A Shift in Fortune
A loud whine followed by a grinding sound caused me to jolt upright. My golden wings had gotten tangled in the sheets while I slept, and I frantically tried to get free of them while whatever was making that sound hit a new high pitched level.
“Get off!” I snarled. The light cotton sheets ripped in my hands. The racket died and I sat their panting with the torn sheets in my hands, wings drooping behind me. “Coffee grinder,” I muttered.
Those hadn’t been a thing in Tír na mBeo, the fae realm I’d grown up in, because coffee hadn’t been a thing. But everyone here loved their coffee, and I had to admit even I was acquiring a taste for it. It was most likely Elisa or Magos in the kitchen; they both seemed determined to feed me constantly. I was also secretly convinced that vampires actually sustained themselves on caffeine and not blood.
I glanced at the digital clock next to my bed. Just past noon. That would make it lunch then. My feathers ruffled against each other as I rose from the bed. Some days I still woke in the early morning, but I was getting used to waking in the afternoon and staying up until the early hours of the morning like everyone else.
Coffee grinders. Different schedule. New home. Everything in my life felt like it was something new for me to get used to. Even my damn hair had changed from a dark brown to a rich auburn.
I ambled over to the chest to find something to wear as I tried to center myself. Grabbing a plain black t-shirt, I yanked it out only for it to snag on a loose nail and rip as I pulled it free. Damn it. I also had a lovely new amount of strength to deal with. I’d always had a strong build. Some of it was natural, and some of it was from moving around heavy barrels and supplies in the fae tavern I’d worked at for the last few years. But now it was on a whole other level.
This was third piece of clothing I’d torn in the last week, not counting the sheets I’d wrecked this morning. Nemain and her friends had bought all this for me because I didn’t have any money. I tucked the torn shirt underneath all the other ones and grabbed a new one. With slow, deliberate movements I shut the drawer.
My adoptive fae parents had always described me as steady and dependable. They’d never asked anything of me growing up, but I still felt like I owed them something after they took me in when I was abandoned in their village. Not every fae family would have adopted a random non-fae baby and treated her so well. I’d wanted to make them proud, and I’d always been the type of person who needed a purpose. Back then, my purpose had been supporting my fae parents and our small town by doing supply runs and other odd jobs. Now I had a new purpose. Protect Finn.
My ever so helpful mind served up the memory of Finn struggling against a fae warrior while I screamed, unable to help him. I had failed him then, and if Nemain hadn’t been there to save us, I don’t know what would have happened.
The handle of the drawer snapped in my hand.
“Our Bryn is steady as a rock, she is.” The words of my adoptive mother Faye played in my head. Rubbing my forehead, I tossed the broken handle on top of the dresser. I missed Faye and her partner Aldric so much.
They knew I was safe, but I’d only spoken to them once since coming to the human realm. Aldric told me they were proud of me, and Faye asked if I was getting enough to eat. As soon as they’d faded from the mirror I’d used to contact them, I’d excused myself and retreated to my room where I’d promptly burst into tears. That was the first and last time I’d let myself fall apart. Finn needed me to be strong, and I would be for him. Not only because we were bonded for life but because I loved him like a little brother.
My magic stirred, feeling like a leviathan rising from the ocean depths. I concentrated on my breathing as I braided my dark auburn hair, lulling my magic back to sleep. These past couple months, I’d been practicing my fighting skills but had done little with my magic. Despite being surrounded by others who possessed extraordinary magic, none of them had valkyrie magic and they understood little of it. Nemain promised me she was working on finding a proper mentor, but I worried we were running out of time. I didn’t know what would happen if my magic rose and I wasn’t able to pull it back. I’d expressed my concerns to Nemain, but she’d just shrugged and said, “Eh. We’ll likely survive. I suppose if you destroy this building we’ll have to hide from Pele for a bit since I promised her the lot of you were house-trained.”
Feeling as centered as I was likely to get, I finished getting dressed and wrapped my wings around myself like a cloak.
“Good morning,” Elisa said cheerfully, despite it being the afternoon.
The smell of bacon floated over to me, and I almost drooled. Magos was sitting on the couch reading a book. Finn was lying on the living room floor, coloring something on a notepad. He kept glancing up at Magos curiously before darting his eyes back to his drawing.
“Nemain and Mikhail at it again?” I slipped onto one of the kitchen stools and picked up the coffee Elisa had set down for me.
The dynamics of this group were odd, and I was still trying to figure them out. Nemain and Mikhail were the most confusing of all. They constantly fought with each other, but at the same time, there was clearly trust and a connection between them. It’d only gotten worse since Andrei, Nemain’s werewolf lover, had left town for good. I’d walked into the third-floor apartment yesterday that Nemain, Magos, and Mikhail shared, just in time to see Nemain throw one of the kitchen stools at Mikhail’s head. He’d turned into mist to dodge it, and the stool had smashed against the wall. Then they’d argued over whose fault it was that the stool was scattered in multiple pieces across the living room.
I didn’t blame Magos at all for coming to our floor to escape their bickering.
“Yes,” Magos said with a grimace. He rose from the couch and joined us in the kitchen, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “I forbade them from using any weapons on each other because I don’t want to clean up all the blood splatters. When I left, Mikhail had Nemain in a headlock and was telling her to ‘say uncle’.” Magos made air quotes. “I’m pretty sure Nemain was seconds away from passing out.”
Elisa chuckled. “Between them upstairs and Isabeau downstairs, this floor is the only peaceful place in the building.” She placed a stack of blueberry pancakes on the kitchen island, along with a plate full of bacon. I jumped up and grabbed some plates from the cupboard and some silverware. Elisa placed a couple of smaller pancakes on a plate and paused by the bacon. “Finn, do you want any bacon?”
“No, thank you,” he said.
Elisa plopped the plate down next to him and playfully ruffled his hair. “That’s a nice drawing. We’ll have to ask Nemain if she can pick up more drawing pads for you.” Finn’s odd green and yellow eyes fixed on her, and he nodded slowly and nibbled on a pancake.
“How is Isabeau handling the lockdown?” I asked when Elisa slid onto the stool between me and Magos.
Her arm brushed against my wing, and I worked hard to keep my features even. I had developed a ridiculous crush on the dark-haired vampire almost immediately, but I wasn’t sure if she felt the same. Elisa was nice to everyone. I thought she had flirted with me before, but now I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to make things awkward. Plus, my flirting skills weren’t great. The fae girl I’d been dating for a while had teased me mercilessly about how little game I had. Gods, it would be so embarrassing if I tried to flirt with Elisa only to find out she thought of me only as a friend.
“Isabeau”—Elisa slurped some coffee—“is a terror. I know why Nemain has wanted us all to stay inside the last couple of months, but if we don’t get Isabeau out of this building for a few hours, she might smother us all in our sleep.”
“I’ll talk to her about it,” Magos said. “She’s been a little on edge lately as she processes her new . . . situation.”
Guilt nipped at me. Nemain had agreed to join and serve the Unseelie Court. In exchange, the fae queens would keep their claws off Finn for fifty years and not subject him to court politics. I gladly would have offered myself instead, but the Unseelie Queen had her eyes on Nemain and was all too keen to use the situation to her advantage. Nemain didn’t blame me, but I still considered myself responsible for the whole thing. If I’d done a better job of protecting Finn, Nemain wouldn’t have had to give up so much. The conversation turned to lighter topics as we continued to munch on our breakfasts, until the door to the third-floor apartment opened and slammed shut. We all paused and stared at the front door in anticipation.
Footsteps stomped down the stairs, and moments later, Nemain barged into the apartment, an amused expression on her face. Mikhail popped into existence in front of her, mist swirling off his shoulders, and the amusement in Nemain’s emerald-green eyes evaporated instantly.
“I wasn’t done with our conversation,” he said.
“I don’t care.” She stepped around him. Magos let out a long-suffering sigh while Elisa covered her mouth to hide her grin. “Is there any food left?” Nemain asked as she eyed our plates.
“Oven,” Elisa replied. “I turned it on warm. Figured you or the others from downstairs would come eventually.”
Nemain grabbed a towel and pulled out a plate stacked high with pancakes and then reached in for the bacon. “Delicious,” she purred.
“You haven’t even eaten it yet,” Mikhail pointed out.
Nemain ignored him as she grabbed another plate and stacked food on it. Finn watched them, wide-eyed, from where he still lay in the living room. He was just as confused by their behavior as I was.
“Elisa, can you rouse the rest of the vamp brats?” Nemain asked around mouthfuls of pancake and bacon.
“Yes . . . any particular reason?”
“We’re going out.”
Elisa perked up immediately. “Really? Where?”
“We’re going to make a pit stop in one of the daemon realms to meet with Chamosh so he can apply the same sunlight spell he put on Magos on all of you.” Nemain looked at me. “You up for meeting another valkyrie?”
I gaped at her and quickly closed my mouth so everyone didn’t have to stare at my half-chewed food. Nemain could be speaking of only one valkyrie. “Sigrun?”
“Yup. She’s been avoiding my calls the past two months, so I figured we’d take a more direct approach.”
“Is that wise? Maybe she doesn’t want to meet me.”
“Sigrun is difficult, stubborn, and more than often deliberately obtuse—”
“Sounds like someone I know,” Mikhail said, stealing a piece of bacon off Nemain’s plate.
Nemain swiped at him, and he shied back. “It’ll be good for her to meet you,” Nemain said. “Even if she doesn’t see it that way at first.”
I chewed on my last piece of bacon, savoring the rich flavor. Nemain had mentioned Sigrun to me soon after I awakened my valkyrie magic, and I’d wanted to meet her ever since. Not only because I had questions only another valkyrie could answer, but because I wanted to become stronger. Finn and I were bonded for life. I would always be his guardian. The bond had been thrust on us because it was the only way to save my life at the time, but I didn’t regret it. Finn’s father was the most powerful fae in existence and he had an army of sidhe warriors. I needed to be stronger, and Sigrun could help me accomplish that.
“Okay.” I collected the empty plates and took them over to the sink. “I’ll get changed and then I’ll be ready to go.”
Elisa picked up the remaining pancakes and bacon. “I’ll get the others up and ready. Meet downstairs in fifteen?”
Nemain nodded and raised her coffee as if it were a salute, while she shoved more food into her mouth with her other hand. The shifter really could eat. Mikhail tried to steal another piece of bacon, but Nemain was ready this time and slammed a dagger between his fingers, barely missing the skin.
“No weapons,” Magos said in a measured tone.
Nemain curled her lip up at Mikhail and popped the last piece of bacon into her mouth. Mikhail rolled his eyes and picked up the last of the dishes, placing them in the sink.
Nemain swiveled around the stool and focused on Finn. “You up for an adventure today, kid?” He glanced up at her with his always too serious eyes and then looked at me, unsure how to answer.
“It’ll be fun.” I smiled confidently at him. “Isabeau and the others are coming along too.”
Finn turned towards the silver grimalkin nestled in one of the chairs, a slightly larger black grimalkin curled around her. Luna stirred and blinked her lilac eyes sleepily. We’ll come too.
“So basically everyone in the apartment then.” Mikhail grunted and poured himself more coffee.
“You’re not coming,” Nemain said. “Eddie needs you and Magos for something.”
Mikhail arched an eyebrow at her. “For what?”
“For something.” Nemain arched an eyebrow back at him.
I stifled a laugh.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea not taking backup with you?” Magos asked.
“I’m opening a gateway directly to Chamosh’s workshop, and then we’ll go straight to Sigrun’s place. It’ll be fine.” Nemain shrugged. “We can’t keep everyone locked up in this apartment forever, and this is safer than walking around town.”
“Who is Chamosh?” I asked.
“He’s the daemon that worked the spell that allows Magos to walk in the sun,” Nemain explained. “It took some needling on my part, but I convinced him to do the same for Elisa and the other vamp kids. It shouldn’t take too long.” Nemain tossed a set of keys to Magos. “You can take my car.”
“Meet you downstairs?” I asked. Nemain nodded and left along with the vampires. “I’m gonna get changed and then we’ll go. Okay, Finn?”
His eyes flickered hesitantly towards the door. “Okay.”
I opened the large armoire in my bedroom and looked at my options. What exactly did a newbie valkyrie wear when going to meet an older valkyrie in hopes of convincing them to be her mentor? I tugged on the plain black T-shirt I was wearing. Nothing in the closet was that impressive. I didn’t have any armor or fancy clothes. Nemain’s friend Kaysea had acquired most of the clothes for me, and they consisted of comfy stuff to wear around the house. Finding clothing that worked with my wings was challenging, and Kaysea had had some things tailored for me and was working on more. Deciding the shirt was good enough, I swapped out the sweatpants for fitted but stretchy dark grey pants that had plenty of deep pockets.
My hand hovered over a matching dark grey cloak. Even growing up in the mountains, the cold had rarely bothered me, and now that I had awoken my valkyrie nature, it bothered me even less. If anything, I always felt a little warm. I closed the armoire, leaving the cloak behind. My wings would be enough to keep me warm. Snatching up a pair of black combat boots, I headed back out to the living room.
Finn was waiting, Jinx and Luna at his side. The silver grimalkin had helped raise Finn, and she was protective of him. I gave her a warm smile as I reached down to tug on my boots.
Nervous? Luna asked.
“A little,” I answered out loud. My telepathic skills weren’t that strong despite Nemain being pretty sure most valkyries were good at communicating telepathically. One of the many things on the list to ask Sigrun. I glanced at Jinx. His golden eyes appeared bored and slightly annoyed. I’d learned quickly upon moving in that Jinx valued his nap time a great deal. But he valued Luna more. Luna wanted to go on this trip; therefore, Jinx rousted himself from his nap to tag along. “You’ve met Sigrun, right?”
“Do you think she’ll agree to help me?”
I don’t know. But if anyone can berate her into doing so, it’s Nemain. Jinx trotted towards the apartment door and used his magic to swing it open.
Luna brushed against Finn’s legs and followed Jinx down the stairs. I held out my hand to Finn, and he gripped it tightly as we followed the grimalkins.