Authors: Amy Sumida
The Tainted Web
Copyright © 2013 Amy Sumida
All rights reserved.
To Grandma, I love you.
A Thaisce: A-hash-keh
Damhnait: Dav-net (no, it's not “damn it”)
Estsanatlehi(Mrs E): Es-tan-AHT-lu-hee
Leanan-Sidhe: Lah-nan Shee
Tsohanoai(Mr. T): So-ha-noe-ayee
I took a deep breath of the fresh fey air and sighed. The trees seemed to breathe with me, branches reaching out to me in welcome. Inside me, something unfolded, reaching back to them. I was told close to a year had passed in Faerie since I'd been here last. In my realm, it had only been twelve days.
A lot had changed between the gods and the faeries in that time. Both sides had worked hard toward establishing some kind of alliance. The gods because frankly, they were scared shitless of the fey, and the faeries because they wanted me.
I was the last female dragon-sidhe, a type of faerie that can change into a dragon and was associated with the element of fire. Dragon-sidhe are also fey royalty and in my case, it made me a Queen. Technically I was still married to King Arach, even though I'd disavowed him and left in a huff when I'd found out how he tricked me into marrying him by stealing my memories, but I'm not bitter. No, really I'm not this time.
I'd forgiven Arach once I'd come to terms with his fey nature and how it had motivated him to do what he'd done. Mainly, trying to save his race. Arach's saving grace was that, along the way of tricking me into breeding for him, I'd changed him just a little and he'd changed me. We'd fallen in love.
Love was kind of my thing. I was the Goddess of Love and Lions. Love made me keen on sharing the emotion and the lion part made me need multiple lovers. It's a reversed pride thing(as in a lion pride not ego). Instead of one male and lots of females, there was one female and lots of males. So my plate was already full when Arach dished himself up.
In fact, my other lovers had come to Faerie with me this time. Trevor, the Froekn(werewolf) Prince, was my alpha. Kirill, my black Russian lion, was my Ganza(Intare bodyguard). Odin, God of Victory and the Dead, was my husband from a previous life, father of my sons(also previous life), and the man who brought me back into this life. Last but not least, there was Azrael, Angel of Death, he'd helped Odin by putting my soul in the Viking Well of Souls so that Odin could eventually bring me back. Funny how that kind of thing usually has a magical price attached. The price ended up being me, Odin now had to share me, not only with Trevor and Kirill but with the angel who carried my soul for him.
Odin bore it well though. He'd waited centuries to bring me back, so sharing me was worth it, according to him. Frankly, I couldn't have shared any of my men. The very thought enraged me and brought my dragon to the surface, as if my lioness wasn't bad enough.
I didn't have to share them though. In fact, they were considering adding one more to their number. It was partially the reason we were in Faerie, to talk to Arach, well, to have my men talk to Arach. The other reason, was to attend the first Faerie-God Ball ever. We had all been invited by the High King of Faerie himself.
So not only were my lovers with me but the entire Froekn clan, all of my Intare, and the remaining members of the God Squad. I say remaining because we'd recently lost Mr. T, the Navajo Sun God, and his fertility goddess wife, Mrs. E still hadn't come out of mourning. So we were two short and my heart hurt a little not only for them but for the lions and wolves we'd lost in the same battle. I wished they could have seen Faerie with me.
We were all gathered at The
End of the Road, the only tracing point in the Faerie Realm. The fey had created the Aether, the magical space between realms, as a means of traveling to the Human Realm. At one time there'd been several gateways to Faerie from the Human Realm, you could practically stumble into the fey world if you went walking through the wrong forest, but then humans had started hunting fey and the fey had withdrawn, leaving only the one tracing point, and closing that shut with magic. For quite awhile now, there'd been no travel to or from Faerie, the Aether was used exclusively by the gods for travel.
Then I'd come along. Originally born fey, my mother had hidden my nature with a spell that turned me temporarily human. Unfortunately, she was killed before she could remove the spell or even tell me about it. I had died human but Odin, who I'd been married to, pulled me from death and put me into another human body. So I was human again, until I drank from the Grayel and became a goddess, but underneath it all, I had the soul of a fey and when I casually asked the Aether to take me home one day, it did. It took me to Faerie.
My entrance weakened the seal and set into motion a series of events that has made me a Queen, opened the tracing point of Faerie completely, and given the High Royals reasons to consider allowing the passage of fey into the Human Realm again. All from one of my screw-ups.
So there we were,
a huge mass of us and more were still arriving through the huge tree behind me. In front of me was a line of coaches, waiting to take us all to the Castle of Eight, the living castle made of eight monstrous trees, in which the High King and Queen resided with their court, ruling over the elemental kingdoms as the unifying House of Spirit.
Are you sure you're ready for this?” Trevor was beside me, hadn't left my side since we'd arrived, in fact.
I think you're projecting, Honey Eyes,” I smiled at him. “I'm fine but you don't look so good.”
It's just that the last time I was here,” he looked around warily at the active plant life as it shifted and sighed, “it was to rescue you from that dragon.”
, I held back my laughter but just barely. Trevor had formed a shaky truce with Arach but it didn't mean he liked it. Calling him
was only one of the many ways he had of expressing his distaste. I couldn't blame him though, I was asking a lot of my alpha lover, of all of my men, to come to Faerie and get to know the man who had tried to steal me from both them and myself.
It's just a party,” I took his arm and led him to the coach at the front of the line. Kirill, Odin, and Azrael followed on our heels without being told. “Try and relax. Faerie can be amazing, if you can let go of your fears long enough to enjoy it.”
Fear is your body's way of telling you something is not going to be enjoyable, Vervain,” Trevor gave me his annoyed face and then shot a wary look up the trunk of a nearby tree. There were strange clicking noises drifting down to us from the lofty branches.
I know,” I laughed and let him help me up into one of the opulent coaches. “You'll see what I mean though. Relax a little, we're all here together under a diplomatic mission. Nothing will harm us, so look around and try to have a good time.”
Yeah, sure,” he huffed as the others climbed in with us. “Nothing will harm us except the grass. I did warn you guys about the grass right?”
What?” Azrael smirked at him. “Don't smoke it?”
They could pretend all they wanted but I knew my men and they were all amazed by the Faerie Realm. Even Trevor and Odin, who'd both been there before, albeit briefly, couldn't tear their eyes away from the sights around them.
Everything was alive, from the monumental trees
(think giant sequoias times two)
whose trunks expanded and contracted with each breath they took, to the ethereal flowers whose glowing faces turned and followed our progress as they pulsed intoxicating fragrances into the air, scent so strong and beautiful, you could see it sparkling in curving paths, seeking out its prey.
Among the foliage were creatures unknown to either of the other realms, both deceptively beautiful and grotesque. One thing I'd learned quickly from my visits to Faerie, sometimes the most beautiful things were the deadliest. You had to know how to truly see, how to recognize the purpose behind the facade. Like the snuffling creature with the poisonous green hide and bristling body of ivory spikes, who was making his way ponderously through the undergrowth. Those spikes were to protect him from the flowers, the green hide a sort of camouflage. He himself was actually pretty harmless and only ate roots and nuts he foraged off the forest floor.
The true predator was above him. A riot of striking colors, the thing had the body of a cat and the wings of a bird. The wings were a mix of brilliant blues, purples, and acid violet, thankfully they stretched back from its shoulders in repose, it wasn't in the hunting mood. If it had been, the red fur of its body would have shifted to deep green in an attempt to hide itself until the last fatal second, when it would pounce onto its prey below. For now though, it was happy to display its true colors, warning all who passed that this was a predator strong enough to have no need of blending into the background.
Kirill eyed the beast on its low perch and the creature gave him a growl for his efforts. In response, Kirill snarled, baring his teeth and sending the cat/bird shrieking into the air with a flurry of feathers. He looked back at me and I raised a brow with a disapproving look but he just shrugged like it had to be done. Nature of the beast, I guess even in Faerie the lion was King.
We'd made rapid progress through the Forgetful Forest and soon we were passing through the main gate of the Castle of Eight, a wide opening in the seamless intersection of two trunks. The seven outer trees formed a circle around the central eighth tree, which housed the High King and Queen, the throne room, royal dining room, and guest rooms for esteemed visitors. The rest of the court lived within the trunks of the outer trees, trunks which thinned and spread out to either side, so that they connected to each other and formed battlements which were manned by a diverse group of fey, all in shiny armor. Numerous windows dotted the trunks and the thicker branches, shining light into the darkened forest.
In the center of this living fortress was a vast courtyard with magnificent gardens featuring elemental displays. The gardens were like the castle itself, a living testament to the fey's control over nature. There were plants grown into intricate sculptures of fey beings, flowers and berries sprouting in the perfect places to create facial features or to give color to a spray of wings. Bushes outlined paths and created boundaries, their branches growing upwards to form elegant arches and curlicues enhanced by sprays of blooms. Fey strolled the paths, their bright clothing adding even more color to the mix.
Then, in the center of all this, was the final and most magnificent tree, its branches stretching even further then the others and topped with numerous banners. We were deposited at the base of this tree, where the trunk split open and the roots rippled down into smooth steps. The doors were thrown wide, light spilling out and drifting up the trunk to illuminate the shadows cast by the branches soaring high above us. Not to be outdone by its height, the width of the tree stretched out away from us, to either side, the length of a city block.
Kirill and Trevor's noses were going a mile a minute as we climbed the stairs, their eyes darting around them as if they didn't know where to rest. I smiled a little, my first reaction to this place had been similar. Except, I'd seen it from the air, flown there by...
“Danal!” I exclaimed as the faerie knight came forward to greet us.
Queen Vervain,” he nodded and held out a hand to help me up the final step. “It's been too long.”
Not as long for me,” I chuckled.
Yes, we move faster here,” he winked(which was quite shocking for the otherwise staid fey) and then turned to greet my men.
I made the introductions and then Danal led us into the castle, saying that preparations had been made for the rest of our group and they'd be taken care of as they arrived. We walked over thick silken carpets, under the light of the fey globes which hovered above us, as my men tried not to gape at the strange faces coming out of doorways to have a look at the gods.
Then I saw the black cat. He was sitting in the same doorway he'd been in the first time I'd seen him. I couldn't resist a replay.
Hey beautiful,” I crouched down in front of him. “What are you doing here?”
Roarke was laughing as he transformed into his human form. The shift made the laughter sound strange, almost hollow for a moment. I looked up the long expanse of leather-clad legs, just as I had that first time and then stood up to hug the cat-sidhe.
“Queen Vervain,” he smiled mischievously. “It feels like it's been forever since I've seen you.”
Yeah, yeah,” I shook my head. “You were just over last week.”
That was six months ago for me,” he shrugged and waved a greeting to the men. “You all having fun?”
It's illuminating,” Odin replied for the group.
Are you quite done?” Danal asked haughtily. He hated when Roarke held things up.
Yes, Sir Danal,” Roarke gave him a sassy bow. Don't ask how he made it look sassy but he did. It's a talent, I'm told(granted it was Roarke doing the telling). “We await your pleasure. Let's get our booties moving.” He smiled over at me as Danal groaned. Roarke loved human colloquialisms, in particular the word
Danal shivered his huge butterfly wings irritably before turning on his heel to lead us further into the castle. We didn't have to go too far forward but we did have to go up a bit. Circling up a spiral staircase, we journeyed up the trunk and then exited a doorway into a straight hallway. Evidently a whole branch of the castle had been set aside for us, literally. Our rooms filled the entire length of a tree branch.