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|Priestess Dreaming(Sisters of the Moon #16) by Yasmine Galenorn|
I nodded, realizing this was his way of telling me he understood why I needed to go. “You got it. I’ll be back, love. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“If you aren’t, I’ll come looking. You know that, right? I’ll always come looking for you if something goes wrong. I’ll never let you down.” He buried his nose in my neck and his breath was hot against my skin. “I’ll never let you down again.”
“Don’t make promises that you might not be able to keep. Just promise to love me and be here for me?” I stroked his hair away from his face and the tendril reached up to coil around my wrist, gently holding on.
“That, I promise, my love. Always.” And then, he let go, though I could tell he didn’t want to.
I turned to the others, steeling myself for the next move. “Delilah, Morio, Tanne . . . you ready?”
They murmured their ascent.
To my surprise and relief, Raven Mother kissed Bran on the forehead but stepped back. “Be cautious, my son. Be brave.”
“You aren’t going with us?” I held my breath, hoping she’d say no. To my relief, she shook her head.
“No, I have much to attend to back in Darkynwyrd. I simply wanted to come talk to you before you left, and to bid my son farewell.”
Thinking swiftly, I walked over to her. “Will you grant me a moment of your time, alone?” Maybe I could get to the bottom of why Bran was such an ass to me.
Raven Mother’s eyes glittered. “Of course.”
As we walked away from the others, I glanced back, making sure they were out of earshot. “I wanted to ask you something about Bran. He seems to hate me, and I get the feeling it’s for killing his father. But it wasn’t my choice—I was destined to do so, and the Black Unicorn reincarnated immediately.”
Raven Mother’s smile was cool, but her eyes twinkled. “My son is stubborn. He is also greedy at times and I admit, he takes after me. He is jealous of you, not angry. You were given a gift of something he covets—and when his father died, he thought sure he’d be given the horn and hide like the ones you possess. But my Lord, the Black Unicorn, chose to sequester them away for someone not yet born. Bran was furious. He hasn’t forgiven his father, and he can’t forgive you for bearing the tokens he longs for.”
Great. So Bran was a child of the entitlement mentality—which meant he was just about like every other spoiled powerful being I’d ever met.
“How can I get him off my back?” I didn’t mean to sound so blunt but the words just spilled out in a rush.
Raven Mother, however, just laughed. “I’d have a talk with him but that would make matters worse. You know how children are when their parents push them to play nice. Bran also has the misfortune of a promise I made him some time ago. I made it in haste, and so far, have not been able to fulfill it.” As she gazed meaningfully at me, I flashed back to my last meeting with her.
Oh hell. I was right. She had hinted to me last time we met that she’d promised me to Bran, if she could woo me to join her in Darkynwyrd. And that wasn’t happening.
“Yeah. Not a chance. But you need to be aware that if he pushes me too far, I’m pushing back. I don’t care if he’s your son or not. I won’t put up with bad behavior.” Doing my best to appear stern, I turned my back on her—a dangerous move in itself—and started back toward the others.
“Camille.” Raven Mother’s voice was soft, singsonging the words. “Do not be surprised, do not, if my son oversteps his bounds. He is beyond my control. Bran the Raven Master is destined for great things. I would walk warily if I were you.”
And with that, she vanished, whirling in on herself like a vortex spinning. I watched as she transformed into a great raven and flew away. Turning back to the others, I noticed that Bran was staring at me, and I returned his gaze. I couldn’t let him see that I was intimidated by him. Whether his mother would mention our conversation, I had no clue. Raven Mother was tricky and she bent the truth to her own use. But for now, until they met again, he would have to just wonder what we’d been talking about.
As I returned to Morio’s side, I nodded to Aeval. Her lips pressed into a thin smile, she inclined her head slightly, and handed me the silver-knobbed yew staff that she’d given me some time before. It resonated in my hand, ringing with the energy of death and rebirth, of transformation and the night.
“I think . . . we’re ready.”
Morgaine took the lead, since she had the best idea of where we were headed. “Then let’s waste no more time.” She plunged through the portal, vanishing.
Without another word, Bran, Mordred, and Arturo followed her. I raised my hand, holding it steady, and stared at Smoky. His forehead creasing, he did the same to me, and then, followed by Delilah, Morio, and Tanne, I stepped through the vortex, into the realm of Elder Fae.
The portal into the realm of the Elder Fae was one of the strongest and weirdest I’d ever experienced. Usually, it was bizarre enough—the feeling that you’re being pulled into a million tiny pieces and then flung back together again somewhere else—but this time, add to that the sensation of sticking your finger into a light socket. Every inch of my body was quivering and I felt like I’d bathed in some sort of sparkling effervescent water.
As I stepped through the vortex, immediately moving to my left to allow the others room to come through, I took in as much of my surroundings as possible. Morgaine and her cronies were standing to the right, doing the same.
The landscape here was vivid, almost video-game bright. Every color seemed heightened, every line seemed to stand out more. The sky was a deep indigo with brilliant stars shimmering, and the temperature, hovering in the low 40s, a lot like Seattle’s. A moist chill skirted the edges, as if there had been rain earlier, leaving the ground refreshed and the evening cool.
We were in a small glade, surrounded by a thick stand of birch and alder. Through an opening to my left, a path was visible. The glade was enclosed, and as I tried to get my bearings, I could sense eyes watching us from behind the trees and the dark silhouettes of bushes that thickly shrouded the trunks.
Overhead, I searched for any sign of the moon. There she was, closing on to full and beautiful, blotting out the stars in the surrounding area. Surprised to see her, a sense of comfort descended. Otherworld matched Earthside’s pace with the seasons and moon phases, but here—in the realm of the Elder Fae—I had no clue how things worked. Every dimension was different, every step away from our own world had its variations. And yet, all of these planes were connected by the portals, by the web that made up the very nature of the world.
I glanced over at Morgaine. She was staring at me. For once, she didn’t look angry. In fact, she looked about as lost as I felt. She flashed me a tentative smile—I could see her teeth gleam in the flux of lights emanating from the portal—as Delilah appeared. She immediately moved to stand beside me as Morio and Tanne came through. We were all here, all intact.
“I hope we’re done soon. Remember? Full moon? Me, tabby cat?” Delilah nudged me.
“Oh, hell, you’re right. And I’ll be swept up in the Hunt.” I frowned. “Well, we’ll have to muddle through the best we can. I’ll tell Morio to keep watch over you if we’re still here.”
A fragrance drifted through the air—reminding me of the forests surrounding Seattle. I inhaled deeply, breathing in the scent of mildew and moss, of toadstools and decaying leaves and rain tinged with tree sap. Suddenly wishing we were back home, I slowly exhaled.
“So, what next? Where do we go from here?” I turned to Morgaine. “You’re in charge, apparently. I certainly have no clue where the Merlin is located.”
She frowned. “I know the tales of where he’s imprisoned. Meher told me the story, and he seldom told anybody anything. I doubt if he took many others into his confidence. That was before he . . .” Pausing, she shook her head. “Never mind. The fact is, the Merlin was imprisoned at the same time as Aeval and Titania, during the Great Divide.”
It was my turn to frown. We were here because of stories about where the Merlin might be? Had Aeval missed the mark this time?
“So, you never trained under the Merlin, then?” Morio knelt to examine the dirt. He lifted a handful to his nose and inhaled. “Tangy, and imbued with magic. This realm is magical to the core—don’t let down your guard.”
As Morio spoke, I realized that, as long as we’d known Morgaine, we really hadn’t gotten to know her at all. She was dangerous and chaotic, and as a result, we had shied away from her, an oversight we might come to regret.
But Morgaine seemed inclined to talk. “Not Myrddin, no. But I trained under Meher. As I said, he was the acting Merlin at the time, but forgotten by history. He trained me well enough, though we had our issues and parted badly. Meher did have a deep regard for the earth and the water, and he could command their powers. He taught me how to charm the lakes and rivers, and the deep caverns of the world.”
For a moment, through the dark greed that twisted her nature, I caught a glimpse of raw power—the ability to move stone and river—and the love for those elements. Morgaine might be hungry and rapacious, but she was able to sense and honor the powers of the earth, and they lent their secrets to her. But then, a black cloud washed across her face and she shivered and shook her head.
Tanne cocked his head. “In the Black Forest, we have our great wizards and witches, too. My clan follows a goddess who is a great sorceress. Holda leads the Wild Hunt, much like Odin.”
“As long as she isn’t Baba Yaga, we’re fine and dandy.” I had heard of Holda, but seldom encountered anybody who followed her. “Your goddess and mine have much in common—including leading the Hunt and being the patroness of witches. I wonder if they both answer to Pentangle, the Mistress of Magic. I met Pentangle not all that long ago, in my quest to vanquish a god.”
Morgaine gave me a crafty look. “Pentangle is dangerous. It isn’t wise to attract her attention. Just because you and your companions managed to subdue Gulakah, doesn’t mean he’s gone forever.” She laughed, her voice rough.
At my look, she added, “Oh, don’t play surprised with me. Of course, I know what happened. You think the Court of the Three Queens doesn’t keep tight tabs on you and what is transpiring?” Here, she paused, glancing at Bran. Then, her lips set, she fell silent once again. I had the feeling she wanted to say more, but that something about the Raven Master had stilled her tongue.
Mordred, however, wasn’t quite so reticent. “You may tackle a god, but I doubt if you could tackle the Merlin.” He sounded bitter.
I sensed a deep undercurrent of waves here, and as I glanced from Morgaine to her nephew, I almost could see the argument brewing between the two. My gaze flickered to Arturo. He, too, seemed unsettled but he wasn’t paying much attention to the pair and I had no clue what was setting him off.
Tanne cleared his throat. “So, where do we go from here?”
Grateful he’d chosen to change the subject, I jumped on his question. “Yes. Morgaine, which way do we go?”
She held my gaze for a moment, but this time, it wasn’t a challenge. She turned away and held out her arms. Closing her eyes, she sent out one low, lingering note to hover in the air a moment before the breeze snatched it away. A moment later, a note echoed back from the right.
“We take the path and follow the yellow brick road.” Grinning, she slung her pack over her shoulder. “Let’s get a move on, because frankly, I’d rather not just stand around. Stationary targets get noticed. We have no clue what might be nearby and with the portal activating, it’s bound to attract some attention.”
I moved forward to her side. “Morio and I will walk beside you, if you don’t mind. Tanne, will you and Delilah bring up the rear?” I wanted players from our side in back, just in case Mordred and Bran got it into their heads to try something.
Again, an odd look from Morgaine but she inclined her head and we formed our marching order. I took the center, so Morio and I could grasp hands for whenever our magic was needed. The odds against us were too high and once again, this was a matter of when, not if.
As we approached the edge of the glade, I shivered. The watchers in the woods had sent word ahead. In my heart I knew it, and it made sense. We had to be ready for any attack. We emerged from the enclosed circle of trees, and found ourselves on the edge of a vast plain. It was too dark to see very far ahead, but in the distance, lights flickered.
Oh, f**k. Deadly globes, dancing in the night.
Will-o’-the-wisps. The deadly, feral Fae. They were more alluring than sirens, at least for FBHs. Thank gods we didn’t have Chase with us—a couple years before, he’d been lured in by them when we were on the trail of a Raksasa.
Also known as Corpse Candles, the will-o’-the-wisps devoured life energy, and that included magical power. And they would come running with spoon and fork in hand, just the minute they sensed our party.
Whether having Morgaine with us would make a difference, I didn’t know. I could only hope that the fact that she was a Fae Queen would chase them off. But there was no way to know for sure unless they descended on us. And considering the Maiden of Karask had told us that they didn’t fear either Younger or Elder Fae, chances were the freakish little buggers would pounce on us and try to turn us into magical juice boxes.
I tapped Morgaine on the arm. “Trouble ahead. Last time we fought them, we had the help of an Elder Fae. I’ve never been hurt by one yet, but I know they can be dangerous when they smell magic in the wind.”