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|Priestess Dreaming(Sisters of the Moon #16) by Yasmine Galenorn|
“We really were trying to help.”
“Nothing about the situation struck you as odd? Not the fact that she was Svartan and said she had talked to me?” But even as I asked the question, I realized that there was no reason it should—not unless you understood Svartan culture enough to know that they seldom visited Earthside.
“No, I can’t say that it did. We thought we were helping out.” He let out a snort. “Last time I ever try to do a good deed. Now you’re all pissed as hell at us and look what happened.”
I let out a sigh, feeling resentful. Why was it, when somebody f**ked up, it was always up to me to soothe their fears and egos, even when they screwed me over in the process? That uncharitable thought ran through my head for about five seconds before I reached out and patted his arm, pushing the feeling away.
“Dude, we all make mistakes. Just . . . go help Roz. We’ll sort it all out.”
As he flashed me a grateful smile and headed back into the living room, Hanna opened the door, Maggie hanging on around her neck. She kissed the little gargoyle and then passed her to me.
“Heaven help me, I dread seeing what those two got themselves up to.” She glanced at me. “Is it so terribly bad?”
“They were trying to surprise us. They succeeded. It’s not good.” I rolled my eyes and nodded toward the living room. “Be prepared.”
Grimacing, she vanished into the hallway, leaving me holding Maggie. A baby woodland gargoyle, Maggie was adorable and snuggly and also dangerous, if you didn’t understand gargoyle nature. We had to keep her away from children and small animals, but she was our baby and we loved her. I’d rescued her from a harpy’s lunch bag up on the Space Needle when we’d gotten into a fight, and when I brought her home, Delilah and Menolly hadn’t argued a single word against adopting her.
The size of a large stuffed animal, she was brown with calico coloring, with wings that were still a little too big for her body. A pointed tail whipped around from her rear end, and she had long claws on her hands and feet. Her eyes were wide and golden, and she let out a soft mooph as I gazed down at her. Gargoyles were all very intelligent, sentient Cryptos. But she would take decades—if not longer—to reach the teenager stage, and so we had a long time to look forward to in baby- and toddlerhood.
Now, she reached up and clumsily stroked my cheek. “Cam-ey. Camey?”
“Yes, Maggie. It’s me, Camille. How’s our girl today?” She couldn’t understand most of what we said yet, and could say even less, but she knew what no meant, and yes, and food, and eat, and snuggle, and toy, and a scattering of other words. Her mother was dead, we knew that much—her ghost had come visiting once or twice to make sure Maggie was okay.
“C-c-c-old.” She shivered and snuggled closer.
“Yes, Maggie, it’s cold.” I wrapped my arms around her and leaned back in the rocking chair, gently rocking her as Trillian wandered in. He let out a soft laugh.
“Our girl awake?” All of the guys loved Maggie, too. She was a real little heartbreaker, that was for certain.
“Yeah, no doubt all the excitement is keeping her awake. But I think she’s starting to nod off.” I glanced down at her. Maggie’s eyes were closed and she was resting against my breast, breathing softly.
“You want me to put her to bed in Hanna’s room?” Trillian reached for her.
“Sure, just make certain none of those critters got into the closet or under the bed or anything. In fact, we should scour the house from top to bottom, just in case we have to evict any squatters.” I passed Maggie off to him, then stood and stretched. “I’ll grab Morio and Shade and start on that. You stay with Maggie to make certain she’s okay until we know the coast is clear.”
“Start on what?” Morio was standing at the kitchen door.
“We need to search the house from top to bottom, make certain nothing unwelcome has taken up residence.”
“Good idea. I’ll go get Shade. You check out the first floor, and we’ll start upstairs.” He vanished back toward the living room.
After Trillian and I made our way to Hanna’s room and tucked Maggie in, I began searching through the closets and under beds and behind anything large enough to hide even a pixie, looking to make certain nothing had decided to hide and surprise us later. Twenty minutes later, we all met in the kitchen. Well, all but Roz, Vanzir, and Hanna, who were cleaning up the living room.
Menolly glanced at the clock. “I have to get downstairs and sleep.” She shivered. “The pull of sunrise comes no matter how thick the cloud cover.”
Nerissa kissed her. “Sleep well, love. We’ll keep watch out here.”
“I hope you find that portal.” As she headed down the steps, Menolly mumbled something under her breath that I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear. It sounded vaguely like “Idiotic demons . . .” but I decided not to ask.
“Nothing in the house that we can figure out—” I paused as another noise erupted from the living room. “For f**k’s sake, what now?”
“Camille?” Roz’s voice echoed from the living room. “You’d better—”
But before he could finish a towering figure came striding into the kitchen, her robes swirling behind her. Derisa was six-five, and she was the High Priestess who ran the Coterie of the Moon Mother. She had been the voice of the goddess for longer than I could remember—for far longer than I had been alive.
With a plum tunic over a pair of form-fitting leather pants, and an indigo robe covered with silver moons and stars, she was striking with her pale skin and black hair and eyes as blue as the morning sky.
I hurried over to her, dropping to kneel at her feet. If there was one person I wanted the respect of—besides my sisters—it was this woman. She was the voice of my goddess. She had taken me into the Moon Mother’s service, had heard my oath, witnessed my vows as I entered the Coterie as a Witch. And Derisa also had given me my priestess robes when I earned them by sacrificing the Black Unicorn. Derisa was the one who had informed me that—one day, when I was fully trained—I would become the High Priestess of the Moon Mother over here, Earthside.
“Lady . . . I knew you were due for a visit, but didn’t know when to expect you—”
“I come and go as the need arises. Do not worry yourself. Although I think the winter storm had a detrimental effect on your furnishings.” But she was grinning and I knew she was making a joke.
“Yes, Lady. It wasn’t exactly planned.” I wondered briefly if I could get some advice from her on our unexpected portal, but decided to shelve the question until I found out why she was here. Derisa didn’t usually make house calls. When I’d found out a few weeks ago that she needed to see me, I had been worried, but as the days went on, I started to think maybe it wasn’t all that important. Now, the butterflies were back.
“We must talk.” The way she said it made me nervous. For one thing, Derisa didn’t make small talk. For another, every time that phrase had been used on me, it had been attached to something I didn’t want to hear.
I started to ask if there was something wrong, but that would be about as helpful as a dull-bladed sword. Obviously, something was up, or she wouldn’t be here. “Do you need to speak to me alone, or can you talk in front of the others?”
Derisa glanced around the room. “They’ll know eventually, so we might as well talk here. I don’t fancy sitting in your living room at this moment.”
Morio grabbed a chair for her and motioned for her to sit down. Delilah brought over a plate of cookies—grabbing a couple before offering them to the priestess. And, anticipating trouble, I found a notepad and pen. Inevitably conversations like this led to the need for copious notes, and right now, I didn’t trust my memory.
“I didn’t expect to find you up at this hour—or rather, I did, but not so ill-rested.” Derisa repressed a grin, the corner of her lip curling up ever-so-slightly. “You obviously haven’t gone to bed yet.”
“We had . . . an incident of sorts. We were out shopping—oh, never mind. Long story, ending in the aftermath you witnessed in the living room. A mishap we still need to fix.” I returned to my seat with the notepad and pen, wishing only for bed. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk to Derisa, but I was bone-weary. “What brings you Earthside? Trenyth said you wanted to talk to me.”
“First, I must reset the rogue portal on your land.”
For a moment, I thought she meant the ice portal—the one that had just opened up, but then I realized she knew nothing about that. No, she was talking about the random portal that had appeared out of nowhere in our backyard. It led to Otherworld, and we had to constantly have guards standing watch to keep out goblins and other creepy crawlies.
“Where are you going to direct it?” Delilah frowned, snatching another cookie off the plate.
“You’re not going to like this but, with Telazhar on the move, it’s safer to set every rogue portal that has appeared over Earthside to a different destination. We’re going to recalibrate it to point toward the realm of the Elder Fae.” She grinned as my jaw dropped wide. “I knew you’d feel that way—you don’t even have to say a word. Don’t bother arguing because there’s a secondary reason for my decision.”
I had been to the realm of the Elder Fae several times. In addition to being a massively huge place, it was also filled with powerful and dangerous creatures who thought nothing of eating people for lunch and their pets for dessert. The Elder Fae were a breed apart. They were the predecessors of OW and ES Fae, ancient and mostly unique. Seldom were there more than one of each type. They paid no attention to the laws of any land—be it human or Fae—and lived by their rules and their rules alone.
Regardless of how nervous it made me, Derisa was right. Having the Elder Fae as neighbors was far less dangerous than should Telazhar discover the portal and bring through the Demonkin and goblin hordes. But, that didn’t mean we would be able to let up our guard. In fact, if something decided to meander through, chances were the creature would be far more powerful, on an individual level, than anything from OW, but it wouldn’t necessarily be out to kill us.
“Lovely. How are you going to reset the destination point?”
“That’s one of my talents. I was trained over the past few years in how to adjust the magical settings of the vortexes. I’d show you how but I don’t think your magic would be well-suited for it.” She winked at me, and I finally managed a smile.
“Right. Well, then, do you want to go do that now? It’s nearing daylight.”
“Resetting the portal isn’t the only thing I came for—it is simply one facet of what we need to discuss. There is far more.” She regarded me silently for a moment and then, quietly, reached in one pocket and pulled out something. When she set it in front of me, I shivered.
A raven feather.
“No,” I whispered. “No . . . I hoped it was just my imagination.”
“I’m sorry, but no. I can feel your thoughts . . . what you saw was not an illusion.” Derisa shifted in her chair.
She knew. She knew about my vision.
“There’s a journey you must undertake, Camille. You must walk under the raven’s wing.” Derisa gave me a faint smile, and I knew there was no getting out of this one. When my High Priestess gave me orders, I obeyed without question, regardless of what they might be.
“Take me to the dragon,” I said, not even sure who I was talking to. My voice reverberated through the kitchen, coming to rest in silence.
All eyes were on us and the fear from my vision came sweeping through again as the image of the giant dragon roared to life in my mind. I slowly reached out, picked up the feather, falling into trance swiftly, as if I were being sucked down a deep well.
At first, I could hear the flutter of wings. Ravens, again. Then something came through, sweeping the air into great currents. The presence of an ancient force, rising out of the depths, filled my senses and I caught my breath as the stench of sulfur and molten stone engulfed me. Choking on the acrid fumes, I coughed, but fear froze the tickle in my throat as two giant eyes glowed out of the darkness at me—round and brilliant, black orbs in a field of white—sparkling with life and cunning.
“Who are you?” The voice echoed in my head. “Who are you . . . ? What are you?” And then, the voice became a questioning tendril, probing my thoughts, reaching out to test, to discover, to seek answers. “I smell the Raven on you, and the Black Beast.”
I pulled back, but didn’t break contact. I wanted to know what this was, and why we were connecting. Dragon he was, definitely, but like no dragon I’d met. This wasn’t a dragon from Smoky’s realm, from the Dragon Reaches, but something old and crafty, alien to the nature of dragons as I knew them. He swirled in an abyss, a creature of fire, clinging to what appeared to be some sort of orb. Obsidian, perhaps, or jet, or onyx.
I circled him, wary, trying to keep out of his peripheral vision. As I scoped out the creature, I sought for any tidbits of information I might be able to glean—for any clues that might come in handy when I . . . when I what?
“Cunning creature you are.” The dragon spoke again, interrupting my thoughts. “Bring the Raven to me and I might let you live.”
The feel of the raven feather in my fingers made me leery. The dragon wanted it too much. And where there was that much greed and lust, danger wouldn’t be far behind.
I let out a slow whistle of breath. No chance in hell would I get its name, dragons didn’t offer their names up without a fight. Hell, I still didn’t know Smoky’s real name. That he was called Iampaatar in the Dragon Reaches was common knowledge, but his true name? No one but he and his mother knew. So I didn’t expect to find out anything useful by asking. But if I could gain some sort of reference, then we might be able to trace its origins and discover what we were facing.