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|Priestess Dreaming(Sisters of the Moon #16) by Yasmine Galenorn|
I let out a shaky breath. Bean Sidhe would have been my guess, had Tanne not beat me to it. Delilah caught my gaze in a moonbeam and her eyes went wide, shimmering with a swirl of sparks. The crescent tattoo on her forehead flared to life and I caught my breath.
“The Autumn Lord . . .” I whispered.
She nodded. “I responded to the Bean Sidhe’s call. The more I walk under the reign of the Autumn Lord, the more I am drawn to his realm. I noticed . . . when we were in Elqaneve and the storm hit, I could feel something shifting. I’m evolving . . . and I’m not sure what he’s planning for me right now, but something’s on the move.”
I could feel the swirl around her—bonfires and crisp autumn leaves.
Death magic . . . the energy surrounding her is very much akin to our death magic. I think Delilah is headed for a very shadowy world soon.
At first I thought I had thought the words, but then Morio gave my hand a squeeze and I realized that somehow he had entered my mind and whispered to me in a voice so low that no one else seemed to catch it. I nodded, just enough for him to see. Delilah’s training with the Death Maidens had changed her—for the better, in my opinion. But once Morio mentioned it, I could sense change looming in front of her. And whatever it was would not be easy but it would be worth the challenge.
Returning my attention to Morgaine, I steeled my nerves. “You say we have a couple of days of travel ahead? Where are we going?”
Morgaine was short—very petite. We looked a lot alike, although she definitely had some age wearing on her. In some ways, it seemed like we were walking a similar path, only hers had started a thousand years ago or so, while mine was still in its infancy.
“We seek the Veiled Mountains. The Merlin was last rumored to be sleeping there. The Fae Lords hid him away very carefully. They did not want him waking.”
“What part did he play in the war?” Delilah asked.
“The Merlin was their mightiest enemy when the arguments were waging over the Great Divide. He led Titania and Aeval and their armies against the Fae Lords who drove the juggernaut along. The wars raged, vicious and cunning, before their side won and ours lay in ruins. But the victory was costly to everyone. Before there could be any counter measures, the Fae Lords imprisoned the Fae Queens, and the Merlin. And they imprisoned their allies as well. And when they had accomplished their goal, they imprisoned both their enemies and their allies. They turned on their monstrous friends, and cast them deep into sleep. When they, in turn, decided to withdraw and slumber, they rigged spells to prevent their new enemies from waking until they did.”
“It wasn’t worth it, was it?” I tried to block out thoughts of the devastation.
“I love Otherworld. But the destruction that was wrought while separating the worlds . . . it wasn’t worth it. We were taught all our lives how noble the lords were, and how the Divide had happened solely to keep the demons at bay. Now, I wonder how true any of that was.”
Morgaine started to speak, but stopped when Tanne let out a soft “Look” and pointed. We followed his direction. There, seeming to appear out of nowhere, was a large two-story building. It had a green man plaque hanging from it, and for all the world, it looked to be an inn. But where had it come from, and who the hell was running it?
Bran let out a relieved sigh. “Finally. I was not looking forward to sleeping on the ground, I’ll tell you that.”
I stared at him. He couldn’t be serious? It struck me that Bran might be on the spoiled side. “You realize that none of us are looking forward to camping out, but I think it’s safer than just traipsing into an inn that just appeared out of nowhere.”
“There is no safety in this realm, regardless of where we sleep. And if someone bothers us, we can handle them.” He sounded so cocky that it scared me. Why the hell had Derisa and Aeval insisted he come along? At least Morgaine seemed to have a level head about this trip. She knew it was dangerous, and she wasn’t taking chances.
As if reading my thoughts, Morgaine shook her head. “We are all weary and the trip is only going to become harder, but we don’t dare chance the inn. Just keep on moving. We aren’t far from a wooded glade, and there we will find shelter in the trees just off the path.”
Morio cleared his throat. “For once, I’m inclined to agree with you. This is not a realm to be taken lightly, and while we have a fair amount of power at our fingertips, there are creatures far stronger and more deadly than we are.”
Bran’s eyes narrowed to slits as he stared at Morgaine. “Do you forget what we discussed before we left? Do I have to remind you?”
Okay, this was a new one. I glanced at Morgaine, who flinched. She pressed her lips together and stared back at him. Anger rolled off of her in a wave, so palpable I could almost feel it.
She let out a short huff. “You might want to keep your mouth shut, Raven Master. Use up your tokens now and you won’t have any for later. A promise can only be leveraged so far, you realize?”
What the hell could Bran be holding over Morgaine’s head that would make her cave? And the more important question: Did Aeval know about this little matter when she ordered him to accompany us?
I glanced over at Arturo and Mordred. Arturo looked unfazed as usual. He was a rough read, that one. But Mordred looked pissed. As he gazed at Bran, a sneer flickered on his lips.
I shivered. The three of them made for a dangerous triangle, and whatever stakes they played for were far too high for my comfort level.
Delilah nudged my elbow and I gave her a surreptitious nod before leaning against my staff and whistling.
“Listen up. I have no clue what’s going down between you two, but whatever the issue is, we’re not part of it. You can do what you want, but the rest of us will take our chances in the woods ahead. We’re not going into that inn. If it showed up out of nowhere, it can vanish just as easily.”
Bran didn’t even bother looking at me, but continued to stare at Morgaine. “Moon Witch, you are under orders to the Queen of Dusk. Your desires and thoughts have no place or say here.”
Morgaine’s gaze flickered to meet mine and for the first time in a long while, I saw a glimmer of fear behind that cool exterior. “Play your cards wisely, Bran. Your hold on me is more tenuous than you like to think. I’ve met more dangerous players than you in my life and lived to see them enter the grave. Now, do you insist on chancing the inn?”
Bran flashed her a shrewd smile. “Check and mate. We will sleep in the forest. But Morgaine, don’t forget who holds the upper hand.”
Before anyone could say another word, the inn shivered and vanished. I stared at the barren space where it had stood. Everything in the realm of the Elder Fae seemed deadly and nebulous, and now that we knew Bran had some hold over Morgaine, I was even more nervous.
Morgaine let out a snort. “Sleep in the inn. Yes, what a wonderful idea.” Then, without another word, she turned and motioned toward the path. “Let’s get settled for the night. We need rest.”
* * *
The thicket was rife with deciduous trees, barren and sparse in the winter night. A thin veil of frost was beginning to form and it would be downright cold by morning.
Morio struck up a foxfire spell and the glowing ball gave us enough light to see our way behind a patch of ferns, their fronds waving a good five feet high. The trees were thick here. Among the alder and birch and oak, there also stood some fir and cedar. A dry, flat patch of ground beneath one of the giant conifers was large enough for us to spread out, and we gathered beneath the tree in a circle, resting on the ground.
I pulled out my blanket from my pack—spidersilk and thin, but warm. As I settled between Morio and Delilah, Tanne set up his gear on her other side.
Morgaine, Mordred, Arturo, and Bran set up their camp opposite us. I wanted to light a fire. Crackling flames would make everything seem so much better, but I didn’t even broach the idea. Too many creatures out there in the darkness. Too many chances to be seen by unwelcome eyes.
Bran said little, but instead covered himself with a blanket and turned over. I wasn’t sure if he was asleep, but it was a relief to feel like we weren’t under his constant scrutiny. Arturo silently went about setting out a snack for the three of them. Mordred leaned against one of the trees, his blanket wrapped around his shoulders.
I was tired, but hungry, so we dug through Hanna’s sack of sandwiches and chicken. She’d also included water in reusable plastic bottles, and cookies. Delilah stared at Bran’s prone figure, then tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for me to follow her. Tucking my cloak tightly around me, I did.
When we were far enough away from camp, back near the main road, she whispered. “What the hell is going on with Bran and Morgaine?”
“I don’t know, but I feel like we walked in a demilitarized zone, and any moment, we could step over the wire. I’d like to throttle Morgaine, though, for not warning us that Bran’s up to something. And I’d like to ask Aeval what the hell she knows about this and get a straight answer. She can’t be blind to their feud. She’s the one who brought Bran over to lead the Talamh Lonrach Oll Warriors. In fact, now that I remember, Morgaine was furious. I think she was doing her best to secure Mordred in that position.”
Delilah cocked her head. “But why would that give Bran power over her?”
“I don’t know, but when Morio was made my priest, during that rite, Morgaine acted like she hated my guts. Now she’s . . . well, she’s not friendly but she certainly seems to have transferred her anger for me to Bran.” I wanted to get to the bottom of all this, but the potential for upsetting the applecart was more than I wanted to risk—at least until we returned home.
“This whole off-to-find-the-Merlin thing reeks of intrigue.” Delilah sat down on a large rock. “I think I prefer dealing with the war in Otherworld. How can you stand the power plays going on out at the Triple Threat’s compound?”
I nudged her to scoot over so that I could sit beside her. The moon was visible between the clouds drifting by, and it felt like I could reach up and touch her. “I guess this is all part of where my life is headed. I’m supposed to be the first High Priestess over Earthside for the Moon Mother. That’s why Aeval is training me. But . . . there’s something bigger coming, I think.”
“That’s kind of how I feel with my training for the Autumn Lord.” Delilah let out a soft chuckle. “I mean, I know that one day I’m destined to bear his child, and that Shade will be the father by proxy . . . I guess that in itself is scary enough. At least, with that destiny, I can’t help but feel I’ll manage to survive. I can’t very well give birth if I’m dead.”
I let out a snicker and realized I could see my breath in front of me. “Well, that’s one way to look at it. Damn, it’s getting chilly.”
She nodded. “Yeah, the frost is already forming.”
“I wish that Aeval and Titania would . . .” Pausing, I glanced around to make sure nobody had followed us. No need for prying ears to hear what I was about to say. “I wish they would strip Morgaine of her powers.”
A shuffle in the brush stilled my words. Delilah heard it, too, and we froze, waiting to see what fresh horror was going to leap out at us. Another rustle and then the huckleberry bush parted and out flew a familiar figure.
“Mistletoe!” I jumped up. The pixie darted over toward us. Even though pixies tended to look a lot alike, we knew Mistletoe well enough to tell him from the rest. “What are you doing here?”
He tipped his hat—a tiny green affair formed from a leaf, with a dashing yellow feather in it—and hovered in front of me. “I bring you news from Feddrah-Dahns.” He spoke in Melosealfôr, the high language of the Cryptos, used also by Moon witches such as myself.
Mistletoe was about twelve inches tall, and he was nearly translucent, with flecks of light sparkling through his body. In addition to the hat, he wore a pair of burlap trousers tied with a belt made of ivy vine, and he had a brown leather bag slung over his shoulder.
Unlike the pixies we had fought earlier, Mistletoe was a good sort, and he was also the messenger of the crown prince of the Dahns Unicorns.
“It’s been far too long since we heard from you and Feddrah! How are you faring?” I held out my hand and he flew down to settle on it. I brought him down to my knee and he made himself at home.
“As I said, Lady Camille, I have a message for you.”
I frowned. “Feddrah-Dahns knows I’m here in the realm of the Elder Fae? And please, speak in the common tongue—Delilah doesn’t know Melosealfôr.” If the unicorn prince knew where I was, that begged the question: Who else had that information, and was I in danger?
“He does. Word travels fast and rumors, still faster.”
“Damned Raven Mother. Why did she open her big mouth? She knows how important this trip is.” I let out an exasperated sigh. Aeval sure knew how to pick our traveling companions.
But Mistletoe shook his head, his wings fluttering with the movement. “No, it was not her. She has been absent from Darkynwyrd for several weeks. The Black Unicorn summoned Feddrah-Dahns to the woodland yesterday. The rumors are thick, but we haven’t been able to track their source yet. We have scouts looking into matters.”
“If it wasn’t Raven Mother, then there has to be a leak in Talamh Lonrach Oll, or in the Grove of the Moon Mother. Because I didn’t even know I’d be making this trip until a couple days ago.” I glanced over at Delilah and she shook her head. “Anyway, what news do you bring?”