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PRAISE FOR CHANGELING
“The second in Galenorn’s D’Artigo Sisters series ratchets up the danger and romantic entanglements. Along with the quirky humor and characters readers have come to expect is a moving tale of a woman more comfortable in her cat skin than in her human form, looking to find her place in the world.” —Booklist
"Galenorn’s thrilling supernatural series is gritty and dangerous, but it’s the tumultuous relationships between all the various characters that give it depth and heart. Vivid, sexy, and mesmerizing, Galenorn’s novel hits the paranormal sweet spot.”
“Yasmine Galenorn has created another winner. . . . Changeling is a can’t miss read destined to hold a special place on your keeper shelf.” —Romance Reviews Today
PRAISE FOR WITCHLING
"Reminiscent of Laurell K. Hamilton with a lighter touch . . . a delightful new series that simmers with fun and magic.”
—Mary Jo Putney, New York Times bestselling author of A Distant Magic
“The first in an engrossing new series . . . a whimsical reminder of fantasy’s importance in everyday life.” —Publishers Weekly
“Witchling is pure delight . . . a great heroine, designer gear, dead guys, and Seattle precipitation!”
—MaryJanice Davidson, New York Times bestselling author of Swimming Without a Net
“Witchling is one sexy, fantastic paranormal-mystery-romantic read.”
—Terese Ramin, author of Shotgun Honeymoon
“Galenorn’s kick-butt Fae ramp up the action in a wyrd world gone awry . . . I loved it!” —Patricia Rice, author of Mystic Guardian
“A fun read, filled with surprise and enchantment.”
—Linda Winstead Jones, author of Raintree: Haunted
The Otherworld Series
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley edition / July 2008
Copyright © 2008 by Yasmine Galenorn.
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To all you sensual men
who make us hunger for dark knights
in a garden strewn with rose petals and thorns.
Thank you to my husband for being such an inspiration, in so many ways. Thanks also to my agent, Meredith Bernstein, and my editor, Kate Seaver. I also want to thank my cover artist, Tony Mauro, whose artistic talents bring my visions to life. Thanks to my Witchy Chicks, the best blogging group on the Net and a supportive cyber-family. And thank you to my friends for supporting me through the ups and downs of this career.
To my cats, my little “Galenorn Gurlz.” To Ukko, Rauni, Mielikki, and Tapio, my spiritual guardians.
Thank you to my readers, both old and new. Your support helps keep us in ink and fuels our love of storytelling.
You can find me on the Net at Galenorn En/Visions: www .galenorn.com, at MySpace, and you can contact me via e-mail on my site. If you write to me snail mail (see Web site for address or write via publisher), please enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope with your letter if you would like a reply.
Power Play: Bid for advantage: an attempt to gain an advantage by a display of strength or superiority, e.g., in a negotiation or relationship.
— MICROSOFT ENCARTA 2006
The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.
— TONY ROBBINS
There was pixie dust in the air. I could feel it seeping in from under the door of the Indigo Crescent, my bookshop, as it wafted up to tickle the back of my throat. There was no mistaking the stuff; it was different from just about every other manifestation of Fae magic there was. Sparkling, the dust shimmered on the astral, hovering in that in-between place. Not quite physical, not quite ethereal. And yet pixie magic had more effect on humans and the human realm than it did on anybody else.
Curious. The fact that I could sense it all the way back in my office meant it came from a pixie with strong magic. Otherworld magic, if I wasn’t off my mark. I hadn’t seen an Earthside pixie near my shop since I’d been here. Or at least, I didn’t think any were around. The creatures usually gave me a wide berth, partly because I was half-Fae and partly because I was a witch. Either way, they didn’t trust me.
A number of witches back in Otherworld made a habit of trapping pixies to harvest their dust. The pixies weren’t hurt, but they took a severe blow to the ego during the process, especially when some of their captors sold the dust for profits that would make even a leprechaun blink. Of course, the pixies didn’t get one penny from the transaction, and sometimes they banded together to raid a shop with some success. But for the most part, they just tried to avoid us altogether.
Of course, I didn’t trust them, either. Pixies were born troublemakers, and they enjoyed every minute of it. They weren’t usually dangerous, not in the way your average pain-in-the-neck goblin was, but they were trouble all the same.
I finished counting the receipts and tucked the money from the cash register into a strongbox, hiding it in the bottom drawer of my desk. So much for another slow day. The Indigo Crescent was having an off month. Either nobody was reading, or I wasn’t moving in enough new stock to draw in new customers.
I gathered my purse and keys. My sister Delilah was already gone for the day. She ran a casual PI business upstairs from my shop, but she’d been out on a case most of the day and hadn’t bothered with more than a quick check-your-messages pit stop this morning.
Glancing around my office to make sure everything was in order, I slipped on a light capelet. My tastes ran toward bustiers, camisoles, and chiffon skirts, not exactly weather-appropriate wear, but I wasn’t about to change my style because of a few storm clouds.
We were nearing the vernal equinox, and Seattle was still chilly and overcast. Roiling gray clouds seeded with fat, heavy raindrops had moved in from the ocean, opening up to splatter the sidewalks and roads.
Granted, the trees around the city were vibrant with budding leaves, and the moss gave off a rich, loamy scent, but spring in western Washington was a far cry from spring back in Otherworld. By now, the skies over OW would be stained with thin rivulets of gold from the setting sun, creating a watercolor wash as they blended into the indigo of the approaching twilight. The warm blush of the waxing year would encourage the night-martins to sing every evening, and the smell of Terebell’s flowers would permeate the gardens around our house.
Sighing, and a little bit homesick—memories were all we had of our home in OW right now—I set the alarm system and locked the door. Tired or not, I’d better find out where the pixie dust was coming from. If a group of them had moved into the neighborhood, all the shops would be in for trouble.
As I turned toward the sidewalk, a whinny caught my attention, crowding out any idea of tracking down the wayward pixie. I glanced up the street and froze. What the hell?
A unicorn was heading my way. He passed Baba Yaga’s Deli, which had moved in next to my bookstore, and then stopped, close enough for me to feel his breath on my face.
With a nonchalant bob of the head, the unicorn said, “Good evening, Lady Camille.”
I blinked, wondering if I’d been working a little too hard. But no, he was still there. His coat shimmered with that silky, luminous white that only adorns magical creatures. His eyes glinted with intelligence, and his horn sparkled a lustrous gold. That’s how I knew he was a male, other than the obvious anatomical signs, which were most definitely in attendance. Female unicorns have silver horns.
The more I looked at him, the more he reminded me of something out of one of those ethereal perfume commercials— the ones where I was never sure just what they were advertising until they splashed the bottle on the screen and the announcer warbled something lame like, “Magic—experience the thrill.”
I blinked again.
He was still there. Clearing my throat, I was about to ask him what he was doing meandering through the streets of Seattle, when a noise from up the street startled me. As I turned, a goblin, a Sawberry Fae, and a bugbear emerged from a nearby alley and started our way. They looked pissed.
I know, I know. A goblin, a Fae, and a bugbear wander into a bar where they meet this gorgeous wench with her boobs hanging out . . .
My train of thought stopped in mid-joke when, in a matter of seconds, the situation deteriorated from a whimsical what the hell is going on to oh no they can’t really be planning to do that.
The goblin held up a blowgun and took aim at the unicorn.
“Hand over the pixie, Feddrah-Dahns, or you’re dead!” The bugbear’s voice was guttural, and he spoke in Calouk, the rough, common dialect familiar to most Otherworld citizens. The words were garbled. The threat was clear.
Cripes! Without a second thought—unicorns were dangerous and beautiful, but goblins were just dangerous and stupid—I closed my eyes and whispered a quick chant to the wind. My fingers tingled as a thick bolt of energy slammed through me, gathered from the gusts blowing steadily in an east-northeasterly direction. As the rippling force raced down my arms, I focused on forming it into a ball in my hands, then sent it tumbling toward the goblin.
Please don’t let my magic fail me now, I silently begged. A lot of my magic went haywire because of my half-Fae, half-human blood. Call it faulty wiring or even just plain old bad luck, but I was never quite sure when a spell would take, or if it would take right, or if it would slam out of me racing ninety miles an hour like an express train out of control. I’d already ruined one hotel room this year playing around with lightning and rain. I wasn’t keen on the idea of possibly tearing up the pavement and having a city street crew cussing me out.
This go-round, the Moon Mother smiled on me, and the spell held true. The bolt hit the goblin square in the chest, knocking him off his feet before he could shoot his dart at the unicorn. The spell didn’t stop there, though. After it KO’d the goblin, the magical gust of wind ricocheted off the side of my bookstore and bounced back, slamming into the bugbear, sending him rolling into the streets like a trash can on a windy day.
I stared at the chaos I’d managed to wreak in just a few seconds, caught between mild embarrassment and intense pride. I was getting pretty good! I usually didn’t manage to pack that strong a punch, especially with wind magic. Maybe a little of Iris’s skill was rubbing off on me.
“Youch!” The tickle of a lash licked my arm, sending a white flame through my skin and jerking me out of my self-congratulatory mood. “That hurt, damn it!”
I turned to see the Sawberry Fae was bearing down on me, whip in hand. Scrambling a few steps to the side, I said, “No thanks, I’m not interested in your kinky little games.” Maybe I’d better focus on the here and now. There’d be time for patting myself on the back later.
He licked his lips, drawing back the whip once more. Eww. I had the feeling this dude was enjoying himself just a little too much. Apparently the unicorn had taken notice of the fight. The gorgeous stallion galloped past me, horn lowered, and skewered the Fae in the shoulder, tossing him three feet into the air and five feet back. The screaming man hit the sidewalk and lay there, bleeding like a stuck pig.
The carnage continued as a speeding car screeched around the corner and ran over the bugbear. Splat. Flat as a pancake. The Porsche—at least it looked like a Porsche—sped off before I could get the license plate.
I shrugged. I had my sincere doubts that the bugbear would have wished me any better luck, so I wasn’t going to waste any tears on him. I turned back to the mayhem on the sidewalk.
“Well . . .” There wasn’t much else to say. It wasn’t every day a bunch of Otherworld creatures got themselves mowed down in front of my bookstore.
The unicorn trotted over to my side. I glanced up into his face, mesmerized by the swirling vortex of colors in his eyes. Pretty. Very pretty. And, unless I was off the mark, he looked a little bit pissed, too.
“You might want to call a constable,” the horned horse said, sounding mildly concerned. He nodded in the direction of the flattened bugbear. “Somebody could slip on that mess and hurt themselves.”
He had a point. The sidewalk looked like a scene out of Pulp Fiction or Kung Fu Hustle. I could hear Chase now. He was going to just love getting my call. He’d been swamped lately, trying to keep up the facade that we were still on the official up-and-up with the OIA—the Otherworld Intelligence Agency— and not running the whole show ourselves. Cleaning up after a trio of Otherworld thugs was probably the last thing he wanted dumped on his plate.
I let out a long sigh. “You’re probably right. Would you like to come in while I make the call?” I motioned to the shop.
If unicorns could shrug, this one would have. “All right. You wouldn’t happen to have anything to drink, would you? I’m thirsty, and there don’t seem to be any public watering holes around.”
“Sure, I can get you some water. I’m Camille, by the way. Camille D’Artigo. I’m from Otherworld.” I unlocked the door and punched in the security code to turn off the alarm system that I’d just armed.
“That’s rather obvious.” The unicorn’s words rippled with a droll tone, and I realized we weren’t speaking English. We’d automatically switched over to Melosealfôr, a rare dialect of Crypto that all witches who were pledged to the Moon Mother learned during their training. “I know who you are. You stand out in the crowd, my lady. How do you do? I’m Feddrah-Dahns.”
“Feddrah-Dahns, eh? You’re from the Windwillow Valley then.” Something about the name rang a bell, but I couldn’t quite place it. I did know that every unicorn coming out of the Windwillow Valley assumed Dahns as their surname. The area was teeming with Cryptos, and there were rumors that huge herds of the horned beasts roamed the plains, nomads who migrated across the vast valley during the summer months.
“You know your geography, Camille D’Artigo.”
“Yes, well . . . What about the pixie? Where did he go? I noticed pixie dust a little while ago.”
“I hope he’ll be all right. He retrieved something from the bugbear that belonged to me. Technically, he was simply reclaiming stolen property, but the bugbear and his accomplices apparently didn’t see it that way.” Feddrah-Dahns blinked those beautiful big eyes of his.
I grinned. “Thieves rarely understand the concept of ownership, be they bugbear or human.” I opened the door as wide as I could. As the unicorn cautiously stepped over the doorstop, he bobbed his head, a curious glint in his eye. Life in Seattle might be gloomy and wet, but nobody could ever convince me it was boring.
Before Chase and his team arrived, the wounded Fae managed to crawl off, leaving a trail of blood spatters that disappeared into the alley behind my building. I had glanced down the gloomy passage, but it was too dark to see to the end, and I had no inclination to wander down there by myself. Chase and his men could explore it if they wanted to.
I did, however, decide to drag the unconscious goblin inside, into the room next to my office. He stank, which was gross, and his clothes were greasy, which was even worse, but I finally wrangled him into the back where I hog-tied him with some strapping tape. He woke up and glared at me as I was wrapping the clear tape around his wrists and ankles.
I immediately slapped a piece of tape across his mouth before he was able to speak. Nasty looks wouldn’t hurt me, but whatever came out of his mouth just might. Some goblins used magic. And they were all dirty, filthy little liars.
The bugbear, on the other hand—or what remained of him—could stay right where he was. Way too nasty. No way I was going to clean up a slick patch of roadkill, especially not while wearing velvet and lace.
Ten minutes later, Chase leaned against the counter, staring at the unicorn, while Sharah and Mallen scraped the bugbear off the road. I had to hand it to them. The two elves looked ready to gag, but they finished their job without complaint.
Feddrah-Dahns was busy drinking his water from a bucket I found in the back. Iris used it for cleaning, so I rinsed it out and filled it with fresh spring water from the water cooler. He looked about as contemplative as I’d seen a unicorn look. Not that I’d seen too many unicorns, even back in Otherworld. They usually preferred the company of their own kind.
A few of my regular customers who’d been passing by noticed the open shop door, and they wandered in to see if everything was okay. Eyes wide, they immediately glommed onto the horned beast, surrounding him as if he were some sort of god.
When I thought about it, in a way he was a god. Few unicorns had shown any interest in coming through the portals, and the Earthside species seldom showed themselves. Considering the wonder with which they were revered in human legend and mythology, it didn’t surprise me that people immediately opened their hearts to him.
Henry Jeffries, one of my best customers, gently reached out to touch the wild mane that cascaded down the ridge of the unicorn’s neck, a look of wonder rippling across his face. Feddrah-Dahns glanced at him, gently whinnying. Henry shuffled over to me and rubbed his hands across his eyes. He looked teary.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day. Do you think Mr. Beagle ever really met a unicorn?”
I frowned. It was unlikely that Peter S. Beagle had even believed in the creatures when he wrote The Last Unicorn, but then again, who knew? “I’m not sure, Henry. You never can tell.” I flashed him a smile, and he mirrored it back to me, then returned to Feddrah-Dahns’s side.
“Camille? Camille? Did you hear what I said?”
“Huh?” I turned around. Chase had been talking to me at the same time as Henry. “No, I’m sorry. What was it?”
He sighed. “This is the third report of Cryptos on the loose that I’ve had this morning.”
Chase was suave. Less lecherous than when we’d first met, he was a damned good detective. I’d gone from disdaining the dude to actually liking him, as long as he kept his eyes off my butt and boobs. Oh, now and then his gaze still wandered into forbidden territory, and he still smelled like spicy beef tacos a good share of the time, but at least he was polite about the occasional peek show. And most importantly, the scent of cigarettes was long gone. My sister Delilah had him on the nicotine patch, and he was faring remarkably well. Of course, he had incentive; she refused to kiss him or touch him if he smoked.
“You make it sound like they got loose from the zoo.” I sighed. “Chase, babe, you’ve got to get over the idea that two legs equals intelligence.”
He snorted. “Don’t give me grief, woman. You’re from Otherworld, you’re half-Fae. You’ve been here, what . . . a year now, isn’t it? The portals have been open about four—maybe five years, right?”
I nodded. “That’s about right.”
“In that time, a number of Fae have crossed over to visit Earthside. And the Earthside Supes have come out of the closet. But we’ve never had a run on Cryptos before. Not that I can remember. Now, they’re everywhere. Portland’s reporting a significant increase in sightings, and they’ve been spotted all over western Washington. What do you think it means?”
I had to admit, he was right to be concerned. While Otherworld Fae still weren’t commonplace, and we tended to settle around the West Coast, we were no longer the novelty act that we’d been when the OIA decided to open a few of the interdimensional portals.
Since they’d reestablished the lines of communication that had been shut down during the Great Divide—when Otherworld had split off from Earthside—we’d become increasingly accepted in human society. And over the past month or so, a home court renaissance of sorts had sprung up. Earthside Supes were quickly becoming the flavor of the day.
After the first shock waves settled, we’d been welcomed with open arms. For the most part. There were still a number of factions who thought we were evil incarnate and who wouldn’t mind lighting the match to our funeral pyres, but they were the vocal minority, and we didn’t pay much attention to them. There was intolerance everywhere, and we knew better than to think we could eradicate it totally.
But Cryptos? Cryptos were still unusual enough to turn heads. However, their rarity wasn’t the problem. “That’s not what has me worried, Chase. I think you need to rephrase the question.”
He sucked on his lower lip. “Okay, so tell me what the question is, and why their sudden appearance is trouble. Or not.”
I frowned. “All right. How about this: The fact that a unicorn is wandering the streets of Seattle is unsettling, not because he’s a Crypto, but because unicorns almost always stay in the wild and seldom venture into cities. It’s not unnatural for Feddrah-Dahns to be curious about what it’s like over here on Earthside, but it is unnatural for him to come into the city instead of heading out into the forest. Ergo, you’re right. Something’s up.”
“Interesting.” Chase drummed his fingers on the glass display case next to me. “So, why is he standing here in your shop instead of over in Magnolia Park?”
I reached out and smacked his fingers. Gently. “Stop that— not good for the glass.” Sliding onto the stool behind the cash register, I leaned my elbows on the counter. “What’s up? Beats me. I’ll have a talk with Feddrah-Dahns and see what I can find out. Meanwhile, what kind of other reports are you talking about? Standard Bigfoot sightings?”
“No. In fact, some of them are downright frightening. At three in the morning we received a call from a terrified woman who said a satyr was trying to climb into bed with her. He had one hell of a hard-on and was ready to share it. Granted, he left when she screamed and fought him off, but around here, we still frown on rape. If we catch him, he’d better make tracks back to OW unless he wants to spend the next ten years in an Earthside jail.”
Oops. Yeah, this could be a problem. Satyrs and other wild Cryptos usually kept to the meadows and forests. What the hell were they doing in the suburbs of Seattle?
“So you didn’t catch him?”
“No. We arrived at the woman’s house just in time to see him racing through the bushes, but we couldn’t keep up. Cryptos are experts at eluding the cops, for some reason.”
“Probably because they’re good at camouflage. And fast.” Most Cryptos were a lot faster than humans. Most of the Fae were, too. Even though I was only half-Fae, I could run rings around Chase’s stamina and endurance, but I didn’t feel like rubbing it in right now. I took a closer look at the detective. His eyelids drooped, and he looked like he hadn’t slept in days. The bags under his eyes would hold a major shopping haul.
“You been sleeping okay?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Nope. Your sister’s been keeping me awake at nights and not for all the right reasons. She’s taken to chasing her tail in the middle of the night. On the bed. On my pillow. Then she gets in these kneading frenzies that won’t quit. I’ve got the scars to prove it all over my chest. And then, with worrying about satyrs and goblins, who can get any sleep?” He picked up a pen off the counter and rubbed it between his fingers.
“Craving a cigarette?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yeah. Listen, visitors from OW are going to have to learn to play by the rules, or somebody’s going to get trigger happy and all hell will break loose.” He grimaced. “That damn Freedom’s Angels group is stirring up trouble right and left. The more popular you guys get, the angrier they get.”
Freedom’s Angels were a group of ultra-right-wing hate mongers who took the rhetoric spouted by the Guardian Watchdogs and put it into action, which moved them from the category of annoying to dangerous. So far, they’d confined themselves to a few minor skirmishes. Mostly, they came out the worse for wear. The Fae were stronger, quicker, and could easily be far more ruthless than the Freedom’s Angels were, but that could shift with the right weapon in hand.
I gave him a short nod. “Now that the portal in the Wayfarer is pointed toward Darkynwyrd instead of Y’Elestrial, unauthorized creatures come through the bar several times a week. Menolly had to fight off three more goblins a couple nights ago. They’re no match for her, she just feeds them to Tavah, but still, it’s an inconvenience. Free lunch, though.” Tavah, like my youngest sister, was a vampire—and she was full Fae. Only she was less particular than Menolly about what flavor of blood she drank.
“Well, you can’t just shut the portals down,” Chase said, pursing his lips.
“No, we can’t.” Delilah, Menolly, and I had tried to tackle the problem several times, getting us nowhere. But now it was beginning to affect the city.
Seattle—most of Earth, actually—knew about Otherworld and the Fae. We weren’t in the closet anymore, but there was so much they didn’t know. Like the fact that the Subterranean Realms existed. Like the fact that the ruler of the Sub Realms— a demon lord named Shadow Wing—was out to raze both Earth and Otherworld. And like the terrifying fact that my sisters and I and our friends were the only obstacles standing in his way.
“Here’s the thing,” I said after a moment. “The Cryptos running loose in the city can’t be coming through the Wayfarer portal. Menolly has guards on watch twenty-four/seven.”
“Okay, so are there any other portals around?” Chase’s gaze wandered back to the unicorn and, for the briefest of seconds, a look of amazement flickered across his face. I smiled softly. Even our jaded detective could be enchanted by creatures from the land of Fae.
“Well, there’s the portal out in the woods. The one Grandmother Coyote watches over.” I tried to think of other portals nearby.
Chase laughed. “Should I bother to ask you if she’d let them through?”
“Don’t be so sure,” I warned him. “She’s not entirely on our side.”
Grandmother Coyote was one of the Hags of Fate, neither good nor evil but straddling the nexus point where the realms of existence balanced out. When things went askew, she and her ilk acted to right the balance. Shadow Wing and his demons had shifted destiny, so she’d called us in to help right it. Could something have altered the path of fate again?
“She might let them pass, if the balance required it.” But as I thought about the Hags of Fate, I remembered something the Elfin Queen Asteria had mentioned to us a few months ago. I snapped my fingers. “I know how they’re getting in.”
Chase tugged nervously on his tie. It was a bright yellow and orange stripe against his navy suit, and complemented the blue in an odd, off sort of way.
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense, woman,” he said. “If we don’t get a handle on this problem, we’ll be facing some tough questions from my prick of a boss. The mayor won’t be too happy, either. The last thing I need is for Devins to find yet another problem that he can turn into my fault. The mayor’s another matter, but still . . .”
I glanced around to see who was in the shop. The unicorn had drawn quite a crowd, and a buzz of laughter and conversation threatened to overwhelm us.
“Over here.” I motioned for Chase to follow me into a corner niche where the sound of voices died down to a low murmur. He settled himself on the short mahogany bench between the stacks holding suspense thrillers: Grisham, Crichton, Clancy, and so forth. After making sure nobody was eavesdropping on us, I joined him.
“When Queen Asteria visited us a few months ago after we destroyed Dredge, she mentioned that a number of previously undiscovered portals were being discovered—unguarded portals. And most of them lead to the Pacific Northwest.”
Chase blinked. “Delilah didn’t tell me that.”
“She’s a good girl. She keeps secrets. It’s something you didn’t need to know at the time.” I watched his surprise turn into a frown. Oops, I’d just stepped on his toes. I did that a lot with Chase. We had rubbed each other wrong from day one.
“Oh, really? Thank you for your confidence. And pray tell— if you think I need to know—just where do these portals lead?”
Yeah, I’d wounded his ego, all right. “Don’t be such a drama queen. There are plenty of things about your job that you don’t tell us.”
“None of the secrets I keep affect you,” he said, squinting. “Oh hell, just drop it. Go on. You said most lead to the PNW?”
“Yes.” I took a deep breath and continued. “Apparently a number of them lead to Seattle and the surrounding area. Now, Queen Asteria slapped guards on the portals in her jurisdiction, but there are plenty of portals out in the wild that are being discovered, and nobody has control over them. Want to make a bet that Cryptos and other creatures are finding and using them whenever they want?”
“Can’t Queen Asteria put a stop to it?”
I shook my head. “As I said, if they’re outside the boundaries of Elqaneve and the Elfin lands, there isn’t a damned thing she can do. Even with the ones that are within her jurisdiction, well, Queen Asteria hasn’t got the manpower to guard all of them. Not now, when she’s fully engaged in the war against Lethesanar. You have to understand. War over in Otherworld is to the death, as it is here, but over there the magic involved can cause far greater damage than your tanks and guns. The elder mages can actually warp the makeup of the land. They can change the very structure of the soil and air. It’s happened before, down in the Southern Wastes.”
A somber expression crossed Chase’s face, and his petulance passed. “If you were home—you and your sisters . . .”
“Well, if our father hadn’t deserted the Guard and our aunt and cousin hadn’t come out as traitors to Queen Lethesanar, we would have been pressed into battle like everybody else in the city. As it is, we’d be tortured and killed. Our entire family is under a death threat if any one of us should enter—or go anywhere near—Y’Elestrial at this time. Until Tanaquar wins, we’re homeless . . .” I paused. A thought had crossed my mind several times that I didn’t want to examine. I hadn’t vocalized it to Menolly or Delilah yet.
“I haven’t mentioned this to my sisters yet, but I think that our father disappeared because he traded sides. His conscience won’t allow him to fight for Lethesanar, but he’s a warrior and a proud member of the Guard Des’Estar. He can’t stand by and hide in fear, nor can he see Lethesanar defile the Court and Crown like she’s been doing. I know he’s in battle somewhere. I can feel it.”
“You think he’s working for the elves?” Chase reached out and took my hand. I started to pull away, then stopped. He was trying to be kind. I could read it in his eyes.
“Either that or he’s directly enlisted in Tanaquar’s army. One’s about the same as the other, when you look at the end result.” I stared at the floor, thinking about Father and the dangers he faced.