Elfin Nights by Brantwijn Serrah

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Elfin Nights

by Brantwijn Serrah

ElfinNights.jpg (150×225)

 

A fae Knight's life belongs to the Monarchies, but for Finn of the Morrigan, his life comes second to his heart. And his heart belongs to his ladies.

The changeling princesses of the Springtime elves share a unique bond with their Knight--a bond that must remain perfectly secret. When the Queen of the Elves discovers their passionate love, she exiles Finn from the elfin lands forever. With their guardian sent away to a lifeless wasteland, the royal changelings have no defense as the unseen enemies of the Four Courts attack and the House of Elves falls.

Breaking free of a fae prison, Finn readies himself to go to war and win his ladies back. With the help of his half-sister Reagan, a summertime pixie known as Dragonfly, and even the fae goddess of war herself, Finn will undertake a journey across the lands of Thairy, facing wicked creatures, rogue knights, and one of the most dangerous monsters in the world of the fae. And he won't surrender until he and his two loves are reunited and his family made whole again.

 

 

 

Sneak Peek

Brantwijn Serrah's

Elfin Nights

 

Chapter Four

 

For weeks, I went on high alert. I saw now our enemy meant to play the same hand as last year: he wanted suspicion to fall on one court.

Serpents. Serpents were the key. They were all but exclusively creatures of Winter.

The ouroboros, and Jörmungandr, especially. Norse legends, as well as Germanic, Scandinavian, and most Slavic myth, found roots in Winter’s realms. King Oberon supposedly shared a bloodline with the jotunn, frost giants of old. Some in Thairy also speculated Puck, his servant, descended from the trickster Loki.

My own belief told me if such beings did exist called Odin, Loki, or even Jörmungandr, they were no more gods than my own mother, the Morrigan. She wore the title of War Goddess, and she wielded magic of a nature no one else in Thairy could master. Even we, her children, could never balance the elements of war as the Morrigan could. If not for the truce she kept with the Courts by the contract her children fulfilled, my mother could easily rival any of the monarchs in power. A battle against her wouldn’t be decided casually…but it would devastate realms, regardless of the victor.

She wasn’t divine, though. A master of her art, a queen of her realm, and a legend. But not a true god.

Neither were the Monarchs of Thairy. Even if fae are immortal or at least long-lived to the point of centuries, we are not untouchable. Talaith’s four siblings—and Lottie, Summer’s Eternal Child—proved it.

So our enemy could destroy us. He already had a good head start.

My suspicions over the involvement of the Winter princess dissipated quickly after my chat with Billy Blind. The incrimination against Winter fell into place too well with the plan my sister suspected: a wild agent, arranging the Courts into position to war against each other instead of their true, unseen enemy.

The more I considered it over the next month and a half, the more I saw the Four Courts as a game board. Thairy—our world—arranged in a Compass Rose. Winter claimed the north; Spring, the west; Summer, south; and Autumn, east. All around the compass, the great ouroborous, the Midgard Serpent. Not merely around the compass: winding in and out in little holes and cracks in the design. Insinuating itself among us.

When the serpent lets go…

My vigilance startled and sometimes frightened my ladies. They told me how it shocked them to wake together, emerging from their bower, to discover me pacing the siting room. They’d been right on the night of the Easter Celebration—it was not my nature to brood. Yet here I was, hardly able to think of anything but snakes.

We returned to Connlas Hall, the Court of Springtime’s mortal estate in the bright, lovely heart of Savannah. We usually spent our time here, rather than living eternally at Tír na nÓg. Most of my ladies’ duties as fae princesses called them to the human realm, anyway.

The grounds resembled estates of the British Regency, sprawling and austere. Too austere for my taste. At least it boasted modern upgrades in the interior. All the same, our nameless Miami apartment and its personal comforts put Connlas Hall—named for the ancient palace of an Irish fae king—to shame. This place meant about as much to me as the fancy hotels we frequented while traveling. Beautiful and amenable, but not a home.

It became even less so after the incident of the naja, and Billy’s news of the ouroborous. Though I inspected the bower thoroughly night after night, sweeping my arm across the sheets to be sure no serpents lurked, still I grew anxious. Fitful imaginings stole my sleep from me, and I lay awake between my two loves, turning the naja’s head over and over in my hands.

I made a point to call Kay, my sister in the Summer Court, and inquire over the safety of the Summer princess. No attempts had been made on her life. Yet. The younger princess, Lottie, remained unaltered in her sleep of death. I warned Kay and our brother Tristan to be on their guards.

I wished I had a sibling stationed in Winter Court. At the very least I meant to get word to Lady Talaith, but I could find few methods by which to do so. In the end, Nineva did it for me. Penning a letter with her royal seal, she ordered it delivered by atlas moth to the palace at Vintereich. Moths signified messages of peace. No way to know for sure if Talaith would accept the message, but it would have to suffice.

Even though Puca still stood by Princess Ceridwen’s side, I wished Reagan were with her. For the first time since my sister fled the courts, I became angry with her. She’d abandoned her post. More importantly, she’d abandoned Ceri. It confounded me. The one woman my sister truly loved… How could she ever leave Ceridwen behind?

Reg never explained to me why she fled. She’d refused to say anything at all, afraid I’d be forced to reveal it to my queen if asked. And that was the last I’d seen of my sister. Next I’d heard, she and Erin, Ceridwen’s handmaiden, were in the wind.

It rankled me, as I lay between my girls at night, restless with dark imaginings. The stupid, silly bint should be with Ceri now. I rolled on my side and drew Nina closer, burying my face in the sweet scent of her hair to drown out the mindless worry.

During the days at Connlas, I inquired after my other contacts, searching for any further mention of ouroborous. Nothing to be had save for a few useless gibbers of pixie gossip.

April slid into May with no new leads. I started to wonder if my overzealous watch held any merit. Maybe I merely made a fool of myself. My ladies soothed me at night, when we were alone and no one could see us trading kisses and affectionate glances. We found solace and comfort in the heat of our desire.

I’d nearly convinced myself I’d imagined the whole threat.

Then Nerissa, flawless immortal changeling, who never took so much as a sunburn, fell ill.

~*~

“Finn! Our Knight, please come quickly!”

At the sound of Nina’s urgent cry, I jerked up from the basin where I’d been washing my face. I snagged a towel and scrubbed the water from my eyes as I hurried into the bedroom, where Nina sat beside Neri’s side of the bed, her hand on her princess’s shoulder.

“She is ill!” she said to me in a tremulous whisper. I could understand her fear: fae immortals did not take sick. They were creatures of magic, and things such as ailment were the trappings of humans. The girls may have begun their lives as human, but even changelings became immune to disease as the nature of Thairy suffused them. Neither girl had ever been sick in all her life.

I knelt on the floor beside my Neri, taking one of her hands in mine and putting my other palm against her brow.

“You’re a bit clammy,” I told her. Her green eyes, usually bright, now appeared dazed. “What do you feel?”

“Dizzy,” She sounded like a child and looked like one, lying small in the great, grand bower. Her face wan, she leaned her head against my hand. “Nauseous, too. I tried to stand, but a feeling came over me as though I would vomit. I had to lie down again, or I think I might have fallen.”

“What could be wrong with her, Finn?” Nineva asked. When I turned my gaze on her, I noticed her, too, starting to pale. She and Nerissa were intertwined by their nature. She would almost certainly fall sick herself, sooner rather than later.

“Lie down, Nina. Here, next to Neri. Did either of you feel anything like pain? A bite or a sting?”

“No,” Nina said.

Nerissa added, “I don’t believe so.”

I checked the bed anyway, careful as I moved my two girls to spy under pillows and down between the sheets, where their bare feet would be vulnerable. I checked their toes, soles, ankles, and legs for bites or injury. Nothing. I got on hands and knees and checked under the bed.

Poison, my mind raced, even as I discovered nothing to indicate so. Another snake. Or a spider. Or…could something have been slipped into their wine?

I fought not to panic, but the urge rode the back of my neck.

Sick. How could they be sick? How could I have allowed them to become sick?

Before I finished searching the corners of the room for proof of venomous reptile, I already played over the last evening in my mind, mentally recalling everything they’d eaten or drunk, trying to understand how I’d failed to protect them.

Sebille drank hemlock, I recalled. It stopped her heart almost instantly. Nightshade, for Lottie…eternal sleep.

You need to stop thinking! You need to call a healer now, Finn, before they get worse!

The warning sounded like Reagan. I glanced at my girls. Lying together, Nineva wove her arms around Nerissa, and they both gazed up at me in confusion.

But how can I leave them?

I frowned. Digging into the pocket of my jeans, I withdrew a piece of chalk and began working a circle on a flat plane of the wall. One should always be prepared to draw a circle, especially when one made a habit of spending his nights in the bower of ladies forbidden to him.

“But Knight!” Nina protested.

“Who will you summon?” Neri added. “They will see you have—”

I expected Nina to finish the sentence, but she merely furrowed her brows in doubt, and gestured to my still half-dressed state.

“I’ll not waste time worrying over it,” I assured them both, still inscribing. “If you’ve been poisoned, I need a healer here, and I need them about ten minutes ago.”

As I completed the circle, I reached for my second tool—a simple safety pin—and pricked my thumb. A tiny bead of blood welled up, and I pressed it to the chalk lines. Seconds later, I found myself peering into the gardens of Tír na nÓg. The land of Thairy lay in night, though here the dawn shone in through our windows. The gardens shone bright with their strange fae luminescence.

“Raisie!” I called through the circle. “Pixie! Come to me!”

Before I’d even finished the last command, a bright globe of dusky pink light zipped from one of the roses in the garden and stopped millimeters from the tip of my nose. My eyes crossed and I shook my head, but I found myself face-to-face—or, more literally, face-to-everything—with Raisie, one of the flower pixies of the gardens. She stood perhaps as tall as the last knuckle of my little finger, one of the tiniest creatures I’d ever met, even in faerie lands. Her eyes, though, were like two bright little stars, and they peered up at me in wide curiosity.

“I need one of the anjana,” I told her. “As quick as you can. Quicker! Hurry, bring them directly here!”

Raisie tilted her head from one side to the other, but then she zipped off, leaving bright pink embers of light in her wake. Gone faster than my eyes could track her.

I heaved a great sigh, already impatient. When Nina rose from the bed again, I shot her a chiding glare, but she did not lie down again as I’d have wanted her to.

“We don’t want anyone noticing,” she insisted, as she quickly wove a hand in the air over me. A bright yellow-green shirt appeared, covering up my half-nakedness.

“You shouldn’t be worrying about it,” I rumbled at her, shooing her back into the bed. She’d be right, though. I’d have a hard time explaining why I stood in their bower in nothing but my breeches, first thing in the morning, while they both still wore their nightgowns.

Moments later, Raisie reappeared in the doorway, and behind her came another small creature, though this lass stood closer to two feet tall instead of an inch. One of the anjana—benevolent forest spirits of Gloriana’s realms, helpers and doers of good deeds. She carried a little hawthorn wand in her hand and her long black hair—longer than she was tall—flowed in two braided pigtails around her. Before I could begin to explain my ladies’ situation, the miniature nursemaid drifted past me to their bed, immediately alighting on Nerissa’s knee to peer closely at the girls.

Keeping the circle open drained me, making me light-headed, so I turned to Raisie once again to give her a final request.

“Call the servants of the ladies and have them prepare the princesses’ quarters to receive them. We’ll return to Tír na nÓg the moment the anjana tells me it’s safe. Prepare cold water and some nectar from the gardens’ morning glories.”

Nerissa liked morning glory nectar best. Raisie zipped away, and I let the circle collapse.

The anjana flitted about my ladies. Nina and Neri followed her with their eyes, and every few seconds she must have asked them a question I couldn’t hear, because Nina gave answers as though responding to a doctor’s inquiry.

“Are they poisoned?” I finally demanded of the anjana. She turned her attention to me. I couldn’t interpret the expression on her small, doll-like face. Something like…fright?

“She insists we return Nerissa to Tír na nÓg,” Nineva explained. She held Nerissa close, pressing her counterpart tenderly to her breast. Neri looked even paler than before. I clenched my fists. How I wished I could hold her—hold both of them—because they needed me.

“She can’t just tell us what’s the matter?” I snapped. “Can’t she at least say whether or not you’re dying, for the love of Christ?”

“No,” Nineva said. “She can’t.”

The tone in her voice made my heart drop. I jerked my attention from the anjana to my ladies, and hardly thinking, I crossed to them. Forgetting all else, I sank onto the bed beside my girls and—fuck the damn anjana—I gathered Neri into my arms and cradled her close. Looping one arm around Nina, I brought her in as well, pressing my lips to the crown of her periwinkle hair.

“Hey, lasses,” I soothed. “It’s going to be all right, now…”

“Nerissa must return to Tír na nÓg,” Nina whispered. “It’s all the sprite will tell me.”

The anjana let out an outraged squeak and buzzed up to my face, scolding.

“Bugger off!” I bit out. “I’m meant to protect them, aren’t I? They’re my charges and anyway, how did you think you were going to carry Nerissa back through a circle, you wee flea? You been pumping iron, have you?”

Her tiny faced flushed an angry red. I stood, lifting Nerissa in my arms. “Here now! Stop clutching at your pearls and draw us a way through, would you? Nina, will you be able to cross over on your own? I can come back, if you need.”

“I’ll be quite fine, Sir Knight,” she asserted. She stepped out of bed with regal surety; I imagined there might even have been a little pique in her voice over my asking.

“Worry not over Nina, Finn,” Neri said, making a faint attempt at a smile. “She is—”

“—not so affected as my dear companion,” Nina finished, and as she made to pass us, she laid a hand on Nerissa’s cheek, gazing down with anxious eyes.

“Sprite,” she commanded, without looking away from Neri. “The circle, if you please.”

The anjana—still wearing a dark expression—floated to the wide, white wall where my own circle had opened moments before. The lines of chalk no longer formed any relevant arrangement. They fell out of order when the gateway closed. A true denizen of Springtime and Gloriana’s palace, however, never needed the paths drawn for her. She whipped her small birch wand in a big loop, and my door reappeared, opening again on the hanging gardens.

I stormed through, impatient enough to brush past the sprite without apology. The little thing squawked at me and in a strained, weak voice, Nerissa scolded, “Knight! Must thou be so rude?”

Nineva, right behind us, gave me a frown. I would have apologized to the anjana but before I could she zipped off in a huff, fast as Raisie.

“I’m sorry, my ladies,” I said to Nina and Neri instead. “I’m worried for you.”

“Give her nectar,” Nineva suggested, and she plucked a blue morning glory from the vine to extract the pistil and tip it like a phial to her twin’s lips.

Nerissa closed her eyes as she sipped at it. “Mm. Thank you, my love. Already I feel—”

“Better?” Nina asked. One hand caressed Neri’s cheeks. “Indeed, thy color returns.”

As their speech and manner tilted towards the deep heart of Spring, I started to relax.

“You do appear to improve, Nerissa,” I murmured to her. I couldn’t resist the temptation to nuzzle her cheek and lay a gentle kiss on her. “Let’s get you inside. I’ll find a dryad to see to you.”

“Finn.”

I spun at the note of dread in Nineva’s voice. Her eyes gone wide, she stared at me. The flower dropped from her fingers, unnoticed. “You have to go back,” she said in a harsh whisper. “Back home…to the apartment. You have to go now.

I tightened my arms around Neri. “What do you mean, lass? I don’t aim to go anywhere until you and Nerissa are well!”

“We will be fine, Our Knight! In Tír na nÓg we will recover, but you must go!”

Neri twitched in my arms. Whatever spooked Nina, she caught onto it now too, and she turned her face up to me.  “Finn, she is right! You must go, quickly, before—”

I glanced up, distracted from her by a sudden discordant hum, somewhere up above us. It drew my focus for a brief instant, but then seemed to fade.

“I’m sorry, milady,” I mumbled. “What did you say?”

“Finn, please!”

Nina was practically shouting at me, and Neri’s fingers grasped at my collar. I blinked at them, confused. Then the damned humming snagged my attention again. I shot a glare skyward in agitation.

“Can you stand, Neri?” I asked in a low tone. I eased her down to her feet, all the while keeping an eye on the sky. The sound never increased in volume, but all the same it intensified.

My instincts bristled along the back of my neck. Sidling a bit to keep both girls behind me, I sunk into the simmering heat of my magic, letting it bubble and boil up through my limbs. Ready for attack.

“Girls,” I murmured, hardly noticing Neri’s small hands tugging at my arm. “When I say so, you must go back through the circle and close it.”

“Finn, no!” Neri squeaked. “Ignore them! She is distracting you!”

“Knight, you must run!” Nina pleaded. “Please, you must!”

“We’re about to be ambushed,” I explained. The humming surrounded me. It resolved itself, turning into…

Buzzing.

“Wasps,” I grated, and I whipped around to shoo the princesses back through to Connlas Hall.

I realized then I’d been trapped.

The circle disappeared; the gateway to the human world collapsed right behind us, leaving us nowhere to run. My first panicked thought was for my ladies, but they were not afflicted. Nina tugged Neri back, folding her in her arms, as the first giant wasp descended like a kamikaze fighter.

The sting caught me high in the shoulder and drove me back. It didn’t knock me down, however, and I surged with white-hot, pain-fueled rage. I seized the stinger in both hands, right where it entered my skin, and I wrenched it free.

Then I wrenched it free from the wasp.

Gobbets of insect slime sprayed me, and the wicked thing bobbed and toppled to the cobblestones of the garden walk. Yanking the stinger doesn’t kill the wasp, but it doesn’t leave it looking for more of a fight, either.

I tossed the poisonous barb away, along with dangling bits of innards. As I neared the dazed and crawling bug, a second wasp caught me in the back, sending wild, flaring torment up and down my flank. I spun to pull myself free, but I found myself in a losing battle: three more of the things hovered patiently—in formation—to force me down.

“Nina!” I shouted. “Into the palace!”

“We can’t, Finn!” she called back.

“They have us surrounded!” Neri cried. “We are stuck!”

The wasps drove me back towards walls of ivy. Distantly, I realized they meant to separate me from my ladies.

“Not if I can help it, you bloody filth!”

I ducked to one side and fell into a roll, aiming to come up in front of the girls before more insects could descend. One of the creatures caught me by surprise, though. It checked me before I could reach Nina and Neri, sending me tumbling aside. When I came to my feet again, preparing to charge, I noticed something else.

The wasps had surrounded the Ladies of Springtime, yes, but they were not in attack formation.  They hovered around my girls in a phalanx of defense.

“Bloody hell,” I grumbled. My chest and side throbbed. Even through the heat of a war-child’s magic, the poison started to daze me.

Giant wasps.

Wasps are…Springtime servants.

These are Gloriana’s guardians. The soldiers of the gardens. So why do they attack me?

I studied the scene around me. Four of the wasps hung in the air protecting Nineva and Nerissa. My girls huddled together, frightened but unharmed. The wasp I’d relieved of its stinger and most of its insides dawdled about drunkenly, useless and bumping into statuary as it struggled to escape.

Before I could take in any more, a third wasp struck, jabbing its stinger deep into my flank. Silver rage ignited in me, overtaking the sick throb of poison, and I whirled on the giant bug to seize its grasping legs. Like a bullying mortal child, I tore the frail appendages right off, and the buzz the wasp emitted soared to a desperate pitch. It tried to peel off but next I seized it by the sting, whirling to hammer-throw it into a pack of its mates.

Burning, I spun again towards my ladies—and smacked face-first into an unseen barrier, solid and smooth as inches-thick glass.

Pink and violet sparks exploded when I hit. The colors of Springtime’s favorite blooms. Gloriana’s spellwork. I staggered back, clutching my bleeding mouth—I’d bit my tongue, and badly—and glanced up to behold the Queen of the Springtime Court glaring down at me. Her eyes blazed white-hot. Her hair and dress whipped in an angry wind, and she jabbed her finger at me.

Down!” she demanded. I had no choice but to obey, feeling myself forced to the ground under the weight of her command.

“Knight,” she snarled. “Thy trespass is unforgivable! Unbridled, heathen snake!”

“Our queen!” Neri cried from behind her. The girls were still surrounded by the phalanx. “Mother, thou must not!”

“Please, Majesty!” Nina joined in. “Finn is our Knight—”

“—do not hurt him!”

Without taking her eyes off me, Gloriana threw out a hand in the princesses’ direction, and their mouths snapped shut at her silent command. I watched them struggle to throw off the compulsion, but I knew they couldn’t. They couldn’t disobey their queen’s will, any more than I could.

“Milady—” I began, but I hardly finished the second word before Gloriana repeated her gesture and my own mouth clamped shut. I winced at the fresh pain across my lacerated tongue.

More wasps surrounded me. The poison from my stings throbbed like a bruise within my veins, radiating outward. It leached the wild heat of power I’d called up, turning it to unpleasant vertigo. I fell to my knees in front of Gloriana, half in deferential submission, but mostly in pain.

What had I done? Did she suspect me of treachery, making the princesses sick? Had something happened in Thairy of which we weren’t aware?

Why? I beseeched with my eyes.

The Queen of Springtime glowered. Her oft-gentle beauty became the deadly edge of rose thorns, cat scratches, and biting sleet. Overhead, blue storm clouds roiled, turning the hanging gardens around us dark.

Gloriana lifted her chin, examining me.

Dog,” she spat at last. Her tone could have splintered ice. “Loathsome, dirty half-blood. Didst thou truly believe I would stand to have a creature such as thee stretching out thy filthy paws for my foster daughter? Didst thou think any true Sidhe could condescend to make a lover of a pet like thee?

I stared at her, and then my gaze fell to Nina and Neri. They clung to one another behind the ring of wasps guarding them. My stomach dropped as I realized the wasps were guarding them from me.

Gloriana stepped up to me, seizing my chin in long, tight fingers. With one hand, I fully expected she could wrench my jaw free.

“Speak the truth, war-child,” she said in a low, deadly tone. “Hast thou been at my daughter?

I ground my teeth together.

Can’t lie…can’t lie…

But…it’s not like that!

Seconds ago, I couldn’t have spoken if I wanted to. Now, I couldn’t help it.

“Yes!” I bit out. The single word pained me, as if she’d ripped it straight from my lungs. She sniffed, as though I smelled utterly foul.

“Like a wicked dog.

Her pale hand struck me with the force of solid marble. She almost did tear my jaw off. I fell to the ground in a stunned heap.

“The Children of the Morrigan,” Gloriana sneered. “Once thou were such loyal, honorable beings. The Sidhe should have known not to place our trust in you, even so. Savage, Unbridled blood… even the grace of Sidhe parentage cannot make thee worthy. Thou shalt suffer for this trespass, Finn of the Morrigan.”

She spun away from me, dismissing me from her notice. I spat blood into the grass, scrubbed at my mouth, and then shouted at her.

“Ask me something else, my queen! Ask me if I love her! Ask me if I’d die for her! For both of them! Because there is a truth you won’t have to drag from me. I would die for your daughters, Gloriana! There will never be any who loves them as much as I do!”

She paused and canted her head to one side.

“You…love them?”

“Aye,” I growled. “With every breath. Every heartbeat.”

She faced me again, and her expression chilled me.

She…smiled.

You?” she repeated. The change in her language belied something personal. Personal and ugly, the deepest sort of hate. “You, barbarian’s son? You love the Changeling Princesses of the Western Elves?”

“I do,” I grated.

“How… charming.”

Her violet eyes glittered. “Then as your punishment, I exile thee from these elfin lands. Thou sayest thou wilt die for them? Then I shall sentence thee to live without them, for the rest of thine immortal life!”

“No!” I raged. Behind the queen, Neri buried her head against Nineva’s breast, sobbing, and the elder princess held her tight. Silvery tears traced Nina’s cheeks, but she didn’t look away.

“Queen Gloriana, I beg you, don’t do this!” I cried.

She considered me, eyeing me up and down.

“Yes,” she mused, more to herself, I think, than to any of us. “We cast thee out, lowly creature. Thou shalt be imprisoned, across the desert of bone, as far from these lands as thou canst be. Thou art no longer welcome to travel through our circles, to enter our Court or gardens. As long as Gloriana stands as the High Queen of Spring, thou half-bred filth shall never return to the Springtime realms, and never set eyes upon the Ladies Nineva and Nerissa, again!”

No!” I screamed. With a twist of her wrist, though, a whip of thick lavender smoke unfurled around my girls, and then they were gone, just…gone.

Nina! Neri!

Gloriana smirked at me, the smirk of a wicked fox pleased with its prey.

And,” she cooed, sinking the knife in even deeper, “neither shalt thou ever see the spawn thou hast begotten. The bastard seed of thy Unbridled heathenry…lost to thee, forever.”

My eyes widened as her words settled into my brain. For a long, painful string of seconds, I couldn’t quite process her implication.

Spawn?

Did she mean—?

The thud of my heart echoed loud in my ears, and still I blinked at Gloriana, lost, wild.

“Thus,” she hissed, “I cast thee out… Savage. Beast. Snake.”

A spike of white-hot lightning raced down my spine, twisting my entire body. I screamed. I dug my nails into the solid stone of the walkway, crushing the cobblestones beneath me. My whole body curled in on itself and fire lit up my veins—not the pure, silver blaze of my Unbridled magic but icy, cutting flame, like a torch fire filling my limbs.

I crawled into fetal position, digging at my own skin, trying to reach the agony of the curse as it writhed inside me. The gardens disappeared in the bleak white light, Gloriana disappeared, all disappeared, and only my screaming remained. My screams, and the wicked, vengeful cackle of a Sidhe queen enraged.