Shadow Risingpart #12 of Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon Series by Yasmine Galenorn / Fantasy
I hadn’t been home to Otherworld in a while—not for any length of time. As we stepped through the portal into the barrows near Elqaneve, the Elfin City, the brilliance of the night sky hit me, untainted by the light pollution running rampant in Earthside cities. Over there, even in the country, the stars sparkled more faintly, muted and dim. But here…I stared up at the heavens, stunned.
Had I really been away long enough for me to forget how beautiful my home world was? And yet…and yet…the Earthside city lights that watched over the nighttime landscape called to me. The hustle and bustle of Seattle had worked its way under my skin, and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to return home for good, even should we be offered the chance.
We arrived in Otherworld just shy of seven P. M. , and the darkness of the spring evening was spiraling over the sky. My sisters were relieved to see the chill weather begin to break, but I preferred winter, when the sun set earlier and rose later. During summer, the long sleep of daylight claimed too much of my time. But the wheel must turn, and now spring held sway. The vernal equinox was due in a week, and along with it, my promise ceremony with Nerissa.
We still hadn’t settled on details for the ceremony, and time was running short. As was my girlfriend’s temper. It irked her that I couldn’t come up with ideas for a concrete plan. My continual stream of “whatever you want” was wearing thin, but the truth was, I had no clue what I wanted. When Dredge had turned me into a vampire, I’d let go all hope and plans for love and weddings, and now I couldn’t remember what I had dreamed about before I’d lost my life.
But thoughts of Nerissa and home and rituals drifted to the back of my mind as Trenyth approached. The advisor to Queen Asteria, he was meeting us to escort us back to the palace in the center of the Elfin city.
“About time he got here. I’m freezing,” Delilah mumbled as she blew on her fingers.
Camille jabbed her in the ribs with an elbow. “I’m cold, too, but be nice. He probably got held up by something important. ”
“He can’t hear me from over there. ” Delilah glared at her, then shrugged and jammed her hands in the pockets of her jeans.
“Don’t bet on it. Elves have extremely sensitive hearing. ”
“Shut up, both of you. Whining about the cold won’t do anything to warm you up. ” I felt a little guilty barking at them. After all, I was immune to the chill. Vampires didn’t feel much in the way of weather changes unless it was extreme, one way or the other. I knew my sisters and our escorts were freezing, but I didn’t want Trenyth’s feelings hurt.
We’d divided up the manpower, making some of the guys stay home. Accompanying us were Trillian, one of Camille’s husbands; Shade, Delilah’s half-dragon fiancé; Chase, the human detective with a touch of elf in his background; Rozurial, an incubus; and Vanzir, a demon who worked with us. That left us with a fighting contingent, but still enough manpower over Earthside to protect the house. And protecting our home there was an absolute necessity, especially now that Iris and Bruce were back from their honeymoon, and Iris was pregnant.
Trenyth looked tired, and for the first time, I noticed a few tiny age lines around his eyes. Elves seldom showed their age. Time passed for them differently, leaving them untouched and unperturbed. And most exhibited a patience that defied understanding. Unlike some of the more volatile denizens of Otherworld, that Elfin quality seemed to grow with the centuries.
Standing medium height, Trenyth was thin but not gaunt, was elegant to a fault, and carried himself with a regal air. Decorum incarnate, his manner wasn’t a façade, as it was with some members of the royal courts.
“Welcome back to Elqaneve, girls. ” He sounded rushed and kept glancing back at the carriages behind him.
“Trenyth!” Delilah apparently had forgiven him for letting us stand out in the cold. She stepped forward to give him a hug.
Trenyth blushed lightly, awkwardly returning the embrace. “Delilah, blessings to you and your house. ” He turned to Camille and held out his hands. “And you, my lady. How are you doing?” A look of concern washed over his face as she took them and pressed them to her heart for a moment before letting go.
“Are you…” His words slipped away.
Camille ducked her head. “It’s going to take a while, but I’m making progress. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same. You can’t be, not after something like that. But it helps that Hyto is dead and that I saw him die. ” Her smile turned to ice. Camille had become harsher since her ordeal, darker in nature, but it seemed to suit the transitions through which she was going.
“Camille’s right,” I said quietly. “What she went through with Hyto…what I went through with Dredge, traumas like that change you forever. But it doesn’t mean you can’t find happiness, or grow stronger than before. ” Life had a way of forcing you to either take charge or knuckle under, and neither my sisters nor I were the knuckling kind.
Trenyth nodded. “And the two of you have gone above and beyond what I’d expect of anybody, under the circumstances. Now, come, please. We have much to discuss—events are transpiring that you must know about. And although spring is on the way, the night is still cold and the carriages are waiting for us. ”
And, quick as a cat, we were tucked into the carriages with blankets spread over our laps and heading toward the castle of Queen Asteria.
Elqaneve was a city of cobblestoned streets that wound through beautiful gardens, surrounding low-rising houses. Windows glimmered, illuminated by the soft glow of lanterns. The town was simultaneously elegant and cozy, and while I appreciated its beauty, it felt too gentle for me. Though perhaps gentle wasn’t the right word. Elves weren’t gentle. They could be dangerous and terrifying when roused. No, perhaps the word I was looking for was subtle.
The Elfin race wasn’t known for being in your face, and that’s exactly the type of person I was. I hadn’t always been like this—take no prisoners, my way or the highway. I’d been a loner when I was younger, and only in the past twelve or thirteen Earthside years had I turned into the fury that I could become.
When I’d become a vampire, I’d come out of my shell…once I managed to climb back into my mind. Sanity had been sporadic for the first year—I didn’t remember much from that year—and it had taken the Otherworld Intelligence Agency a lot of patience and training to teach me how to function in society, and not turn into the monster Dredge had planned for me to become.
I glanced over at Camille. She seemed lost in thought, gazing out the window, leaning her head against the side of the carriage. Trillian sat next to her, holding her hand, stroking it lightly with one finger. The jet black of his skin glowed against her pale cream, and for a moment I thought I saw a swirl of silver race from his fingers to hers.
Chase sat next to me, and he, too, stared quietly out the window. Delilah, Shade, Rozurial, and Vanzir were with Trenyth, in the carriage behind us.
“Hey, you get lost somewhere in there?” I spoke softly, but Camille’s eyes flickered and she shook her head.
“No, not really. I’m just wondering what Queen Asteria wants to see us about. ”
She was lying. I knew it. Most likely, she was thinking about our father. It was hard not to, now that we were back in Otherworld. He’d disowned her, and as a result, we’d disowned him. Everything was convoluted into a horrible mess, compounded by his lack of sensitivity. At this point, we could probably qualify for an Otherworld episode of The Jerry Springer Show. No doubt that would thrill Delilah to pieces, as long as the ringmaster himself hosted it.
With another look at her face, I let the subject drop. We’d hashed and rehashed the family drama to the point of no return. It was moot. Father didn’t approve of Camille’s choice in husbands—Trillian in specific—nor her pledging herself as priestess to Aeval’s Court. But she’d had no choice. Love doesn’t always give you a choice, and neither do the gods.
As a result, we had said “buh-bye” to both Dear Daddy and the Otherworld Intelligence Agency, and now we worked for Queen Asteria.
“Why do you think Queen Asteria summoned us? And why ask me to come along? I almost never interact with her—that’s more yours and Delilah’s department. ” Being able to come out only after dusk had its drawbacks.
“I was wondering why she asked me to come along, too. ” Chase frowned.
“You are a distant relative of hers, you know. ” I gave him a poke in the ribs, careful not to shove too hard. Sometimes I forgot how freakishly strong I’d become. It was easy to hurt my friends and family if I wasn’t careful.
“Doesn’t track. She made it a point to invite me, and I doubt familial bliss has anything to do with it. ” He played with the buttons on his new blazer, fastening and unfastening the bottom one until I thought he was going to rip it off. “You really like my new jacket?”
Camille and I exchanged looks. This had to be the twentieth time that he’d asked since we started out for the portal at home.
“Yeah, it’s nice. ” I wasn’t good with diplomacy, but Chase was nervous and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Unfortunately, the pseudo-military look didn’t suit him at all. However, since Sharah—his elfin girlfriend and the future mother of his child—had given him the blazer, he was better off pretending he liked it. Humans had nothing on the elves or the Fae when it came to pregnancy-hormonal mood swings. It was in his interests of self-preservation to lie to her.
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t needle him. “So tell us, in the privacy of the carriage, you really think you can rock that look?” I grinned at him. His expression when he was under fire was priceless. And by now he knew when I was serious and when I was just blowing smoke. Though it had been more fun when I could scare the crap out of him just by tickling his neck.
He squirmed. “Do not do this to me, Menolly. Don’t put me on the spot. ” But his eyes twinkled and he laughed. “Only you would force me into a corner. ”
“I only torture the people I love. ” With a snort, I folded my arms and leaned back in my seat. “Don’t answer. I can tell you don’t feel comfortable in it. But we promise we won’t tell Sharah. Or her aunt. The Queen. ”
That sparked another ripple of fear in his expression. Queen Asteria happened to be the aunt of his girlfriend. And therefore, the great-aunt of his child. I had to admit, I wouldn’t want to be caught up in the web of politics Chase was facing.
Another thought struck me. “Does Asteria even know Sharah’s pregnant?”
Camille swiveled her head, glancing at Chase. “She doesn’t, does she? You’d better come clean, because you don’t want us saying something stupid to her. ”
Chase shifted uncomfortably. “Um, well…the truth is…no. She doesn’t know. Sharah wanted to wait. We haven’t decided what we’re going to do yet. I’ve asked her to marry me, but she turned me down. ” He sounded morose. “She said we aren’t ready. ”
“You aren’t ready. ” I stared at him. “You know that. She knows that. Why rush it?”
“She’s carrying my child—” He paused, then let out a long sigh. “I guess I’m thinking about it from Earthside morality. I’d be a scumbag if she wanted to get married and I said no. ”
“She isn’t asking you, though. And she’s not cutting you out of the baby’s life, either. ” I cocked my head. “Wait. She hasn’t cut you out, has she?”
“No, it’s not that. Sharah said I can be as much a part of the baby’s life as I want. ” He looked so uncomfortable that I couldn’t help but wonder what the root of the problem was.
“So tell me again what’s the problem? You in love with her?”
He blushed this time, and Camille broke in softly. “Perhaps the issue is that Sharah offended him by insinuating he might not want to participate. ”
Chase shifted in his seat, and glowered. “Exactly! I’m not my father. I’m no deadbeat and I’m not going to vanish on my kid. And since she’s choosing to have the baby, I damned well plan on being there to make sure the child knows his—or her—heritage. ”
The words poured out so fiercely that at first I thought he might be pissed, but the hurt that flashed across his face spoke volumes. Chase was afraid someone would even think he might consider abandoning his child. He couldn’t take being seen as a carbon copy of his missing father—the father he’d never known. His childhood had left him with deep emotional scars. The situation with Sharah must be triggering fears and resentments from his own past.
I sheathed my fangs. “We know you’d never abandon your child, Chase. And Sharah knows that, too. Nobody who knows you would ever think you’d bail. ”
I was about to reach over and pat his hand but stopped. I simply wasn’t the comforting type, and he knew it. I opted for catching his gaze and holding it. I silently focused on him, willing him to relax. It wasn’t polite to use Fae glamour on our friends, but sometimes we chose to do what was necessary over what was ethically correct.
After a moment he relaxed, breathing softly, and leaned his head back against the rocking carriage.
“Don’t think I’m unaware of what you just did,” he said softly. “But thank you. Delilah knows that Sharah hasn’t told anyone yet, so she won’t say anything, either. We talked about it last night on the phone. ”
Chase and our sister Delilah had been involved in what was a downward spiral of a relationship. Now, they were both with other people, both a lot happier, and they’d saved their friendship.