths, mottled gray in color, emerged from his spine like a row of carnivorous teeth. His muscular body was covered by nothing but a pair of very small, very tight black shorts, likely a concession to the mortals, who weren’t as comfortable with nudity as the Fae.
The female dancing with the male was just as monstrous. Her skin was deep, pinkish red, and her short, silver hair stuck out in sharp spikes. She had button-like bulges all over her skin, and when she lifted her arm to stroke the male’s face, she revealed a translucent, sail-like membrane, deep burgundy in color. It ran along the inside of her arm and continued down her side, all the way to her hip. Sela could imagine her taking to the air, gliding with her arms extended, floating on the wind. She wore a short dress, its sides open to accommodate the membranes, and as her body undulated against her partner’s, the slits left little to the imagination.
“Damn,” Sela breathed.
Next to her, a man laughed. “My thoughts exactly.”
Sela pulled her eyes away from the faeries and found a tall mortal with a dimpled smile and buzzed black hair standing next to her. He looked a little older than most of the faeries she knew, which probably meant he was in his early twenties. Unless faeries left the magic of the Realm for an extended time, they perpetually appeared on the cusp of adulthood. Sela, who at eighteen had barely started her immortal life, would never look older than she did now.
The man was watching the same platform that had caught Sela’s attention, but when she turned his way, he brought his deep-brown eyes to her. “When you get closer, you can see even more. Wild, isn’t it?” His voice was a pleasant rumble.
Sela didn’t tell him she could see the details, in all their grotesque glory, from here. “I can’t believe they let Unseelies in the door.”
“Why not? As long as they don’t cause trouble.”
Asking Unseelie Fae not to cause trouble was like asking a raincloud to avoid bursting. Sela’s eyes found the dancing monsters again. All they were doing at the moment was feeling each other up in front of a crowd, but Unseelies were faeries of chaos. Even mortals should know that.
“I hope I’m not being too forward,” the man next to her said, “but you look great. There’s just one thing wrong.”
Once again stepping into her role—confident, lovely young mortal woman, here for a good time—Sela smirked. “Is there?”
“One minor thing. You don’t have a drink.”
She laughed. “I just got here.”
“Can I buy you one?”
She took his hand. “Lead the way.”
At the bar, Sela let him choose her drink, confident it wouldn’t affect her. Faeries had to drink massive quantities of human alcohol to get intoxicated. He ordered a complicated-sounding cocktail, then told her about his schooling at the university in Rannik.
“I’m only here for the weekend, visiting my parents,” he said. “We have a house on the shore . . .”
As he kept talking, Sela held his gaze and nodded at the right places. Half the time, however, she was listening to nearby conversations, trying, as always, to refine her knowledge of Erden, the mortals’ language. Were they using any new slang? Had she made any tiny errors in her carefully cultivated accent?
“That boat sounds amazing,” Sela told the man beside her as the bartender handed her a drink. “How long have your parents owned it?”
As he responded, she took a sip and again listened to the conversations around her. A nearby voice caught her attention.
“I mean, look at that mouth,” a man was saying. “Those are kissable lips if I ever saw any. How about we dance? Get to know each other a little?”
A woman replied, “I told you, I’m enjoying my drink, and I don’t want to dance.”
“I refuse to believe a beautiful woman like you doesn’t want to dance.”
Forget polite eye contact. Sela needed to figure out who this jerk was. Her gaze swept over the bar, settling on a mortal man and woman who stood nearby. The woman’s back was against a barstool, and she held her drink in front of her with both hands, her elbows in and shoulders taut, her stance anything but inviting. The man stood in front of her, one hand on the bar, the other on her cheek. “You’re cute when you frown,” he said.
That was definitely him. Sela’s teeth clenched. Her first instinct was to get in the mortal’s face and tell him to find someone who was actually interested in his beer breath (which she could smell from here), but something told her if she did, he’d double down and get more aggressive. Plus, judging from the unshed tears glistening in the woman’s wide eyes, Sela guessed she didn’t want a crowd of people looking at her.
Distraction. That’s what this guy needs. Sela turned to the man next to her, who was still talking about his parents’ boat. With a quick smile, she said, “Thanks for the drink.” She left the fancy beverage on the bar and spun around. A few steps brought her to the man, whose hand had now found the poor woman’s waist.
Time for another performance. Sela thrust out her chest and lifted a hand to circle her fingers around the man’s bicep. When he turned to look at her, she squeezed his arm and breathed, “I know I’m being forward, but I’ve had my eyes on you all night.”
He gave her a quick once-over, then pulled his arm away, muttering, “I’m busy.”
Ahh, so he was even more of an ass than Sela had guessed. His ego would drive him to bully the woman who’d humiliated him until she gave in.
Sela drew in a deep breath, trying to connect with the character she was now playing—sexy, irresistible flirt—when she noted the man licking his lips, moving in toward the other woman, his mouth targeting hers.
Instinct took over. Sela dropped her glamour, returning to her natural form. It wasn’t just her ears, which tapered to points. Her hair changed too, turning glossy and golden and long enough to cover her butt. Her body lengthened, and her waist narrowed. While she couldn’t see her own face, she knew her eyes were bright blue, her skin smooth and free of imperfections, and her teeth straight and even. The man before her might’ve ignored all that, distracted as he was, were it not for the large, feathered wings—white with a hint of pale pink in the right light—that appeared at her back. She spread them quickly, too concerned for the woman pressed against the bar to care about nearby partiers who might get shoved out of the way by the soft, heavy feathers.
The man halted, lips a centimeter from his victim, his half-closed eyes catching sight of the movement beside him. He straightened and turned toward Sela, his features now hard. Then he realized who—what—was coming onto him. His gaze, hot with lustful expectation, burned into her form. “Well,” he drawled, “would you look at that?”
When he stepped toward Sela, the woman he’d been terrorizing slipped into the crowd, her single, soft sob finding Sela’s pointed ears.
Sela gave the man a ravishing smile. Aware of the dozens of eyes now fixed on her, she used a bit of magic to amplify her voice. “I saw you with that woman.” Her tone was smooth. Seductive.
“You’re ten times the girl she is.” He’d doubtless heard all the stories of how amazing faeries were as lovers. Mostly embellished tales, Sela’s experience told her. His meaty hand drifted toward her.
She grabbed it and squeezed it hard enough to make him grimace and grunt. Tone as sultry as before, she said, “If I ever see you forcing your disgusting self onto someone again, I’ll cut off your balls and feed them to the Unseelies on that platform.” She pointed, and he looked that way, covering his groin with his free hand. “They look hungry, don’t they?”
“Go home.” She flung his hand away and watched him push through the crowd toward the doors.
Several humans and faeries approached Sela, congratulating her and saying how awful the man had always been. Sela assured them she didn’t typically threaten mortals. They laughed off her explanation, clearly loving the role she’d chosen to play tonight.
Defending that woman hadn’t been a Fae-like action. Sure, faeries helped humans, using magic to heal them and make their lives easier and more secure. But they didn’t step into human conflicts. They kept their distance, while inviting gratitude and, in some cases, outright worship.
Sela had stood up for a mortal. She’d used crude language, dropping the veneer of civility faeries were taught to wear before humans. Older faeries in the Realm would’ve been horrified by her words. They’d always encouraged her to portray herself as a heavenly benefactor. While some other faeries had feathered wings, hers were the only ones that looked like they belonged on an angel. She’d even been named after a heavenly being from human legends—the angel Selaphiel. Well-meaning Fae told her that by acting as angelic as she looked, she could encourage more humans to trust faeries.
Sela rarely spoke to Ri Ellair, the Seelie king, but she often sensed he kept an eye on her. Maybe he had plans for the faerie with glorious wings who’d grown up in the Court he ruled. How would he react if he knew about her coarse tongue and willingness to get involved in a conflict between two random mortals?
The actions hadn’t come naturally to Sela, but she found she liked this person she was pretending to be. One who, like the mortals and faeries in this illegal club, didn’t care about Fae rules and expectations.
Someone tapped Sela’s shoulder. Realizing how much space she was taking up with her huge wings, she tucked them against her back. Then she turned and found a young woman with short, spiky blonde hair, smiling at her.
“Want to earn some money?” the woman asked. Seeing Sela’s confused expression, she laughed. “I work here—I promise it’s legit. You’re Fae; I assume you can dance?”
“It’s one of my favorite things to do.”
The woman pointed at one of the empty platforms above the stage. “You’d be a hit up there.”
A grin took over Sela’s lips, and she allowed the woman to lead her to a room far enough away that the music was little more than a deep, pulsing beat.
“Every dancer up there is a paid performer,” the woman said. “This angel thing you’ve got going on—I love it. Can we play that up with your wardrobe? A theater group meets here, and we use their costumes.”
Sela’s gut tightened. Lowering herself to entertain mortals would get her in deep trouble with the Fae leaders if they ever got wind of it. Faeries had put on a few shows for humans in the early days after Earth’s settlers arrived, but Ri Ellair had put a stop to that, saying it kept humans from taking them seriously. Visiting a forbidden club was bad enough; did Sela want to put a literal spotlight on herself?
Then she thought about how the Seelies back home would react if they’d seen her confrontation with the jerk at the bar. The king would shake his head sadly. Her mother would sigh, then leave her alone to deal with the consequences. Other faeries would gape at her in confusion. Why can’t you just be like us, enjoying the life you were born into?
They’d be wrong. As they so often were. Sela felt more alive in this club than she’d ever felt in the Seelie Court. This moment, she sensed, was a tipping point. Would she play it safe? Make this a one-time thing before returning to her peaceful existence in the Fae Realm? Or would she continue to take risks, playing the roles that thrilled her, consequences be damned?
She met the woman’s eyes. “Let’s do it.”
Fifteen minutes later, she’d donned an outfit modeled after ancient armor. But the costume wouldn’t protect her from even a dull blade. It was lightweight and incredibly soft, made of sidana edau—a fabric the mortals called squirrel silk.
A golden band around Sela’s neck connected to a skintight, glimmering, bronze-colored shirt that left her shoulders, arms, and back uncovered. Connected to that was a skirt made of short, narrow panels. Matching briefs underneath provided a bit of modesty. Fabric greaves on her shins, plus delightfully bare feet, completed the look. It was terribly impractical as armor but divine as a dance costume. Sela did a little shimmy, laughing as the flaps of her skirt flew out.
The woman handed her a lightweight spear, dagger, and shield. “They’re cheap, but they’ll look great from the dance floor.”
Soon, they were climbing a set of narrow steps. They turned onto a walkway and stopped at a door. “Give them a show,” the woman said. “There’s a bottle of water in the corner. Come downstairs if you need a break.” She opened the door.
Keeping her wings tight against her back, Sela stepped onto the platform. A few shouts went up from people who saw her, and that was all she needed to give herself over to the thrumming music. She set down the spear and dagger, using the shield to tease the audience, dancing behind it, revealing bits of her costume and gyrating form, before finally putting it aside. Cheers reached her ears, and she picked up the spear next, dancing with it like it was her partner.
At first, she gloried in the crowd’s reactions, but as her body warmed and cool sweat beaded on her skin, she forgot about the people below and simply moved, losing herself in the music.
After perhaps half an hour, her legs were heavy. She stopped for a drink of water but wasn’t ready to give up the rush of performing. The woman who’d brought her up here had said to give them a show—so Sela spread her wings and flew into the air above the stage and dance floor.
The reaction was instantaneous enthusiasm—shouts and whistles and a single hollered marriage proposal from someone who clearly didn’t understand Fae views on lifelong commitment. As the band got louder, Sela swooped and spun in the air, timing her movements to their music. It was a type of flying dance she often indulged in during Seelie revels . . . but this was better. Here, she was free, soaring in an atmosphere made light by the open minds below.
She only flew for a few minutes. Leave them wanting more, fellow performers had always told her. So Sela glided back to the platform, pulling in her wings as she landed.
The door at the back of the platform was open. Had she left it like that? She reached out to close it . . . but a hand emerged from the darkness, grabbing her arm.
A muscular faerie male, a member of the Seelie royal guard, stepped onto the small platform. Translucent, insectoid wings were tucked behind his back. Despite his wrinkle-free skin, Sela knew him to be close to four centuries old.
“Hello, Sela,” he said in the Fae language. Despite the polite greeting, his voice was crafted from hard, heavy granite. “Were the festivities back at Court not exciting enough for you?” Seeing her wide eyes, he grinned. “I was told to keep an eye on you at the revel. I followed you all the way here. It simply took me a while to get in the building. Imagine how shocked I was when I entered and saw your little performance.”
Sela’s mind spun. Her instincts screamed at her to use magic to jump to a nearby location, maybe the room where she’d gotten dressed. But the guard had her arm. If she jumped, she’d bring him with her.
He tightened his grip. “Don’t try anything. There’s another guard on the dance floor and one waiting outside. We all followed you. If you somehow escape, we’ll find you, and you’ll be in even bigger trouble.”
The words barely registered as Sela continued to frantically consider how she could get away. Maybe she could use her Fae magic to fight the guard holding her. It might work if she caught him by surprise. Then she could jump away, glamour herself, and escape. At the thought, power built inside her, waiting to be directed.
“If you’re calling on your pitiful, baby-Fae magic, I’d rethink it.” The guard’s free hand moved to her neck, squeezing gently. “I really don’t want to hurt you.”
Her mouth dropped open. “How did you know?”
“Everyone tries. Release it, Sela.”
She huffed, then let the magic escape through her eyes in a burst of hot, white light. Despite her attempt to control the speed of the release, it burned. “Chos,” she muttered.
“Such profanity!” He shook his head, removing his hand from her neck but keeping hold of her arm. “Your mother would be disappointed.”
If Sela got even a whiff of disappointment from her mother, that would be more attention than she usually merited. This male knew that. It was no secret that Sorcha paid more attention to her dressmaker than her daughter.
Sela fixed a glare on the guard and spoke louder than before. “Shit.”
He rolled his eyes. “Grab your pathetic weapons. Ri Ellair will want to see everything you’ve been up to.”
Sela’s throat went tight. This guard was bringing her directly to the king? Just for daring to entertain a roomful of mortals? “Are you arresting the other Seelies in here too?”
“We were only told to return with you.”
Those words stole Sela’s breath. Why her? Why now? Nobody had cared the dozens of other times she’d left the Realm to hang out with mortals. Trying to remain calm and appear compliant, she picked up her lightweight shield, spear, and dull dagger.
“We’re jumping,” the guard said.
Sela stiffened in anticipation. Then her insides felt like they swirled into slime for a split second as darkness surrounded them both. Her bare feet landed on the hard dirt of the street outside the club.
A male guard with gray-feathered wings approached and hovered in the air next to Sela. Another female, also winged, appeared on the street a few meters away. She must’ve jumped from inside the club.
The guard who’d caught Sela still had her arm in his iron grip. He turned to the female. “Grab her other arm. We’ll hold her the whole flight home.” Shifting his gaze to the male, he commanded, “Go on ahead. Find the king. Tell him we’ll be waiting outside his palace.”
Sela pulled at her arms, but the movement only resulted in the guards’ hands tightening hard enough to bruise her. She sighed, suddenly too weary to curse.
We’ve been on the ship a week now. Everyone has to attend a daily class called Trasna 101. It’s supposed to teach us everything we need to know about the world we’re moving to.
When they told us the planet was Earth-like, they were exaggerating. There are so many differences. To start with, Trasna has this orange moon that only orbits the planet every fifty days. But we’ll still have months that are about four weeks long each, because we’re used to that.
The year will be a little shorter, and all twelve months will have new names. Some genius decided to name them after passengers on Earth’s first colony ship, the one that stopped communicating on its way to a planet called Anyari. I think it’s morbid to dwell on the names of people who probably died doing the same thing we’re trying to do: colonize a planet.
Journal of a Trasnan Colonist by Ellit Myers
February 12, 2552
Rhian, Chief Guard of the Seelie Court, waited for her king in a palace corridor. Standing at a wide window, she glowered at the moon.
Her twelve hundred years of experience told her that a full moon, whether back on Earth or here on Trasna, held no inherent magic. It was a big ball of rock, reflecting the distant sun. Nothing more. But try telling a bunch of lascivious, mischievous faeries that.
Nine hundred years ago, when Rhian had fled from Earth with hundreds of other faeries, she’d marveled at her new planet’s orange moon. It had taken less than a year for her to decide she preferred Earth’s boring, silvery white satellite. Faeries used the full moon as an excuse to get into all manner of trouble. Faint music from flutes, strings, and drums reminded her that tonight’s party was already in full swing. At least she could find comfort in the fact that, after tonight, she wouldn’t have to endure another major revel for nearly two months.
“Are we ready?” a cultured voice called.
Rhian turned to see the king, Ri Ellair, standing with his retinue at the end of the hallway. When he stepped forward, lantern light illuminated his straight, shoulder-length, light brown hair and the two stubby horns protruding from the top of his head. Translucent amber wings, small but strong, peeked above his shoulders. He was of average height and build but kept himself in excellent shape, valuing his image as the leader of the Seelies. His navy-blue eyes were perhaps less cunning than a king’s should be. That was likely why he was rarely without an assortment of advisors, many of whom were, in Rhian’s opinion, smarter than their monarch.
Tonight, six people accompanied Ellair. To his right stood Dughlas, a pale-skinned, black-haired advisor who’d been alive nearly as long as Rhian and, like her, had also served Ellair’s mother. To the king’s left was Lietis, the Seelie Ambassador to the Mortals, whose black-and-orange butterfly wings were tucked behind her back.
Behind the three of them stood three courtiers who were currently in the king’s favor. Accompanying them was Niall, the Royal Librarian. While his green eyes and red hair were common enough in this Court, he was oddly short for a faerie, like the weight of all his knowledge (most of it useless) had stunted his growth. The king tended to keep the soft-spoken male close, since there wasn’t much Niall didn’t know. At least if it could be found in a book.
“We’re ready to be escorted to the revel,” Ellair said, his eyes bright with anticipation.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Rhian replied.
Wanting to attract maximum attention when he arrived at a revel, the king never allowed any guard but Rhian to escort him. And he always entered the palace’s central courtyard on the upper level, in order to attract the gaze of every attendee.
Rhian led the group through the palace, scanning for any dangers. When she passed courtiers or palace staff, they invariably avoided her sharp gaze. She had carefully built a reputation as the guard who trusted no one. As a result, she had no close friends, and that suited her well. She had no time for personal relationships.
Behind Rhian, the courtiers vied with each other to give Ellair the most lavish compliments on his home. While the flattery grated on Rhian, it was well deserved. Eminently talented faeries had shaped and crafted every inch of this beautiful palace.
The first hallway they traversed had a black wooden floor that was rooted into the ground below, grown by plant faeries called Laags. Soft, glowing moss created striking geometric designs along the edges. The group soon turned into a corridor featuring a ceiling made of glass that magically enhanced the brightness of the stars above.
Rhian then led the way up a winding staircase with glowing flowers in the walls, and one more turn brought them into a passage with streams trickling down the stone walls. The water pulsed in time to the revel’s music, which was now quite loud.
At last, they reached a door leading to a balcony that ran around the entire courtyard. A waiting guard assured them that all was well, and Rhian pulled the door open and entered, scanning the room.
The music came from five musicians in the center of the courtyard below. Someone had magically amplified the sound, and Rhian’s skin shook with the beat.
The current Seelie population was 460, and most were at this revel. Moonlight glimmered off wings, horns, and shimmering fabrics. Faeries gorged themselves on gourmet food, performed spectacular magical feats, drank vast quantities of wine (much of it enchanted to easily intoxicate Fae bodies), and held each other so close that it wasn’t hard to guess what many would be doing later tonight.
A foot-tall pixie female flew into the air, blue tongues of magical fire shimmering off her three sets of wings. One of the flautists cast a glamour on herself, growing two feet taller in the span of a second, not missing a note as her body shifted. The pixie landed on the flautist’s head, wings still covered in fire, dancing and spinning.
Rhian’s gaze settled on another of the courtyard’s many excesses: flowers. Magically altered to be multicolored and able to climb on any surface, rosyns (roses in the mortal tongue) were the flower of the Seelie Court. The blooms were everywhere: on the walls and climbing up tables, winding up the staircase banister and smashed under dancing feet. Rhian spotted a male faerie with long, curly red hair who wore nothing but a lush necklace of blooms.
Rhian scanned the room’s revelers. Seelies were, without exception, gorgeous. And when they were dancing and making music, nothing in this world or on Earth was more stunning. As long as they behaved, which they were doing now. Mostly.
Without taking her eyes from the courtyard below, Rhian stepped away from the door and lifted her hand, her signal to the king that it was safe to enter.
Ellair walked in, straight teeth glistening as he grinned, the sidana edau fabric of his multicolored robe swishing in a way Rhian had to admit was entrancing. A few people caught sight of him and began to cheer. His arms came up, and the noise grew. The musicians transitioned seamlessly into the ancient, nameless tune they always played to welcome their monarch.
Ellair descended the stairs. When he reached the bottom, he joined the party. Rhian sighed as she watched him walk away with a young, beaming male with blue-feathered wings who was doubtless more interested in his king’s riches than his companionship.
When they’d sneaked into a side room where nothing good ever happened, Rhian descended the stairs and threaded her way through the room, eyes open for anything that needed addressing. She encouraged an impressively drunk female to sit before she passed out and got trampled by her fellow dancers. Then she reminded two males, who were old enough to know better, that human servants were here to work, not get seduced.
When she’d given a few more faeries gentle nudges away from their ill-advised instincts, she stopped at the food table. Snacking on diced fruit, she scanned the room and kept an eye on the doorway the king had exited through. A few gorgeous celebrants tried to catch her eye or engage her in conversation, but she rebuffed them. She was here to work.
After a quarter-hour or so, a female guard approached Rhian. “They’re ready for us.”
Rhian swallowed her last bite of fruit and squared her shoulders. It was time to go into that little room and interrupt Ellair, a task that would be awkward were she not so numb to it by now. Whether or not the king was ready, they had to leave. Tonight was the first full moon of spring. Every year on this day, the Seelie king visited the Unseelie Court.
Rhian steeled herself. Only one thing was certain when it came to Unseelie revels: there would be plenty of misbehaving.
Rhian led the king and his entourage outside, at last stopping at the base of a hill covered in yellow grass. Powerful Filleas—jump faeries—had long ago placed enchantments on the palace grounds. No one could jump in or out of the building or the land surrounding it.
The king and his six attendants each placed a hand on Rhian. She was the only Fillea in the group and therefore the only one who could carry them to the distant Unseelie Court in a single jump.
A moment of darkness, a slight twist in Rhian’s gut, and they were standing on a cold mountaintop, gazing at the Unseelie palace in the distance. She led the group toward it.
Her boots had crunched over this rocky ground every spring since arriving on Trasna. Each time, she asked herself the same question: Why would anyone want to live here? The only major vegetation was gnarled faal, the thorny hedge that represented the Unseelies. Rhian had to alter her route several times to avoid the stark plants. Seelies had long ago enchanted rosyns to grow without thorns. Unseelies cultivated the largest thorns possible, making no effort to hide their Court’s bleak, severe nature.
Even the palace was Unseelie to its core, all twisted wood, thorns, and sharp stone. At certain angles, it looked more like a dead, haunted forest than a building. It had a courtyard, just as the Seelie palace did, and Rhian knew what she’d find there: chos.
All magic, Seelie or Unseelie, was performed by manipulating nature’s chos and eagar, or chaos andorder in the language of mortals. According to legend, Aedan, the human man who became the first faerie, had embraced the order within nature and magic. He’d shared his magic with other humans, turning them into faeries as stunning and beautiful as he was.
Then Aedan’s protégé, a faerie named Drust, had embraced chaos in his magic and his body. His skin had turned mottled. Beast-like claws had replaced his hands, and he’d grown new, sharp teeth. Like Aedan, he’d been powerful enough to give magic to humans, turning them into faeries. They became monstrous and twisted too.
Aedan and Drust hadn’t called themselves Seelie and Unseelie. Those terms came later, after all the original faeries, who had only lived a couple of hundred years due to their human origins, were gone.
In 1784, a group of Scottish Unseelies had joined a larger group of Seelies from across the British Isles for a faerie exodus from Earth. To this day, Seelies on Trasna outnumbered the Unseelies.
After a short walk, Rhian, the king, and his hangers-on reached the palace. Before them stood a black, wooden door. Countless gnarled faal thorns jutted out of it. Such a welcoming sight, Rhian thought.
The door swung open, releasing a burst of the magical heat that kept the palace comfortable. Rhian shuddered every time the Unseelie queen’s butler opened this door. He was tall enough for his bald head to brush the top of the doorway and so muscular that he had to turn sideways to traverse some of the palace’s narrower corridors. Short, silvery fur covered his entire body up to his neck, and he never wore anything but a multicolored, jeweled codpiece. He had wings, structured similarly to those of Earth’s bats.
Rhian could’ve handled all that, even the tacky codpiece, if it weren’t for the butler’s eyes. They were larger than most and glowed red, their irises swirling like molten lava. Gritting her teeth, Rhian held back a shudder. “We’re here for the revel.”
“I know.” His smooth, high voice never failed to catch Rhian off guard. “This way, please.”
The butler never appeared cowed by Ri Ellair. While Seelie monarchs officially had a certain amount of authority in the Unseelie Court, Ellair exerted little real influence here. The Unseelies claimed to respect him, but if he tried to usurp their queen’s rule, the two Courts would likely go to war.
The corridors in this magnificent building were as magical as those of the Seelie palace. Branches, woven into stone walls, moved like serpents. Wind with no discernable source blew through one dark hallway. Fire glowed in alcoves, illuminating but not consuming grotesque statues of faerie monsters.
The furry butler escorted the group to the courtyard, promised Ri Ellair that he would fetch the queen, and invited the rest of them to “Have fun . . . if you know how.”
Ellair turned to Rhian, who stood at his side. “Leave me be. I look weak if I depend on a guard to protect me from my fellow faeries.”
No, she wanted to respond. You look stupid for standing alone when you’re surrounded by monsters.But she’d given up on that argument a long time ago.
Dughlas, Lietis, and the courtiers had already wandered into the crowd. Niall, the meek librarian, didn’t step away until Rhian did. He always stayed close to her at these revels, depending on her to protect them both from the unpredictable Unseelies.
They entered the throng. This revel held some similarities to the one they’d attended earlier tonight—open-air courtyard, raucous band, plenty of food and wine—but if the Seelies were an elegant tree, the Unseelies were its twisted, dirty roots.
Moonlight illuminated monsters of all sorts, bearing every faerie mutation imaginable. Razor-edged wings. Misaligned body parts. Jagged holes in naked torsos. Many Unseelies had further altered their bodies with piercings, tattoos, and bizarre implants.
Their dancing was like nothing Rhian ever saw at home. Faeries dug claws and fangs into their willing partners, dripping blood onto the dirt at their feet. One female held her male companion upside down, and they gnawed at each other’s knees as their bodies jolted in time to the music.
There was no normal here when it came to wardrobe. Anything—or nothing at all—was acceptable. High above, a winged, goat-legged female clad only in glittering, golden, crisscrossed ribbons performed a mid-air dance. Her partner was a female with tight, blood-red fabric covering her entire body, even the wings holding her aloft.
Niall still hovering uncomfortably close to her, Rhian dodged writhing, spike-covered limbs and flaring wings, at last arriving at the food table. A faerie male with clawed fingers and a torso decorated with swirls of snake-like scales turned to face her. Considering his heritage, he was shockingly handsome.
“I’d forgotten we’d have visitors tonight.” His voice was a low growl. “Would you like me to feed you?”
Rhian was hungry but knew better than to say yes to an Unseelie offer. She declined, then watched as a female with a humped back approached the male. They had a quick conversation, after which she stood against the table, facing him. The clawed faerie ripped open the female’s gut, placing a slice of fruit directly into her stomach as her agonized screams tore through the air.
He then touched the wound with both hands. Over the course of a very long, very loud minute, organs, muscle, and skin knit themselves together, leaving the female with a belly unmarred by anything but her own blood. Clearly the male was an accomplished Leighis—a healer. When he finished, the female pulled him close and kissed him, long and deep.
Turning away, Rhian allowed herself the shudder that had been building since the butler opened the door. Next to her, Niall’s smooth, unobtrusively handsome face looked a bit green. “Let’s move on,” Rhian said, unable to consider eating now.
After what she’d just seen, run-of-the-mill Unseelie masochism shouldn’t bother her a bit. She led Niall to the center of the courtyard, where a gnarled faal, taller than her and at least twelve feet in diameter, was planted. Faeries stood around it in a loose circle. One by one, they approached and, cheered on by their fellow Unseelies, pricked themselves with thorns. Some went for simple, quick-healing punctures on their fingers or arms, while others dragged their skin along the sharp thorns and created multiple long, gaping wounds. After cutting themselves, they allowed their blood to drip into the soil at the base of the plant.
Rhian had watched this ritual plenty of times and thought she was numb to it . . . until she saw a female faerie with massive, bulging blue veins bring an infant to the gnarled faal. The female pierced her infant’s skin with a thorn, then held the wailing child over the ground, squeezing its arm until a drop of blood fell to the dirt. Grimacing, Rhian looked away.
This tradition went back to Drust, the father of the Unseelies. He’d cultivated gnarled faal as their plant and insisted that faeries in his community must, at any age, pierce their skin and share their blood with the soil. It was a practice that, in Rhian’s opinion, should be as obsolete as medicinal bloodletting.
Rhian turned to Niall. “I’m going to check on Ellair.”
His raised brows probably meant he disapproved of her neglecting to call their monarch Ri—Fae for King. But after so many centuries, Niall’s uptight nature no longer affected her.
They made it back to the courtyard entrance without incident, though Rhian would probably have nightmares about the male whose long, forked tongue had slithered an inch away from her neck as she passed him.
Ellair was standing on a balcony that jutted over the courtyard entrance. A railing of gnarled faal protected the king and the female next to him: Ban Iseabal, the Unseelie queen. They stood silently, watching the revel.
The queen’s long, lean, strong body could’ve been Seelie from the chest down. Above that, she was purely Unseelie. Her cheekbones were thick and prominent, her brow was strong, and the bridge of her nose formed a sharp point. All this resulted in a face full of fascinating planes and disturbing shadows that always grabbed Rhian’s attention.
Iseabal kept her pale blonde hair very short, highlighting a long, slender neck. Atop her head was a crown formed of black metal, shaped like interwoven branches of gnarled faal. Her most awe-inspiring and disturbing feature was a circular, green frill that extended from the base of her neck. It usually lay flat, its edges reaching the tips of her shoulders and the tops of her breasts. But when she was alarmed or angry, it flapped out like a round wing. Rhian had heard that the tiny spikes all around the frill held a mild venom that would put someone to sleep for several hours. Others claimed the queen could even shoot this venom at attackers, aiming at their eyes or mouths. The truth of such tales was debatable, but Ban Iseabal made no effort to debunk them.
If only Iseabal had been in power when Ellair’s mother, Una, was queen. That balcony couldn’t have supported the sheer grandeur of the two powerful females. Next to the Unseelie queen, Ellair looked silly. Young. Out of his depth.
A sharp pang of longing shot into Rhian. Una had been the only person in the Seelie palace that she truly trusted. Her death had been the biggest shock of Rhian’s life. She could go weeks without thinking of her, but the ache always returned, like an unwanted houseguest.
She closed her eyes tightly, pushing away the grief. When she opened them, Ban Iseabal was gazing at her. The queen’s leathery frill extended with a snap that rang above the sounds of persistent revelry. Her mouth curved into a closed-lip smile.
“Rhian!” a voice called.
She turned to see a winged Seelie guard entering the courtyard. He jogged up to her. “We followed Sela to an illegal club for faeries and mortals. She put on an angel costume and performed on a stage—dancing and flying. She’s being held outside our palace.”
Rhian didn’t know whether to groan at the silly girl or rejoice that they’d caught her in the act. Sela was rebellious and immature and had a knack for making Rhian want to throttle her. Tonight, the baby faerie had stepped into a trap of her own making. As infuriating as that was, it would free the king to implement a plan he and his advisors had been discussing for weeks.
Rhian fixed her cold gaze on the guard. “We’ll gather the king and the rest of his retinue and jump back home.”
I remember the day we stepped on this ship. My parents and I walked into our quarters and said they were bigger than we expected.
Less than two months later, and I swear these rooms are half the size they were in February. I keep asking if I can move out, and Mom and Dad just laugh.
Journal of a Trasnan Colonist by Ellit Myers
March 14, 2552
Sela stood in the yellow grass outside the Seelie palace, her arm compressed by the burly guard’s stone-like grip, her mind spinning. Getting caught performing for humans in an illegal club wasn’t exactly a good thing, but the worst punishment they’d give her would be a couple of weeks scrubbing palace toilets.
The longer she waited, her eyes occasionally wandering to the four additional guards standing to the side, the more she suspected she’d underestimated the seriousness of her situation.
How had it gotten so hot out here? Sweat rolled down her back, chest, and sides, as if the moon’s brightness was warming her. I guess I’m just scared.
“You know,” she told the guard, “that performance I was doing, it wasn’t something I planned. This mortal woman saw my wings, and she thought this costume would fit, and I don’t know what got into me, but I don’t think I really did any harm—”
“Tell it to the king,” he said.
She was about to argue further, but movement caught her eye. She turned her head and let out a tiny whimper. A group had just jumped in. At the front stood Rhian, the king’s Chief Guard, next to the guard who’d flown ahead to the Unseelie Court to tattle on Sela. Behind them were Ri Ellair and six advisors and courtiers. They all walked toward her, stopping a couple of meters away.
“Shit,” Sela said for the second time that night.
The king’s brown eyebrows lifted.
“Damn it, I didn’t mean to say that out loud.” Sela snapped her mouth shut. She wasn’t making this any better.
“Had I not already been told that you spend too much time with mortals,” the king said, “that toxic tongue of yours would have given it away.”
Sela tried to smile. Play a role, she urged herself. Only she was too tired to decide who she wanted to be. The innocent faerie, defending her actions? The humble faerie, begging for forgiveness?
Ri Ellair strode to the front of the group, standing close enough for Sela to see the tiny, red lines in the whites of his eyes, surrounding his navy-blue irises. He’d probably been drinking. The muscles of his square jaw flexed before he opened his mouth and spoke. “You don’t remember what it was like on Earth, Selaphiel.”
Neither do you, she wanted to say. He wasn’t yet half a millennium old. Their ancestors had come to Trasna hundreds of years before his birth.
She stayed quiet, but the king must’ve seen the challenge in her stance, because he smiled and said, “Nor do I. But I am wise enough to listen to those who remember.” Without turning, he said, “Rhian?”
The Chief Guard strode forward and stood next to her king. Rhian was tall and gorgeous, even for one of their kind. Her twelve hundred years hadn’t aged her physically, but they lent her a certain severity. Large, turquoise eyes sat above sharp cheekbones. Gently curling brown hair cascaded to her waist. A plain, black tunic and matching pants, woven of sidana edau, hugged her fierce, strong curves, and soft, black boots covered her feet. Short swords hung at both her hips.
Rhian always made Sela feel small. Inconsequential. The guard was conniving, strong, stunning, and widely rumored to be the true power behind the Seelie throne. Many faeries hypothesized she kept herself in the king’s good graces by sharing his bed. Sela doubted it. Rhian had too much taste for that.
“On Earth”—by Aedan, even Rhian’s voice was strong and beautiful—“we faeries were persecuted by those who feared us. They stole our property to plant fields, threatening us with extinction if we didn’t move. They even kidnapped some of the strongest of us, using their greater numbers to force us to fight in their wars. When we fled into the woods, they hunted us. I’ll never forget hiding behind a tree, watching a nobleman shriek with laughter as he sliced the head off a pixie.”
Sela swallowed, trying to get that image out of her mind.
Ri Ellair’s voice drew Sela’s attention back to him. Anger simmered behind his words. “My mother led the Fae to this planet. They used incomprehensible magic to jump across the stars. Over seven hundred years later, mortals landed here, their technology having accomplished the same thing our magic did. Why did they come?”
Several seconds passed before Sela realized he was waiting for an answer. “They’d ruined Earth with their weapons and technology,” she said quietly. “It was becoming uninhabitable.”
He nodded. “I’m glad to hear you listened to some of your teachers, at least.” He stepped closer. His breath, scented with wine, heated her already-warm face. “Mortals ravage things. It is what they do. Their planet, their fellow humans, the Fae—they destroy whatever they touch. They even convinced us to change the very name of the planet we had claimed.” Ri Ellair had never hidden his fury over this detail. Trasna was the human name for this world, and it had quickly caught on with the Fae. At some point, he’d given up on convincing his fellow faeries to revert to the name they’d given it: Byd.
The king continued, “The only way we can hope to live in peace on the planet that belongs to us”—he punctuated those three words with shakes of his fist—“is to ensure humans look up to us and honor us. We are immortal. We are wise. And we were born to lead.”
Sela managed a nod.
“Do you see why we don’t allow Fae to cavort with mortals, Selaphiel?” He looked her up and down, sneering. “When you put on their costumes and use your stunning wings to flap around in their club, you put yourself on their level. They must never be allowed to forget that we faeries are worthy of respect. You gave them every reason to see you as one of them. We Fae are not divine; you know that. But compared to them?”
Sela swallowed. “Compared to them?”
He smiled. “Compared to them, we are gods.” He reached out and ran his fingers along one of her folded wings where it extended above her shoulders. “And you—you even look like an angel. You could do so much to build our reputation among mortals. Instead, you choose to act like one of them, vulgar and impulsive, performing for their momentary entertainment.” He shook his head. “Selaphiel, I know of your frequent forays into the mortal cities. I have never heard of a faerie who tried so hard to be someone other than the majestic being she was born to be.”
Sela squeezed her eyes briefly shut. That last statement dug Unseelie-like claws into her chest. When she looked up, the Chief Guard and the king were chatting softly. Then they both nodded. Sela’s heart dropped. Whatever was about to happen, she got the feeling it was Rhian’s idea. That couldn’t be a good thing. Her entire body tensed.
“Selaphiel,” the king said, bringing that deep blue gaze back to her, “named after the ancient Byzantine Angel of Thursday, correct?”
“Yes, Ri Ellair.” How Sela hated her full name and the expectation of perfection that came with it.
At a word from the king, the guard released her arm. Sela relished the sense of freedom but didn’t dare try to jump away. Her flight over the Muirmil Sea had given her time to think about all this. Fleeing from the king would only get her in more trouble, once she was inevitably caught.
“Pick up your ridiculous weapons,” Ri Ellair said. When she’d obeyed, holding the dull spear and dagger in one hand and the lightweight shield in the other, he commanded, “Fly with me, Selaphiel.” The small, amber wings at his back unfolded, barely reaching past his arms.
Sela spread her wings. The king lifted into the air, and she followed suit. They flew directly up, facing each other, the king’s wings fluttering at a rapid pace while Sela’s flapped slowly.
“Have you heard the old religious tales of angels who forsook their callings?” Ri Ellair asked, his tone casual.
“I don’t think so.”
“Some were said to have been cast down to Earth, forced to live as mortals. Fallen angels, they were called.”
Sela’s brows furrowed. “I’m not an angel.”
“Clearly. But you have forsaken your calling as a faerie.”
As they continued to rise, the air turned colder. Thinner. A fog of confusion slithered into Sela’s head. “What . . . what’re we doing?” she slurred.
The king’s mouth twitched, something similar to a smile. “I think that’s high enough.” He came to a stop, lazily hovering in the air. “You like this?” he asked, gesturing to the land below. “Looking at the world from the heavens?”
Despite the darkness, Sela’s Fae vision could make out much of what lay below. Wispy clouds floated by, revealing snow-capped mountains to the south, green land to the north, and the cobalt sea beyond, all illuminated by millions of stars and the huge, full moon. Part of Sela’s mind was aware of its beauty, but she was in no position to appreciate it. It was as if her thoughts, which normally darted about her head at high speed, were now swimming through thick mud.
Ri Ellair’s voice penetrated her confusion. Gone was his nonchalance; intensity blazed from his eyes now. “This is our world, Selaphiel. If we are to protect ourselves and the planet we chose, we must never forget where we belong—above mortals.” He cocked his head to one side. “You look a bit woozy.”
“I . . .” She pulled in the deepest breath she could, but it barely refreshed her. How was the king so calm? How was he not drowning in this thin air?
It came to her, despite her muddled mind. Magic. Ri Ellair was a Dealan, a weather faerie. He’d worked his whole adulthood to master the chos and eagar in the air. Gathering nearby oxygen to make the air around him more breathable would require barely a thought.
Sela was no Dealan, but she had as much basic magic as any faerie. Theoretically, she had the power to bring order to the air too. She begged her magic to do its job. A hot rush of strength built up in her, but the air remained chaotic, not revealing its secrets to her untrained body.
After several seconds, Sela could no longer hold in the sizable amount of magic she’d summoned. More experienced faeries could build up a great deal of magical pressure before performing stunning acts, but she wasn’t there yet. The magic in her body ordered itself into rays of white light, which burned like fire as they burst from her eyes. She would’ve screamed if she’d had any air. Instead, she dug deeper, drawing up more magic, her mouth gaping desperately.
Her distress didn’t phase the king. “You’re not human.” His tone was low and as cold as the air around them. “And you’re certainly not an angel.” He pulled the cheap spear from her hand and broke it in two. “You’re something better—you’re Fae. It’s time to act like it.”
She heard his words but could no longer process their meaning. Magic built up in her body, but the air remained hopelessly thin. She gasped, but it wasn’t enough—wasn’t enough—
The edges of her vision went black, like spilled ink.
As if from a great distance, she heard the king’s voice. “Fall, faerie. Fall.”
Darkness devoured the moon, the stars, the king, and the beautiful land below.
The next thing she knew, Sela was gasping back to consciousness, the ground approaching at a velocity so fast, she knew why they called it terminal. Her shield, dagger, and broken spear fell nearby.
Her wings, thank Aedan, came to life, beating against the rushing air, slowing her fall. She was barely aware of the sound of her weapons and shield clattering to the ground. Another snap of feathery wings, and she was upright, hovering half a meter from the grass below.
She landed on her bare feet, pulling air into her panicked lungs. The king was waiting for her, arms folded across his broad chest. He could’ve caught her as she fell, ushering her safely to the ground. And the two winged guards nearby—did any of them care that she’d nearly died?
Ri Ellair smiled, his teeth glinting in the moonlight. “I wouldn’t have let you crash. Not too hard, anyway.”
She was still gulping air, her thoughts spinning too fast for her to respond.
The king sobered. “You’ve forgotten your calling as a faerie—to be an example to humans. To help them be better than they are. You made yourself into vulgar entertainment for them instead. Like the angels in myths, it’s time for you to fall.”
She pressed her lips together, drawing wonderfully oxygen-thick air through her nose, hoping it gave her a measure of patience and maybe even humility. “I messed up. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want your apology.”
“What do you want?” Her desperate voice was shrill and loud. Not wanting to be perceived as combative, she gave him a respectful nod. “Your Majesty.”
“I want you to act like a faerie. An adult faerie.”
“I’m barely eighteen. I’ll have an eternity to act like an adult.”
“You’ll start today. We have a job for you. Rhian?”
The Chief Guard stepped forward and stood next to her monarch. “Sela, you will be forced to walk with mortals, just as the fallen angels did in the old myths. You will not be allowed back into the Fae Realm until you prove your loyalty and competence.”
Sela’s mouth went dry. She loved spending time with humans, but—banished from the Realm? Her home? “How . . . how do I prove my loyalty?”
“There is a wealthy mortal family in Rannik,” Rhian said, “who is plotting to turn mortals against us and neutralize our power. You will adopt your human glamour and move in with them to tutor their son in our language. You have the job. They’ve merely been waiting for you to convince your previous employer to let you go. Within two months, you must gather enough information for us to put an end to whatever plans they have. If you succeed, you will earn your place back in the Seelie Court.”
Ri Ellair narrowed his eyes and said, “Let me make one thing clear. These mortals are nothing like the Fae-loving humans you’ve been cavorting with. The family you’re working for will spew hatred for our people, and you’ll have to stand there and take it, day after day. This is a punishment, not a vacation.”
Sela realized her mouth was gaping open. She shut it, then licked her lips. “I have so many questions.”
“Ask them,” Rhian said.
“What happens if I don’t meet the two-month deadline?”
Ri Ellair let out a short huff. “You’re superior to this family in every way. If you don’t get some truly useful information to us within two months, it will be because you failed to try. In that case, we will find a remote location outside our Court where you can live alone for a nice, long exile. We’ll bring you back once a year to see if you’ve matured and to remind you what you’re missing. I expect you’ll be ready to return to society within a century or two.”
Up to two hundred years. Alone. Tears pricked at Sela’s eyes, but she didn’t let them spill over. She forced the potential consequence out of her mind, unwilling to show the king and Rhian how much it scared her. Her voice was steady when she asked, “How do I already have the job? You just caught me tonight.”
Rhian let out a little laugh. “For months, you’ve been sneaking off to impersonate a human and socialize with mortals. You’ve partied with them. Seduced them. You’ve worn their clothes and laughed at their jokes. We knew you’d mess up again, so one of our people convinced the family to hire a tutor. Then we got you the job and waited.”
“You decided on my punishment before I committed the crime?”
Rhian took a step toward her. “Yes, and you did an excellent job meeting our low expectations.”
“Why do you think I’m ready for this? I’m eighteen. It’s not like I have any experience spying.”
Ri Ellair stepped closer. “I’m told you don’t even have a Fae accent when you speak their language. You use their slang, units of measurement, and more. You’ve spent enough time around mortals to impersonate them perfectly. On top of all that, you’re an actor. You’ve been training for this for years. Be glad we’re giving you a chance to earn forgiveness with your ill-gotten skills.”
Sela looked up at the full moon. She’d flown under it hours ago, headed for Taria, full of anticipation for what promised to be the most exciting night she’d had in months. That was happening . . . but not in the way she’d hoped.
Sela looked down at her bare feet and murmured, “I wasn’t trying to be an embarrassment. I was just . . .” What had she been doing? “I just wanted some fun.” She brought her gaze back to the king and his Chief Guard. No empathy awaited her, not in the turquoise eyes on the left or the navy ones on the right.
Okay, then. This was really happening. Sela pulled in a deep breath. “When do I leave?”
“In the morning,” Rhian said.