A Shift in Fate
I looked around the living room, making sure I had cleaned up everything after my play time with Pele. Wouldn’t want to scandalize poor Magos. If Pele hadn’t asked me for that damn favor, I probably would have done so just to provide some entertainment. But now all I could think about was what Pele had asked of me and how I would explain it to Magos. Specifically, the part where he couldn’t come with me.
Unlike Mikhail, Magos didn’t exactly get along with sunlight. It wouldn’t kill him right away, but it was incredibly painful for him to be in it and it would weaken him greatly as his magic tried to heal the constantly burning skin. Besides, someone had to stay behind to monitor the vamp kids.
I sighed and glanced at the clock. Just past midnight. It could be hours before Magos and Mikhail returned. Mikhail would come with me, whether I wanted him to or not. Jinx would come as well. I didn’t know about Luna. Her magic was coming back, but it was still unpredictable, and she still couldn’t remember her past. For all we knew, she had pissed off someone powerful in the fae realms and would be in danger there. I was reasonably sure we could convince her to stay and help watch over the kids. So far that left me traveling with a grumpy grimalkin and an annoying vampire. Ugh.
“Who else could I bring?” I wondered aloud as I absently tapped my fingers on the granite countertop of the kitchen island. We would need to move fast and be able to defend ourselves if the devourers found us. Or if we had a run-in with any fae who might have a bone to pick with me for any number of reasons. When you’ve been around for a few centuries, you gather some enemies along the way. I certainly did at any rate.
A thought came to me, and I walked over to the large mirror that hung in the living room next to the hallway. One large body length pane of glass made up the center of the mirror with another piece on top and two narrow pieces running down the sides. Thick wood carved with glyphs framed all of it. The glass piece on the right side had several glyphs running down it, each a dull blue. I tapped the third one down, and it glowed brightly. The piece of glass in the center darkened slightly as it became cloudy. I waited for a few minutes. He probably wasn’t home. If he was, he’d either be in his shop downstairs or in his office, and it would take him a few minutes to answer.
I was about to reach out and tap the glyph once more to cut the connection, when the mirror cleared and revealed Eddie.
Swiping his long, dark blond hair out of his face, Eddie grinned at me. “Hey, bestie. What’s up?”
“Bestie?” I grinned back at him. “That’s a new one.”
Eddie’s odd amber eyes looked over my shoulder as he surveyed the room behind me. “Eh. I was hoping Mikhail was there. Seemed like the kind of thing that would annoy him.”
“Probably.” I snickered. “You busy? I got something to ask you, and it’d be better if I explained in person.”
He refocused on me with a curious look. “Just finished up a sale and don’t have anything else planned. Come on by.”
“Be there in ten minutes,” I said and tapped the glyph.
Eddie faded away, and the mirror returned to its normal state. After strapping my favorite short swords onto my back and loading up with a few other weapons, I scribbled a note to let Magos know where’d I’d gone and left it on the counter.
Eight minutes later, I parked my Yamaha on the street outside Eddie’s shop. Eddie had keyed the ward to me months ago, so I could pass through easily, and he’d left the door unlocked, as usual. I passed by the small kitchen and the living room, heading down the hallway. Ignoring the door on the left that led to his bedroom, I went through the doorway on the right into the office. That was where I always found Eddie.
I carefully stepped around the piles of books and papers stacked haphazardly on the floor. “Still trying to find something from your realm?” I paused by the desk and peered around him to see what he was studying. It looked like a ledger of some sort. I didn’t recognize the language and couldn’t read any of it.
Leaning back in his chair, Eddie rubbed his face. “Yeah. Pretty sure it’s another dead end.”
“Sorry,” I said quietly and tried very hard not to glance at the painting that hung behind his desk.
Of the woman with fiery red hair and bright emerald green eyes. Eddie had helped me when the warlocks had been in town trying to capture me. During that time, he’d learned about my ability to open gateways to any realm and had sworn a blood oath to never tell another soul in exchange for one thing—opening a gateway to his home realm so he could rescue his love. Under normal circumstances, I’d be able to open a gateway there even though I’d never been there before by using his connection to it.
But Eddie had been exiled, and whatever spell they had cast to exile him had cut off his connection to his home realm. Without some connection to it, I had no way to open a gateway there. Usually it wasn’t that hard to find something from a realm, but whatever realm Eddie was from was locked down tight and he was having a hard time finding something from there. Since he hadn’t told me anything about where he was from, I couldn’t help him in his search.
If he didn’t find something soon, I was pretty sure I was going to die of curiosity.
I had no idea what Eddie was. No one did. He’d shown up in town a few months before me and opened up a shop of rare books and artifacts. He’d built up enough of a reputation that Pele vouched for him as someone who could find your ingredients and other spell casting supplies on short notice, which is how we’d met and eventually become friends. But even after hanging out with Eddie these past few months, I still knew little about him. Emerald Bay was a small town, and I wasn’t the only one curious about him. New theories and rumors were swirling around constantly.
“Have you heard the latest rumor about yourself?”
Eddie cocked his head and looked at me with a crooked grin. “I think I’d make a fantastic half-daemon prince.”
“The daemons have no princes,” I said wryly.
“I know.” Eddie laughed. “I’m pretty sure it was a bunch of young daemons who started the rumor.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.” I straightened a pile of papers on his desk that was close to joining another less fortunate stack on the floor. “So . . . not a half-daemon then?” I asked casually.
“Oh, come on! Give me something,” I complained. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to hang out with you when you smell so freaky?”
He quirked an eyebrow at me. “What do you mean?”
“You smell of fire and ash.”
“I burn a lot of incense in the shop. It clings to the skin,” he said smoothly.
“I don’t speak of your body. Your soul. Your soul burns.” I looked at him.
Eddie went still, and something swirled in his eyes for a moment and then was gone. “You can read souls?”
“Family gift from my mother’s side. I only got a drop of her power. She could tell everything about a person. What they were. If they were good or bad or somewhere in between. Their deepest and darkest secrets were always laid bare to her. It was one of the reasons we always lived far away from others. She didn’t like most people. Unlike her, I only get a taste.”
Eddie said nothing and remained utterly still. Most of the time, Eddie looked harmless. He liked to crack jokes. His hair was shaved on the sides, and he wore black jeans and punk band T-shirts. But sometimes I saw a glimpse of what was underneath. Whatever the hell Eddie was, he was a predator, and he packed some weird powerful magic. In all my years and all my travels, I had never come across anything like him. I looked at the woman in the painting. “Does her soul smell of fire and ash, too?”
“Yes,” he breathed and then stood up and left the office.
I watched him go and turned back to the painting, studying the woman’s features once more. “I’ll help him find you again,” I promised her and left the office.
Eddie was slumped at the kitchen table, a bottle of cheap whiskey in front of him. I thunked down in the chair beside him, turning so I could sit comfortably with the swords still on my back.
“Good,” I said and grabbed the bottle of whiskey. “We’re going to need this as I tell you about my upcoming adventure.”
The whiskey burned my throat as I slammed a shot back after filling in Eddie on what Pele had told me. His face had grown more serious the longer I spoke, and he was staring at the table. I poured two more generous shots and slid a glass to him. He grabbed it without looking and raised the glass to his lips, drinking it down in one swallow.
“I think it’s time I came clean with you about something.”
“That sounds ominous,” I replied.
“I never told you how I found you exactly.”
“You said you heard rumors about someone who was good at finding things in other realms who worked through a daemon contact.” Tension swept through me and bled into my tone. Eddie and I had become close friends these past few months, and I had trusted him with a lot, even though he had kept some secrets from me.
“I did, and that was true enough. You’ve built a solid reputation over the years as someone who is good at finding lost things. With Pele managing your gigs, no one was ever in a position to ask questions about how you accomplished what you did.”
I kept my mouth shut as my heartbeat sped up.
“I knew of you before I ever heard the rumors of the work you do through Pele.”
A muscle ticked in my cheek. “How?” The word was more a command than a question.
Eddie poured each of us another shot of whiskey. “When I was first exiled and thrown into the human realm, I traveled around trying to find a way back. At first, I hoped I could find a fae or daemon I could bribe to open a gateway for me. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, I looked for other options. My magic allows me to pull memory echoes from objects that have magic or have been used by strong magic users.”
“That explains why you run a shop full of rare artifacts and books,” I observed. “I’ve heard of others who can tell what type of magic something has by touch. I’ve never heard of someone being able to pull memories from an object, though.”
“It’s a common talent among my kind. Sometimes artifacts have enough magic themselves to store memories. Excalibur, for example, was wielded by humans who had little magic, but the sword itself had so much magic that I can see almost its entire history. Even during times when it wasn’t wielded by anyone.”
My eyes lit up. “Do you have Excalibur?”
“No, but I know who currently does.” He gave me a sly grin.
“Meh. That’s not as cool.”
“Whatever. During my time traveling around, I came across a dagger that contained some intense memories from the person who wielded it.”
“Who wielded it?”
“Did your mother ever speak of her sisters?” Eddie asked.
“They died before I was born.” I shook my head. “I was named after her older sister, Nemain. Her younger sister was Badb.”
Eddie nodded. “I know little about the sister from which you get your name. She died not long after they fled their home realm. But Badb isn’t dead, Nemain. She’s very much alive in the fae realms.”
“Not possible.” I said firmly and crossed my arms over my chest. “My parents would not have lied to me about this.”
“Sorry.” Eddie shrugged. “But they did. I swear to you that Badb is alive.”
I stared at the center of the table and processed this information. Once I got past the shock of Eddie’s declaration, denial immediately rose up. But as much as I wanted to believe Eddie was wrong, he never was when it came to stuff like this. Did my parents lie to me and Cian? Or did they not know my mother’s sister was still alive? Eddie was staring at me from across the table, patiently waiting for me to accept what he’d just told me.
I met his gaze. “Keep talking.”
“Your mother was a powerful necromancer. Her older sister, Nemain, was a strong telepath. The younger sister, Badb . . . could open gateways. To any realm. At any time.”
The world slipped out from under me. My mother knew. And she never told me. Even if she hadn’t known her sister was still alive, she knew someone in our family had magic similar to mine. She watched me struggle all those years with my magic and never uttered a word.
Not one. Damn. Word.
My magic flowed out, wrapping itself around my skin, trying to comfort me as my emotions raged. I had long suspected my parents knew more about my magic than they had let on but never something like this. If they were still alive, I would rage at them and demand an explanation. But they had died protecting me and Cian, which made me feel guilty about being angry at them. I was so confused about how I should feel. I wished Cian were here so we could talk it out. My brother was always the rational one. I closed my eyes and sank into my magic, letting it soothe me as I took a couple of deep breaths. When I opened my eyes a few minutes later, Eddie was staring at me in amazement. Something swirled in his amber eyes, almost like smoke; he must be using his magic to see mine.
“Your magic is a wonder, Nemain,” he breathed. “I know why you have to hide it. But know that you never have to hide it around me. I swear on my soul I will tell no one.” Magic emanated from him, and I knew without a doubt Eddie would never betray me.
I cleared my throat but left my magic out. “Did my parents know my aunt was still alive? Did my aunt know about us?”
“Yes, to both. I don’t know how much they communicated with each other, but each sister definitely knew the other one was alive.”
“What exactly has my dear aunt been up to all this time?”
Instead of answering my question, Eddie asked, “Did your mother tell you about what happened when their realm fell?”
“Yes,” I said slowly and thought over what I’d been told. “She claimed they fought their way to a gateway the daemons held open. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that’s not how it happened.” The realization of what must have happened hit me. “My aunt opened a gateway, didn’t she? She’s the reason they escaped.”
“Yep. That’s not all she did, though. Apparently your Aunt Badb was so pissed off at the fae for closing their gateway, and thus dooming all the shifters, that she tore open several gateways directly into the fae realm. Including one directly into one of the fae Queen’s strongholds.”
I whistled. “Holy shit. I’m surprised she’s still alive.”
“It’s not for lack of trying on the Queen’s part,” Eddie said, the corner of his mouth quirking up into a grin.
“Which Queen? Seelie or unseelie?” Most of my experience with the fae was with the seelie court. I tried to avoid interacting with anyone who was politically relevant. Fae politics were bloodthirsty and complicated, and I wanted nothing to do with them.
“Seelie,” Eddie replied. “It took a couple years, but eventually the seelie Queen figured out who your aunt was and sent some sidhe warriors to retrieve her. She and her sisters were living in Ireland at the time and slaughtered all the warriors. The seelie Queen responded by unleashing the Fomóire on Ireland. It wasn’t the best political move by the seelie Queen. The unseelie Queen stepped in and political power amongst the fae shifted in favor of the unseelie, but the seelie Queen didn’t seem to care. She just wanted Badb dead. Badb, your mother, and your Aunt Nemain were quite ferocious on the battlefield.”
“I wish I had known them,” I whispered.
“Do you want to see?” Eddie asked tentatively.
My brows rose and bunched together in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“When I was piecing all this together, I went to Ireland. I figured out where the last battle took place and where your Aunt Nemain died. The magic seeped into the earth there, and I was able to use it to see part of the battle.” He held his hand out towards me. “I can share it with you.”
I was pretty sure I had stopped breathing as I looked at his outstretched hand. After a few seconds, I reached out, fingers trembling, and took his hand.
“Ready?” he asked.
Magic punched me. I gasped and squeezed my eyes shut, trying to come to terms with it. When I opened them, I saw a battlefield. The sound came crashing in a moment later. Metal clanging against metal. People screaming in pain and rage. I whirled around, studying the battle taking place in front of me. The Fomóire were easy to spot. Their telltale grey skin was covered in armor, but their eight foot tall, bulky forms stood out across the battlefield. All of them wielded battle axes I would struggle to lift, let alone fight with. They clashed with an army made of humans, feline shifters, and beings who might be druids.
The battle was going in favor of the Fomóire. Shifters in both feline and human form lay dying around me. The humans were also dying in massive numbers. They’d shown up to this fight, even though they had to know they were physically and magically outmatched. I’d seen a lot of death in my life, but I’d never seen a battle like this before. I hoped I never would.
A huge Fomóire, over ten feet tall, howled and charged across the field. At that size, it must be a female. They were considerably larger than the males. She wore a long cloak made of black feathers. The battalion leader. She aimed towards the druids, who were barely holding a line against the Fomóire. She was twenty yards away when a gateway opened in front of her and three beings leapt out. Two leapt over the large Fomóire with a familiar feline grace and tore into the line of Fomóire who had charged after their leader. The third landed directly in front of the Fomóire leader and brandished a sword.
I knew that sword. Growing up, it had hung over our mantle, I’d watched my mother wield it on more than one occasion. I moved to the right to get a better look, and my jaw dropped. Black armor coated my mother like a second skin. I’d never seen armor like it before. It looked light and flexible, but I could see hits she’d taken from arrows and swords the armor had deflected. It was torn in some sections, where blades had finally managed to cut through it. Her sword was coated with blood, and her green eyes were bright against her golden brown skin. Holy shit, my mother was enjoying the hell out of this.
I glanced at the two sisters who were tearing into the Fomóire. They wore the same black armor. One was using a sword like my mother and the other a spear. They laughed as they dodged and slashed their way through the Fomóire ranks.
“I told you,” Eddie said from beside me. “Surely you’ve heard the tales of The Morrigan.”
“But I thought The Morrigan was one of the Tuatha Dé Danann?” I frowned. Not a lot was known of The Morrigan, other than they served the unseelie Queen. Because of that, most assumed they were sidhe and belonged to one of the elite families known as the Tuatha Dé Danann.
“Everyone does. The Tuatha Dé Danann have done nothing to dissuade people of that notion. But now you know the truth.”
The Fomóire leader swung her axe at my mother, who gracefully leaned back, letting the axe pass over her. She used the motion to thrust her sword up into the Fomóire’s armpit, the weakest point of the armor. The blade bit into flesh, and the Fomóire growled in rage. My mother tore the blade free, and it glowed with a soft blue light. She hacked at the arm just below the shoulder. A piece of the armor broke off, and she hacked again. The Fomóire’s arm fell to the ground along with the battle axe, and the Fomóire fell back, screaming in pain.
“I’d forgotten her sword did that,” I murmured. My brother still had the sword. He’d asked me once if I wanted it, but I told him to keep it. I couldn’t bear the thought of wielding her sword.
My mother walked towards the Fomóire leader, who pushed herself to her feet again. Blood poured from her shoulder; she would bleed out in less than a minute. My mother knew this, and a cruel smile spread across her lips. A chill ran through me. I’d never seen that smile on my mother before. She took her time walking towards the Fomóire. The Fomóire looked behind her; almost all of her battalion was dead. Her eyes flicked to the ground several feet to her right. I followed her gaze and saw what my mother did not.
“No!” I cried and started to leap forward.
Eddie grabbed me. “I’m sorry. This has already come to pass. There’s no changing what comes next.”
I watched helplessly as the Fomóire dove to the right and picked up the spear with their remaining arm and hurled it. My mother was fast and her sword burst through the Fomóire’s chest, but not before the spear found its mark. A scream tore across the battlefield, and Nemain grasped the spear that had gone through her chest.
Through her heart.
A few Fomóire were still alive. They wouldn’t make it, so they followed their leader’s example and focused their attention on the wounded shifter. They leapt towards her and bit down, tearing at the armor until they were finally able to get to the flesh underneath. Shifters had incredible healing abilities, but a wound to the heart was taxing and her magic couldn’t keep up with the damage being dealt to her body. My mother and my remaining aunt ran towards their fallen sister and tore the Fomóire off her. My mother cradled her sister’s head in her lap and wept.
Badb fell to her knees on the other side and tore the helmet off her head. Tears streaked down her face. Every part of me went still. Twins. She wasn’t my mother’s younger sister. She was my mother’s twin sister. Nemain reached her hands out and clasped each of her sisters. She took one more shuddering breath and her hands fell. My mother and Badb screamed, and I clamped my hands over my ears.
More Fomóire approached from over the hill and sprinted towards the battlefield. My mother and Badb rose and, after one last look at their fallen sister, charged to meet the enemy.
My sight went dark for a few moments, and Eddie’s magic left me. We were once again sitting at his kitchen table. He handed me the whiskey. We sat there for a few minutes as I drank.
“My mother and Badb were identical twins.” I put the bottle down and propped my elbows on the table, leaning my forehead against my hands. I understood the implications of that but didn’t want to face it just yet.
“The story isn’t over,” Eddie said softly. “After your mother and Badb defeated the Fomóire, the seelie Queen took a different approach. She’d lost too much politically, so she had to be more subtle. She sent the Erlking.”
“The Erlking? As in the Wild Hunt?” I asked, surprised.
“Yes, but this is where my information dries up.” Eddie lifted his hands. “From what I can piece together, the Erlking went after Badb. She walked away. He didn’t. Badb joined the court of the unseelie and became untouchable to the seelie Queen. Her sister, your mother, remained in the human realm.”
“Did she kill the Erlking?” I asked as I thought about what I knew of the Erlking and the Wild Hunt. Not much. They hadn’t been active for centuries. Paintings of them were common throughout the fae realms; he was always portrayed wearing black armor and a helmet that obscured his features. His eyes weren’t hidden, though, and they were always painted the same way. Obsidian black, with no emotion. As if he had no soul.
“I don’t know. There have been no sightings of the Wild Hunt since that encounter, but I can’t say for sure he’s dead. Not much was known about him other than he served the seelie Queen.”
“Badb still serves the unseelie Queen?”
“Yes,” Eddie said. “And given what you’ve told me about this boy, it seems unlikely the fae Queens aren’t already involved in this, which puts you on a collision course with them. I don’t know what your aunt does for the Queen, but you need to be prepared to meet her.”
I grabbed the bottle and took a long swig. “Why didn’t they tell me, Eddie? Why didn’t my parents tell me my aunt was still alive?”
“I wish I knew. But we should be careful while we’re looking for the boy in the fae realm. It seems odd she didn’t come to you sooner. She had to have known about you and Cian. We do not know what her agreement is with the unseelie Queen.”
“So you’re coming with us, then?”
“Absolutely. First, I need to make sure you stay alive so you can help me out with my problem.”
“Thanks,” I said dryly. “And second? I’m assuming there’s a second here?”
Eddie’s grin turned into a full-fledged smile. “And second, think of all the shit I can steal from the fae while we’re there.”
I helped myself to another shot of whiskey as the image of Badb pulling off her helmet played over and over in my mind. Eddie was right to tell me this now since it was possible for me to encounter my long-lost aunt at some point of this adventure. But I didn’t even know where to begin processing this, and I couldn’t let it distract me from our immediate concern of finding the boy. The whiskey burned down my throat as I did my best not to let my thoughts run wild at what it meant that my aunt was my mother’s identical twin. And that my magic was nothing like my mother’s and very much like my aunt’s.
If my parents had held this truth from me, what else had they lied about? If I met Badb, would she tell me the truth? Or would she lie to me more? Do you even want to know the truth? The accusation rose up past all my other questions, and I didn’t know the answer.