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1534453679
ISBN-13:
9781534453678
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A Dark and Hollow Star

A Dark and Hollow Star

by Ashley Shuttleworth

Hardcover

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Overview

“Beautifully written and deliciously complex…I couldn’t get enough.” —Nicki Pau Preto, author of the Crown of Feathers series

The Cruel Prince meets City of Bones in this thrilling urban fantasy set in the magical underworld of Toronto that follows a queer cast of characters racing to stop a serial killer whose crimes could expose the hidden world of faeries to humans.

Choose your player.

The “ironborn” half-fae outcast of her royal fae family.
A tempestuous Fury, exiled to earth from the Immortal Realm and hellbent on revenge.
A dutiful fae prince, determined to earn his place on the throne.
The prince’s brooding guardian, burdened with a terrible secret.

For centuries, the Eight Courts of Folk have lived among us, concealed by magic and bound by law to do no harm to humans. This arrangement has long kept peace in the Courts—until a series of gruesome and ritualistic murders rocks the city of Toronto and threatens to expose faeries to the human world.

Four queer teens, each who hold a key piece of the truth behind these murders, must form a tenuous alliance in their effort to track down the mysterious killer behind these crimes. If they fail, they risk the destruction of the faerie and human worlds alike. If that’s not bad enough, there’s a war brewing between the Mortal and Immortal Realms, and one of these teens is destined to tip the scales. The only question is: which way?

Wish them luck. They’re going to need it.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781534453678
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 02/23/2021
Series: Hollow Star Saga , #1
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 27,391
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.80(d)
Lexile: 970L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Ashley Shuttleworth is a young adult fantasy author with a degree in English literature and a slight obsession with The Legend of Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy. They currently live in Ontario, Canada, with their cat named Zack and a growing collection of cosplay swords. You can find them online at AshleyShuttleworth.com.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Arlo

CHAPTER 1 Arlo
Present Day

The Mortal Realm—Toronto Fae Academy, Canada

THE FLOOR THAT ARLO stood on was a glittering sea of white marble flecked with charcoal black. So heavily polished, every flaw and feature had been scrubbed from its surface, and left behind was an icy gloss that nothing—not even the dying sunlight streaming through the glass-dome ceiling—could ever warm.

Unfortunately, the same could be said for the Fae High Council.

Eight proud fae from the Four Courts of Folk made up this panel of judges. One each from the factions of Seelie Winter, Summer, Autumn, and Spring—those folk who drew power from day and most valued the qualities of grace and responsibility in their people. One each from the factions of UnSeelie Winter, Summer, Autumn, and Spring—those folk who drew power from night and were known for their indulgence and their cunning.

And all were staring down at Arlo as if she were a bug beneath their boot.

In Arlo’s opinion, there was no real difference between the Seelie and UnSeelie fae, no matter what each group liked to think. The stony faces before her, for instance, were all the same—as cold and hard as the marble under her feet.

All eight of these representatives had been chosen to uphold the High King’s laws. Not one of them was known for displays of compassion. Facing them now for their judgment drove home that this meeting was little better than a formality: all eight minds had already made their unanimous decision on the matter of Arlo’s “suitability” for the magical world long before she’d come to plead her case.

It was safe to say that her Weighing was not going very well.

“It isn’t a matter of lineage,” said Councillor Sylvain, the Seelie representative of Spring.

Tall and lithe, his numerous years were yet unable to conquer his sinewy strength. His voluminous emerald and turquoise robes, fastened by gleaming gold, did little to soften the severe cut of his glamoured ivory face.

“No one is questioning your bloodline, Miss Jarsdel,” he continued dismissively. “You are Thalo Viridian-Verdell’s daughter; of that there is no dispute. What we question here today is whether or not it matters.”

Arlo already knew the answer to that question.

In the eyes of the High Council, the only thing that mattered was that half of Arlo’s heritage was human. The fact that the other half had come directly from a royal fae family—the royal family, the family that currently sat as head of the magical community above even the heads of all the other Courts—was actually a mark against her. The fae were quite proud of their undiluted bloodlines, and the very long line of the Viridian family comprised only that—fae. There were no faerie relatives—those folk who possessed some animal or natural trait like bark for skin or leaves for hair. The Viridians certainly had no human relatives either, not until Arlo’s mother had married one, and then shortly after had given birth to Arlo. At least Arlo herself looked similar to the fae; she shuddered to think how much worse she’d be treated right now if her magical heritage came from anything else.

Arlo was the first ironborn royal in a family whose “purity” predated the Magical Reform, when the Courts hadn’t even been thought of, let alone formed, and all that had existed were the warring Seelie and UnSeelie factions. Unfortunately, she’d inherited very little of her mother’s side of the family. She was about as magical as a box of lemons and had been so overwhelmed trying to keep up with the others at her local faerie elementary that her mother had taken pity on her and moved her to a human school. The Council cared an awful lot about Arlo’s background—the problem was, it wasn’t in the way that would help her.

Working to conceal her wince, Arlo forced her gaze level with the Council’s collective stare. Her eyes—as bright and hard as jade—were one of the few things about Arlo that made it impossible for anyone to refute her ties to the Viridian family. But in moments like these, she wished she’d inherited her mother’s skill for cutting those green eyes into a glare.

“It… it should matter that I’m a Viridian,” Arlo heard herself say, in a voice made small by nausea and nerves. “My magic might not be very strong, I might have much more of my father’s iron blood than you’d like, but I can still alter and conceal my appearance with a glamour just fine, and I possess enough of the Sight to see through the glamours of other folk as well…”

The speech was something her mother and cousin had helped her prepare. But Arlo knew that it would do no good to try to pretend that she was anything other than terribly unremarkable. The only exception to this was the strength of her ability to sense the magic around her. But this trick was something all fae could do, and however stronger Arlo suspected her command of this ability was, it wasn’t going to win her many points today. Her overall power was woefully weak, but she did have the bare minimum needed to qualify for common magical status in their community. If she kept the Council on the facts, they had to grant her this, at least.

“You possess less talent on the cusp of adulthood than what a goblin infant can perform by instinct,” Councillor Siegel—Seelie representative of Autumn—interposed. Her eyes were hard as amber as they fixed on Arlo, her tone eviscerating. “Furthermore, you have reached eighteen years with only minimal grasp on the rudiments of magic, having spent your education thus far under human tutelage. Tell me, Miss Jarsdel, what is there for you to miss should the Council rule against you?”

Arlo’s throat dried up like the colorful leaves woven into the Councillor’s robes.

They were going to reject her status even though she had enough magic and very much wanted to remain a member of the magical community.

“Councillor Siegel,” she pleaded. “Please, you… you can’t! If you rule against me, if you lock away my powers and erase my memories… my family… my mother, and my cousins… I’d forget them! If you rule against me, I’ll be missing the largest part that makes me me.”

There was so much for Arlo to miss if the Council not only denied her fae citizenship but also inclusion in the magical community as a whole. Fae citizenship, with its isolationist rules and responsibilities, was not something she was sure she even wanted, but she knew without a doubt that she didn’t want to be expelled from magic altogether. She didn’t want to forget the truth about her family any more than she wanted to forget that magic had ever survived the collapse of human memory that it had existed.

Councillor Siegel raised a fine chestnut brow. “Quiet your theatrics, Miss Jarsdel. You would still be you, and you would not forget your family. You’d forget only what is unnecessary for you to remember. Your father remembers you still, does he not?”

Her father.

Marriages between fae and humans had to be approved by the Courts, but in this approval was a caveat: if the marriage ended, the human party had to forfeit what they’d learned of the magical community. It had been Arlo’s father’s decision to file for divorce. He’d given up his memories freely because, as far as Arlo understood, he’d grown a vast contempt for magic and those who had anything to do with it.

Her father remembered who she was, yes.

Arlo wouldn’t say they had a good relationship, though—not with the constant, nagging fear in the back of her head that her own father would hate her too, if he ever remembered why he should. And on top of that was the exhaustion that came with ensuring she never let anything about the magical community slip in front of him or any other human. Arlo didn’t want anyone else in her family to know what that felt like any more than she wanted to give up something that had been a part of her life for a full eighteen years.

And she had to believe the Council couldn’t be that unnecessarily cruel.

“Yes, My Lady, he does remember me, but—”

An air of finality bled from the stands. Arlo’s desperate attempt to explain herself failed with her courage.

“If you have nothing else to say in your defense, Miss Jarsdel, perhaps the Council may now move on with this hearing?” Councillor Siegel said.

Arlo could only stand and stare, distress spreading through her like an anesthetic.

Councillor Sylvain opened his mouth to reclaim the floor and announce his verdict—when the door behind Arlo suddenly burst open. She jumped, spinning around to face the source of this disturbance as the Council rustled in irritation behind her.

“Can you believe Sunday traffic?” the intruder said by way of greeting.

Arlo’s relief was so profound that it nearly dragged her to the floor.

Celadon Cornelius Fleur-Viridian—Arlo’s first cousin, once removed, and youngest of her great-uncle the High King’s three children—was brilliance and mischief in equal measures. In many ways, he was also the worst role model a freshly turned eighteen-year-old girl could find, but he was the closest thing Arlo had to a brother, and even though he was a couple of years older than her, the molasses rate that fae aged meant there was little difference in their maturity.

“High Prince Celadon!” Councillor Sylvain spluttered, both indignant and begrudgingly deferential to his much younger superior. “This hearing is a closed affair, restricted to the Council and Miss Jarsdel only. You are out of line, Your Highness. I must insist, with all due reverence, that you take your leave at once.”

Arlo continued to watch as Celadon crossed the marble sea, striding purposefully toward her.

For all that the High Prince delighted in ruffling the feathers of aristocracy, there wasn’t anyone she knew who could turn more heads.

Of all the races of folk, the fae were the ones who most closely resembled humans in their appearance (though they insisted it was the humans who resembled them). This likeness was exaggerated into absurdity by their overwhelming beauty, but even among the fair folk, Celadon was exceptionally striking. As a full-blooded member of the Court of Spring, he was tall and lean, with fair white skin and features sharp as new-cut glass. As a Viridian, he was recognized by the bowlike curve of his lips, his jade eyes, and russet hair, which curled around his nape and ears almost exactly as his father’s did.

Like all fae of royal blood, there was a glow beneath his skin. Even through his glamour, it shone greenish soft as setting twilight, a color that marked him UnSeelie. If Arlo’s inheritance had been stronger, she’d wear that same glow, but as it were, only their eyes marked their relation.

This was better than nothing, and despite the things Arlo had inherited from her father—her burnt-red hair, her underwhelming height, and the sturdy width of her build—Celadon had never once treated her as anything less than a true Viridian. It filled Arlo with teary relief to see Celadon, blithe as ever, wafting into the room in his tight jeans and crisp sage button-down, as usual looking like he’d just walked off the set of some glamorous photo shoot.

Sylvain was right, though. Even a prince was no exception to the rules.

Turning back to face the Council, Arlo could tell they were deeply unimpressed.

“Of course, I would be happy to remove myself from your affairs,” Celadon chimed, congenial down to the gentle smile that spread across his face. “I’m sure you’d all prefer to get back to discussing more important matters like this”—he raised his wrist and tapped the screen of his Apple Watch—“especially since you’ve already had plenty of time with my cousin’s Weighing.”

From his watch, a sound clip began to play from a video that had gone viral in their community only days ago.

—Do something, or we will. You will not stamp us out. You will not silence our voice. If the Courts continue to ignore this issue for what it really is, the Assistance will only grow bolder in our attempt to reveal your corruption! Your power comes from your people. I advise you to start showing some care for them instead of just yourselves.

Arlo stared, hardly daring to breathe as she watched the Council’s reaction to Celadon’s audacity.

The Assistance…

The magical community had invented all sorts of ways to bend human technology to suit their needs, but the Assistance—a growing underground group of vigilantes devoted to the protection of the common folk—was bold in how they used it. In light of growing rumors about a series of ironborn murders throughout the magical world—and the fact that the High King didn’t seem to be doing much about them—the Assistance had taken to posting guerrilla broadcasts about the murders on human sites like YouTube. The UnSeelie Spring Court now had an entire division dedicated to searching out and removing these videos before humans started growing suspicious that they were more than some hoax.

Unnecessary, many in the faerie community whispering behind their hands, and Arlo had to agree. The High King cares more about rooting out the Assistance than he cares about finding who’s killing his folk

“An ironborn boy was found dead in British Columbia,” said Celadon, with far less amiability than moments prior. “And even though this is still far from Toronto, the situation has now moved right into the High King’s own backyard. I’m certain the Assistance is wrong. Surely you’re as concerned about these murders as the rest of us.”

The Council shifted uncomfortably, both at Celadon’s implication of negligence with the murders and at the reminder that the Assistance wasn’t as easily rooted out as they’d originally hoped when the group first started attracting wider attention. In response, Arlo’s own unease ratcheted higher, fearing what this not-so-subtle accusation would do to her chances of a favorable outcome in this Weighing.

When rumblings of the murders started, the Courts insisted that the victims were human, not ironborn, and therefore not their concern. But when it became clear that the dead had, in fact, been ironborn and the Courts still did nothing, tensions between the ironborn, faerie, and fae communities grew to an all-time high.

If the most recent case had indeed occurred right here in Canada—in territory that belonged to UnSeelie Spring—their government could no longer afford to do nothing. The Fae High Council would be forced into searching out possible culprits; they had enough to keep them occupied without grilling Arlo for what was now twice as long as her Weighing should have taken, but throwing their failures in their faces and rushing them along probably wasn’t the best way to force their meeting’s conclusion—certainly not, given the look on most of the Councillors’ faces.

“No,” Celadon continued on, “I only came to collect my cousin. It is her birthday, after all, and her family would like to spend what little time you’ve left her now to celebrate this fact.” He lifted his watch higher to exaggerate this point, then shook his head despairingly. “Apologies for the interruption, Councillors. I wish every one of you a wonderful night.”

It would never be that simple, even if Celadon hadn’t just scolded them all like children. The High King himself could come to Arlo’s aid right now and she doubted it would make a difference. But Celadon reached for her wrist anyway and started pulling her toward the door.

Councillor Sylvain shot up from his seat, a blue flush bleeding through his glamour to heat his face. “High Prince Celadon!” The Councillor’s words were more like thunder.

Celadon kept Arlo’s wrist in his grasp but angled around once again to face the stands. “Councillor Sylvain,” he returned, the reply spoken light as air, yet somehow just as gravid as the mood of the room.

“You seem to be laboring under the delusion that our business here is concluded.”

“It’s not? Forgive me, Councillor, but your inspection of my cousin has worn out the hour it was meant to take and now runs dangerously close to an interrogation.”

Councillor Chandra rose from her seat, displeasure etched into her stunning sand-brown face at the thinly veiled accusation in Celadon’s statement. “Weighing the worth of an ironborn child is no trivial matter, Your Highness.”

“I beg your pardon—the worth?”

Chandra was unflinching.

“The laws to which we must adhere may seem harsh, but they’re our laws for a reason. Arlo Jarsdel’s case is not simple. An ironborn girl with little to no magic will find our world difficult at its kindest. It’s better, no, to set them on the path that will help them best flourish? To trim away the excess knowledge that would do them no good anyway? We’ve made these laws to keep our people safe, Your Highness. You know this.”

Celadon allowed silence to infuse the room a moment longer than what was comfortable for anyone. Even Arlo shifted at his side, her heart beginning again to flutter in panic.

They hadn’t said it outright, but this was the closest they’d come in this entire meeting to announcing their verdict—to condemning Arlo to a fate she’d never choose if her life were actually up to her.

“Safe?” Celadon glanced at Arlo, incredulous. When he turned back to the Council, he was frowning. “You confuse me, Councillor Chandra. You speak as though you’re set to rule Arlo expelled.”

The umber in Chandra’s eyes flashed at the unspoken challenge. “She is too human.”

“I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your omniscience that her mother is niece to my father, the High King? Arlo is human. She is also fae.”

“Be that as it may, this counts for very little where Miss Jarsdel’s power is concerned.” Arlo’s stomach took a dive for the floor. Gaining momentum, Chandra continued, “Her father’s blood dilutes too much. She has magic, yes, but so little of it that she may as well not have it at all. While our deliberation might seem like prejudice to you, Your Highness, you must understand that there is much more for Miss Jarsdel to gain in pursuing her humanity than there is for her in chasing the formidable shadows of her mother’s family.”

Enough,” Celadon commanded.

More often than not, the world looked at Celadon Viridian as though he were a pampered princeling barely out of the throes of adolescent dramatics. And at times he was, especially when in the mood to be difficult, but on the whole, this image was something he’d purposefully cultivated. This image meant that people (unwisely, and often to their own detriment) assumed he was more than a little vapid. It felt a bit like winning when he shed it now to pin the Fae High Council with a look that made them visibly falter.

“What Arlo chooses to chase is her prerogative—and is, in fact, the law you seem to set your store so firmly by. You’ve already stripped her of one avenue by forbidding alchemy, the talent that would have come most naturally to her as a child of both magic and iron. No doubt she’s demonstrated the minimum requirement of aptitude in other areas to satisfy the lofty standards of our government? And you may dismiss it as common, but I would stake my life on her ability to sense another’s magical signature as far beyond what you, the Council, are collectively able. However scant, everyone in possession of magic must be granted the protection and guidance of the Courts should they choose to submit themselves to our rule. It’s her choice, Councillors, not yours—something you all seem to have forgotten.”

He paused a moment to fix his glare on each of the Councillors in turn, and Arlo felt her breath catch painfully again in her chest. Celadon was steering the conversation back to the argument he’d helped her form, and was doing so with much more conviction than Arlo’s nerves would ever have allowed. Not for the first time, she found herself wishing she had a little more of this brand of bravery for herself.

“If that isn’t enough to satisfy your misgivings, let me remind you of something else: it counts a great deal that your suppliant today is the blood of House Viridian. I, myself, as an example, was a late bloomer. Me, the faeborn son of High King Azurean. I didn’t begin to demonstrate any affinity for air—that element of my Court—until Maturity hit nearly two years ago, when I turned nineteen. And it was only months ago that I discovered I possessed a Gift in addition to that affinity.”

Shifting broke out in the stands as the Council no doubt realized where Celadon’s argument was leading. Arlo was just as uncomfortable.

“As you know,” Celadon continued, “we base the ironborn Maturity timeline on the human standards of puberty. It’s expected that their magic will develop before the age of eighteen, but that isn’t the way for the folk, is it? That isn’t the way for fae, many of whom can only play around with bursts of breezes or electric sparks or puffs of flame before our own coming-of-age, which can happen any time between eighteen and twenty-five.”

Arlo wanted to beg him to stop—to remind him she was just Arlo, and while Celadon might have been so clear an exception, she clearly wasn’t—but her growing discomfort had rendered her speechless.

Celadon ignored her obvious embarrassment. “For most fae, this tiny elemental magic is all they’re ever able to do, on top of the basic Sight and glamour all folk should be able to wield. Not every fae even comes into a true elemental Gift, correct? We don’t all possess the required strength to do things like manipulate others by the water in their bodies, or make weapons out of elements, or pull secrets from the air. Has it not occurred to any of you that it isn’t Arlo Jarsdel’s humanity keeping her from her inheritance, but proper fae biology?”

Finally, Arlo broke her silence. “Cel!” she whispered urgently, tugging on her cousin’s arm. This topic was nothing they hadn’t already gone over ad nauseam, but Arlo wasn’t entirely sold on Celadon’s vehement insistence that she could yet be fully fae. It was a point he wouldn’t budge on when it came up in conversation. “Cel, I don’t think now is the time to bring this up. We really don’t have anything to back this claim. I’m not—”

“Now is the perfect time to bring this up,” Celadon countered under his breath. “Anything we can use, Arlo. Remember?”

Anything they could use to win a pass from the Council, they would. That had been their determination going into this hearing. But playing a card Arlo wasn’t even sure she held seemed a lot like making a promise she’d never be able to deliver on. With people like the fae, a bad promise was tantamount to a lie, and that was one more thing that would make her stand out as unsuitable, because while the folk could tell lies, they avoided doing so with every bit of distaste as they avoided iron.

“Okay, but just… please don’t start shouting at the people currently considering kicking me out of the ‘family business,’?” she breathed, trying to inject some levity into the moment on the chance it would trick her panic into receding.

It didn’t.

Tension churned in the room following Celadon’s speech. Councillor Sylvain waved a hand through the air. “Look at her!” Sylvain seethed. “The blood in her veins is red, not blue—not fae—and she possesses none of the traits that would make her one of us. She is human, High Prince Celadon, and we cannot make exception for this simply because you enjoy throwing your favor around for attention.”

A gasp erupted from the stands.

Several Councillors turned in horror on Sylvain.

Arlo gaped at him, his face drained down to silvery white in realization of the extreme disrespect he’d let slip for someone so important as his High Prince. “Thank you, Briar Sylvain,” said Celadon, his tone as bland as his smile, but the threat in both was unmistakable. His green eyes flashed. “I was starting to think you weren’t brave enough to say to my face the things you whisper behind my back.”

His unfortunate comment aside, Arlo wasn’t surprised by the content of Sylvain’s outburst. The ironborn had earned their name in reference to the oxidization of iron that turned a human’s blood red once met with open air. Fae and faerie blood didn’t possess iron. It ran blue even when spilled. And enough fae still regarded it as a deep betrayal that their blood should blend with humans’ at all, let alone to the point that it changed its hue, that this prejudice persisted even now—Sylvain a clear example.

But many more had stopped putting such importance on the color of blood, and it was considered abhorrent behavior on anyone’s part to do so anymore, but especially a member of the Fae High Council. It was also the very worst thing to say in front of a powerful prince he’d just insulted, whose personal time had long been devoted to advocating for ironborn rights. And not only that, but in this current climate of unease, if word got out that one of the Council’s own had displayed such elitist behavior… Arlo didn’t know what would happen.

Nayani Larsen rose from her seat at long last, taking the floor away from the disgraced Councillor Sylvain in an attempt to contain the situation. As Larsen was Minister of the Council, it was odd to Arlo that the UnSeelie representative of Spring seemed to be the kindest of the group—if only because she wore a genuine expression of indignation on Arlo’s behalf in her deep hazel eyes and warm tawny face. “The Council apologizes for Lord Sylvain’s remark and assures you it will not go unpunished.” Her nostrils flared, as though she’d dearly like to expand on her obvious contempt for her fellow Spring representative’s wording and was only just managing to hold herself back. “We mean no disrespect to you or Miss Jarsdel, and you are, of course, correct, Your Highness. This is Miss Jarsdel’s decision. She has demonstrated enough inherited magic to have earned her place in the Courts. You must agree, however, that she has not given us cause to grant her higher status—it would be abuse of our power to cede her the right to fae standing when she has met none of those requirements.”

“Save, of course, that she is fae, and born of one of the Eight Founding Houses,” Celadon replied irritably.

Councillor Larsen nodded. “Save that she is fae, and born of one of the Eight Founding Houses. This the Council will not ignore.”

Only her husband, the man at Councillor Larsen’s side—short by fae standards, golden-tanned and very blond—showed no surprise at her words. The rest looked up at their Headship in confusion.

“Arlo Jarsdel.”

Arlo felt the moment all eyes in the room transferred their focus to her.

If she’d found it difficult to breathe before, it was nothing compared to her dizziness now, being thrust back into the Council’s spotlight.

“Y-yes, Minister?”

“You have, as our law dictates, a choice: You may submit to your human heritage and surrender your knowledge of the Courts’ existence. Should you wish it, however, your sufficient inheritance of magic affords you the option of keeping this knowledge and retaining your citizenship in the UnSeelie Court of Spring. Your fae status will not be recognized, but you will be permitted a place in the magical community.”

Relief flooded Arlo, filling her up with a tingling sensation a bit like needles prickling her skin, feeling trying to return to her limbs. She couldn’t really believe what she was hearing, that after everything she’d gone through tonight, this was actually ending in something other than her expulsion.

Arlo’s decision hovered on her tongue. She already knew what she wanted to choose, and she was moments from blurting it out, but Councillor Larsen was not yet finished.

However, we present to you a third option. A compromise, as it were. In light of the family from which your magical inheritance comes, the Council shall recognize the possibility of—to use the High Prince’s term—‘proper fae biology.’ You are not the first ironborn child of royal fae parentage, and none yet have followed the standard cycle of fae Maturity. But in deference to our High King’s House, we shall extend to you the option of deferring this decision to a later date.”

Shock painted itself even clearer across the Council.

Arlo felt more dazed than she had all evening.

They would put this hearing off until a later date? They were actually going to humor Celadon’s desperate scramble for Arlo to be granted full fae status and a place in the Viridian line?

“I… really? Until when, Your Headship?”

“Should you choose it, the Council will reconvene this hearing on the day that marks the start of your twenty-sixth year. At that time, you will resubmit for Weighing, and if your fae inheritance has manifested as it should, you will be allowed the full privilege and status of the royal blood that runs within your veins. However, if Maturity has not found you by this time, your choices shall revert to what they are now: human, or common magical citizen.”

“And what does she do until then?” a new voice at the back of the room inquired.

Unable to help herself, Arlo turned around.

There, in the doorway still left open after Celadon’s entrance, was Arlo’s mother, Thalo.

Thalo and Celadon looked eerily alike, despite the fact they were only first cousins. Her mother looked so much younger than her forty-two years, and with the same twilight-glow complexion, willowy height, russet hair, and lovely features as Celadon, it was a fair assumption to make that they were siblings, when in fact it was the High King and Thalo’s mother—the princess Cyanine—who were brother and sister.

Three other fae, sharply dressed and equally curious about these unusual proceedings, were gathered around the edges of the threshold, peering into the room. They quickly pulled up straight when they realized Thalo had drawn attention to their spying—most likely, they were the staff tasked with keeping this hearing private.

Councillor Larsen raised a brow.

No one thought twice about Celadon deciding rules were meant for other people, but from Thalo, who was the High King’s Sword—General of his Royal Guard—and Head of the Falchion Police Force, they expected a little better. “Until then,” Larsen continued gracefully, “we shall withhold her adult status in the Courts and allow her to continue as she has lived these past eighteen years—a probationary member of the folk and a spectator only in our affairs until her next Weighing.”

Thalo turned her focus back to Arlo, hope beaming through her otherwise guarded expression. “It’s Arlo’s decision,” she said. Her breathlessness spoke volumes.

“Yes,” said Gavin Larsen, Nayani’s husband and Seelie representative of Summer, looking nothing but amused by the proceedings. “And what is Arlo’s decision?”

What was Arlo’s decision?

The Council could erase her memories and she would walk out of this room as good as human for the rest of her unnaturally long life. That was the very opposite of what she wanted.

She could take the boon of common citizenship and allow her life to get on with itself as originally planned. She wouldn’t hold the glorious rank of fae, or be allowed to study at fae universities, or take a position in the palace any higher than general help. But she’d at least have a place in both her parents’ worlds, and with all her memories intact.

Or, this new third option: deferment.

Deferment meant she would have to prolong her adolescent purgatory, kept out of everything that was Court-related until the Council reconvened in eight years’ time, all for the prospect of full fae citizenship. And even if she did turn out to be fae, it would mean more secrets in her life and less contact with a world she didn’t want to lose entirely, but she would be accepted. She would no longer be a disappointment to the majority of the people she loved. She would be a recognized royal, allowed to live in the palace, and the full privilege of fae life would be hers to enjoy—the parties, the studies, the decadence, the respect

But in Arlo’s opinion, there were only two paths her future could conceivably take. The Council was surely humoring Celadon and the possibility that he could make their lives miserable for what Sylvain had said. It was highly unlikely that Arlo was too fae to possess any magic right now. No matter how or what she and her family had tried over the years to coax it out of her, she’d simply never shown a hint of promise in that area.

But what if, her heart seemed to whisper.

What if

“I choose to defer the Weighing.”

The decision burst from her mouth in the first firm declaration she’d made all day, speaking to a hope she’d long kept boxed away.

Councillor Larsen nodded her head, and the matter was so abruptly concluded it left Arlo reeling. “Deferment granted. The case for Arlo Jarsdel’s fae citizenship shall be heard again in eight years’ time, on this fifth day of May, by Arlo Jarsdel and only Arlo Jarsdel.” She paused to flash her gaze first at Celadon, then at the crowd by the door. “The Council dismisses the room. You are all free to go.”

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