Authors: Stacey Marie Brown
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Coming of Age, #New Adult & College, #Paranormal & Urban
From the moment I had woken up in the Dark Dweller's makeshift hospital a month earlier, my life had changed. I could never go back to the way life used to be. I lost Mark, my friends, my home, my freedom, my life, and being responsible for thousands of people’s deaths. I didn’t grasp how much I had been keeping inside the last couple of weeks. It had been ripping me apart. My legs now gave out and I collapsed to the ground, sobbing. My elbows settled into my lap, my hands covered my face as my heart broke. I didn’t know how long I sat there or when Cole left, but eventually the tears subsided, leaving me even more drained and lifeless.
The thought of running away again did cross my mind, but I quickly banished it. It would be stupid. There was nowhere to go—nowhere safe. Plus, Eli could track me down. As pathetic as it was, he and the Dark Dwellers were my best option for now. At least they would protect me from the Fae who hunted me. My life was secure until they figured out what to do with me. I would use this time to learn everything I could about the Otherworld and myself, while finding out who Lars was.
Sometime later I walked outside, the cool air stinging my face. It was one of those rare, clear nights for the Pacific Northwest and the moon glowed brightly overhead.
I headed into the main house. Cole said as long as I didn’t leave their property I had free reign. Well, he didn’t quite say that, but that’s how I was going to act. I wasn’t going to behave like a prisoner, not until they actually chained me in the basement. The sprawling, one-story, ranch-style house wasn’t fancy by any means, but it had a worn, well-loved feel about it. It was clean, but definitely had a guy’s design sense. Brown, overstuffed leather sofas were spaced around the room and tree stumps were used for the coffee table and side tables. A giant, flat-screen TV was mounted to the wall.
My feet stopped moving when I saw the television. Images of destroyed houses and people covered in blood played out on the screen. My stomach bottomed out. “Oh God.” My hand went to my mouth. I had seen newspaper articles of the devastation, but hadn’t seen TV in a month. The vivid images flashed in front of me. A reporter walked in the rubble where people were now picking through it, trying to find any belongings they had left.
“Four weeks have passed since tragedy hit our area. Today people have finally been allowed into their homes. Thousands were left homeless and everything they had is now gone. Many are just thankful they made it out with their lives since so many did not. So much devastation, so much lost. It is hard to even comprehend. The need is so great here. For those of you wanting to volunteer, please contact this station or the Red Cross.” The reporter looked away shaking his head with sadness. Vomit shot up my throat, barely letting me to get back outside before it came out.
A hand touched my shoulder. “You okay?” Cooper asked.
The guilt was so oppressive I couldn’t talk, or breathe, or even cry. Shaking my head, a tortured sob broke from my lips.
Without a word, Cooper waited for me to calm down before helping me to my feet.
“I don’t think I can live with this,” I whispered, mostly to myself.
Cooper’s arm held me tight against him, keeping me standing. “Yes, you can.”
“How?” I looked up at him. He tucked his white-blonde hair behind his ear.
“Because if it hadn’t been you, the Queen would have found another way to do it. I know it’s hard, but don’t let that bitch win. Don’t let all those people's deaths be in vain. Honor them by fighting for them. Not with this self-pity.”
His words were like a gift to my broken spirit—I unleashed my selfish wallowing and saw it from another view. A river of strength put my legs firmer onto the ground. I stood up straighter. “You’re right.” Cooper released me. As he was turning to leave, I touched his arm. “Thank you, Cooper.” He looked at me over his shoulder. With a nod he turned around, continuing back to the house.
The clock in the infirmary told me it was midnight. I had tried to sleep, but the images from the news wouldn’t let me. Cooper’s words helped, but I still felt haunted by the dead. These thoughts would never go away, but I had to learn to live with them and do something to keep this from ever happening again. The fear of her capturing me kept my lids wide open. Owen had brought me some soup for dinner, afraid my stomach couldn’t handle real food yet. My stomach thought differently so I headed to the kitchen. Voices stopped my pursuit of food. The door to what looked like an office next to the kitchen was partially open. Peeking through the crack, I could see what was left of the group seated in various places around the room. Cole was at the focal point leaning against his desk. Silently, I pressed myself against the wall next to the doorway.
“Even with the protected wards around our property, we still have to be diligent with our security. They are going to come out of the woodwork for her, Dark and Light. Incessantly. We have our invocations in place, but I don’t want us to depend on them and become lax. By now the phookas have certainly told the Queen who took her. So we must be careful and on guard constantly. The Queen will try to find her any way she can. We need to be prepared,” Cole voiced his concerns. “We also need to be watchful of her. She is unbelievably powerful for being so young and untrained. Eli was able to put a cuff on her, so at least we have her abilities somewhat contained for now.”
“There’s even less doubt as to who her parents really are,” I heard Cooper’s voice pipe up.
“Think we’ve known for a while,” Cole replied.
“Yeah, some of us longer than others.” I knew Cooper’s jab was meant for Eli. “Damn. We really do have trouble on our hands.”
“I am trying to locate the Unseelie King but so far nothing,” Eli’s voice spoke next.
My body immediately tightened and my heart wrenched in my chest. To hear him talk so callously about getting rid of me hurt.
Damn my stupid heart.
“Wait. I don’t understand. Why can’t we find this guy? He’s the Unseelie King. He shouldn’t be hard to find.” Jared’s teenage tone sounded at odds with the rest of the group.
“The Unseelie King isn’t found unless he wants to be,” Eli responded. “Plus, the curse makes it harder for us to go through Otherworld channels to find him.”
“The curse . . . right . . .” By Jared’s voice it was clear he had forgotten what the curse was.
“Seriously, Jared, I am going to start quizzing you. I know you weren’t born in the Otherworld, but you really need to know your own history.” I could sense Eli shaking his head in exasperation. “Fast re-cap: the Queen banned us to Earth and put a Draoidh curse blocking us from all entries into the Otherworld, trapping us here.”
“Oh yeah, I remember,” Jared said, clearly lying through his teeth.
“Sure. One thing you probably didn’t know is Draoidh curses can only be undone by a Druid. Unleashing the spell would allow us to go home.”
“Too bad the Queen killed off the entire Druid line,” Cooper huffed.
There was a long pause then Gabby spoke up, speculation in her tone. “I know you, Eli. I recognize that look. What do you know?”
“What if we didn’t have to use Ember? What if I told you I might know of a living Druid?”
?” Everyone reacted in unison to his claim.
“That is not possible. The Queen made sure every last Druid was killed,” Cole said when he got everyone quiet again.
“That’s what I thought too, but I think one was smuggled out,” Eli addressed the room. “I wasn’t sure at first, but now I’m positive a Druid of a high bloodline is living among us. She is, of course, completely ignorant as to what she is.” Eli’s words filtered into my ear and fell heavy into my stomach, twisting and itching with intuition. I seemed to already know who he was talking about. “She was raised by ordinary humans. Her Druid parents must have smuggled her out trying to protect and keep her from the Queen. I’ve been watching from the moment she crossed my path, and I can feel the powerful magic in her.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Owen's spoke for the first time.
“I wanted to be sure. I didn’t want to let you all down if it wasn’t true.”
“Holy shit! What are the odds we'd find a Dae and a Druid?” Gabby exclaimed.
Eli breathed out. “We only have one chance to get this right, and I want to be sure everything is in our favor. We cannot simply abduct her. It will only put more attention on her and us. We don’t want the Queen to realize what she is. If that happened—game over. I know this girl needs to be told. She has the blood of a Druid, but she doesn’t have the training, and undoing the curse is not an easy process. She needs to learn her magic first.”
“But it might take centuries. Druids aren’t known for their speed,” Gabby exclaimed. “Let’s go get her. There has to be
Druid Magic for Dummies
she can read really fast. Oh hell, I don’t want to wait any longer. Let’s use Ember. If that fails, we still have the Druid option.”
Mac an donais
, Gabby.” I could hear Eli jump up from his chair. “This isn’t a game.”
“I know that, Eli,” she bellowed back. “I’m sorry if your little girlfriend gets hurt in this, but we need to stop screwing around and start doing something.”
There were a few seconds of silence and, even without seeing Eli, I could feel the anger burning through him. “I have
put you guys first. Do not second guess me again.
Ni ceart go cur le cheile
,” Eli said, his voice so even it gave me chills.
“Eli,” Cole only said his name, but I felt the calmness in his voice and found it soothing.
Cooper spoke up. “How do you suppose we do that, Eli? You think this girl is simply going to accept she's from an ancient line of Druids who were killed off because the Queen feared them? That she has magical talents and should help us out of the kindness of her heart?”
“That’s precisely what I think she will do,” he responded. “If her good friend is in peril or threatened—she will do anything to save her.”
Charging into the room, my body reacted before my brain. “You will not use me as bait to get Kennedy. You will not bring her into this! Use me . . . but you stay the hell away from her.”
The entire room turned and stared at me. Eli's smug expression halted my fury. Damn him. Of course he knew I was there the whole time; he had felt me near.
"Who’s Kennedy?” Cooper looked between me and Eli.
Eli’s stare burned into me. “I never said her name.”
He didn’t have to. From the moment I met Kennedy I had recognized she was different.
Maybe somewhere inside I had known all along she and I were bonded or drawn to each other because there was a connection beyond this world. “Kennedy is the Druid, isn't she?”
“Yes,” Eli concurred. “You don’t seem very surprised”
“I’m not. I know I should be, but I’m not,” I stated. I had waited for shock and disbelief to find me. It didn’t. Kennedy had always been eerily intuitive, seeing more than anybody else. I didn’t know much about Druid traits, but if being so insightful that you were almost clairvoyant was one of them, she had it in spades. Kennedy being a Druid made sense, which felt odd to say, but it did. It was another piece of the puzzle fitting into place.
Cole, still leaning against the desk, addressed Eli. “How do you want to handle this?”
“We have to tell her. She needs to know,” I cried out.
“No.” Eli shook his head furiously. “That is the last thing we do. Not until we are ready to bring her here.”
Bits of the earlier conversation came back to me. “Why? What will happen to her?”
“Since I know there’s no way you will let this go, you might as well sit down.” When I refused, Eli shrugged and continued on. “The basic story you need to know is the Queen grew to fear the Druids. Since they are human and contain their own magic, she has no control over them. Their magic is something the Queen cannot challenge or beat. They used a spell to hide something from her, which she desperately wanted. When torture didn’t work she thought killing off the Druid line would break the curse. So she annihilated the Druid population, but the spell still held. This was around the same time she had put a curse on us. Since a Druid is the only one who can undue this Draoidh curse, we thought the option was lost to us forever.”
“So, if Aneira knows Kennedy’s a Druid, she will torture and kill her and she can't help you.”
Bile coiled in my stomach, climbing up my throat. This was not much different from what the Queen wanted to do with me, but it felt so different hearing she would do this to Kennedy—sweet, compassionate, loving Kennedy. All I wanted to do was run to her and shield her from anything bad. She couldn’t handle this world and the darkness in it like I could. Kennedy had been adopted by a loving couple who shielded their daughters from the bad in the world. She had grown less naïve around Ryan and me, but she had such a pure heart. I couldn’t let anything happen to her.
“What do we do then?” Panic curled around my vocal chords.
“Until we are ready to bring her in she has to stay ignorant to everything. Your friends are being watched waiting for you to contact them. If anything changes, even in the slightest, they will notice. We can’t draw any attention to her.”