Authors: Sonya Clark
Pete shut his eyes, the labored
sound of his own breathing loud in his head. He flexed his hands, then forced
himself to return his brother’s embrace. But only for a moment, one brief
moment in honor of what they had shared in their best moments as kids, before
pushing Agnar away.
“What is this?” Pete demanded.
Whatever trace of sentiment had
been there earlier vanished under a mask of ice. Agnar said, “I think it more
than fair that you answer my questions first, Leoben.”
Struggling to bring his breathing
under control, Pete pointed at the woman holding Eve at knifepoint. “Tell your
lackey to let her go.” His brother said nothing. “This isn’t out of control
yet, Agnar. But if you push me it’ll get there fast.”
Looking unimpressed, except for a
tightness around his eyes Pete recognized, Agnar glanced over his shoulder and
nodded. The green-haired woman shoved Eve away, then made her way to Crantz’s
Eve tried to stand but wobbled,
sitting down hard on the stone floor. Sanngrid went to help her, making a point
of collecting the guns Pete had dropped. Pete said, “Sanngrid, get Eve out of
here. I’ll follow when I can.”
Agnar said, “No one’s going
anywhere until I get what I came for.”
“I don’t care what you want,” Pete
said. “What the hell was the point of this? It’s pretty clear to me you knew I
was alive. Why play games? Why not just come to me if you wanted to have it
Agnar chuckled. “The thought of
setting foot inside your precious institute amuses me, but it wasn’t an option.
Not yet. I had to make you come to me but I knew if you were willing to go to
the trouble of faking your own death you wouldn’t come willingly. Incentive was
“So you kidnap a colleague? For
fuck’s sake, I hope you don’t plan on asking me why I went to such lengths to
get the hell away from you.”
“No, I don’t need to ask that. You
never approved of my ambition or my methods.”
“You didn’t need my approval, you
.” Pete spat the word like it was an epithet.
“And you never did! Little lost boy
in a family of dark magicians. Do you still tell yourself that trite piece of
fiction or have you moved on to a new pack of lies as your own personal
Old anger boiled dangerously close
to the surface. Pete tried to shake it off but it was stubborn. The old hurts
always were. “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. As usual.”
Agnar took a step closer, pointing
at Eve. “I didn’t kidnap a colleague, Leoben. I took your woman because she
deserves to know who you are.”
Magic roared to life in Pete’s
blood, angry and looking for something to attack. He did his best to ground it
but it didn’t quite work. Cracks opened in the stone beneath his feet, running
in jagged lines toward his brother. His brain couldn’t make sense of what Agnar
said, of what it implied. He couldn’t even form a question to ask. All he could
do was lash out. A noise from Eve got his attention and he realized what he was
doing. Like putting a stopper in a volcano, he smothered his rage and got the
magic that hovered close to the surface under control.
Agnar held out his hand, drawing
something from the floor to him with a lash of energy. He tossed it at Pete,
who caught it by reflex. Recognition flooded him, followed by a roiling nausea.
He’d worn those manacles every day he’d been a prisoner of the Bone Queen.
Every scream, all the pain, the degradation, the fury
it would have left a psychic imprint deep in the bone. And his
brother had dumped all of that, every single nightmare Pete ran from as hard as
he could, into Eve.
Pete didn’t need to ask for
confirmation. He saw it in her face. He looked away, shame burning a path
straight into the darkest parts of himself. Agnar had always shared their
mother’s streak of cruelty but this was too much. It cut too deep and bled too
freely. Pete wouldn’t allow himself to think of what Eve must have seen, the
things she must have felt. He didn’t think at all.
He charged at Agnar, knocking the
taller man to the ground. Surprise gave Pete the advantage and he pushed it,
beating his brother with the manacles. Every blow brought back a memory he
wanted buried forever. Every fleck of blood that landed on his armor, his face,
opened up the fury he’d kept bottled up so tightly. He didn’t use magic, didn’t
want to. Only a physical, visceral beating would do. Someone was screaming, a
wordless flood of pain. Pete thought it was Agnar or maybe even himself.
Eve shoved him away from Agnar, the
scream dying with a jarring suddenness. “Stop it! Don’t do this!” She gasped
for breath, stumbling to her knees next to him. “Whatever happened before, it’s
over. It’s gone. Leoben is gone.” She reached for him but he drew away,
unwilling to look at her. “You’re Pete Cadkin now. The past is gone.”
Pete shook his head. It didn’t work
that way. He could run, hide, change his name, but the past had found him
Agnar sat up, wiping blood from his
face. “The past is never gone. It lives inside us, doesn’t it,
He climbed to his feet and tossed the manacles aside then addressed Eve. “I
don’t know how much you were able to glean from the manacles so I’ll give you
the highlights. Little brother Leoben ran away to Sideways for the umpteenth
time. He refused all of our mother’s attempts at discipline, at education.
Magical education, of course, not that mundane nonsense. He thought he was
better than us because he happened to have more innate talent, but he refused
to do anything useful with it. So he ran away, yet again. He made the mistake
of venturing into the Valley Below and the Bone Queen took him.”
“That’s a lie,” Pete said. “Want to
tell her what your idea of useful was?”
“The Bone Queen took him and made
him her favorite pet. I don’t even know for how long, since time works
differently here. You look older than you should, Leoben, so I’m guessing it
was quite some time. And as for useful, I’m the one who secured your release.
But by then you were nearly insane.”
“I won’t argue that. I was stone
crazy by then. I might have been okay with just you but you had to bring her
“Of course I brought Mother, why
wouldn’t I? I’ve never understood your hatred of her.”
Pete laughed. “You were always such
a momma’s boy, you never had any idea what she was really like. Or how far she
was willing to go to get what she wanted.”
“So she wanted power, so what?
Knowledge, magical ability. What’s wrong with wanting those things? Should I
tell Eve what you did to our mother or would you like to be the one?”
Pete stood slowly, every muscle
aching from tension. Eve stood as well, but edged closer to Sanngrid. Good. Let
her be afraid of him. He met her eyes. “I killed her because she’s the one who
sold me to the Bone Queen. She traded me for access to Fae magic she wasn’t
capable of on her own.”
Agnar’s icy control finally broke.
“You’re lying! You bastard, you lying bastard!”
Eve hugged herself, ignoring Agnar
and holding Pete’s gaze. “I know. I saw it. Oh, Pete.” She reached for him, her
hand hanging in the air.
Pete looked away, not wanting to
see pity in her eyes. “I lost control and the magic just came out like a bomb
blast. I couldn’t stop it. By the time all that dark energy was out of me, she
was dead. A bunch of the queen’s courtiers were dead, some of her guards, even
a few other prisoners. I’m not sure if I consciously tried to kill the queen
but all I managed to do was leave a scar on her face.”
Sanngrid came to stand close by
Eve’s side. “That’s why she wants your skull.” She stood so close to Eve that
he almost missed Sanngrid pressing a gun into Eve’s hand.
Right. Time to go. Whatever Agnar
wanted from him, he’d done enough damage. They needed to get out of Sideways.
“We’re done here,” he said to Agnar. “You know where to find me.”
“Don’t you want to know how to
reach me?” There was a nasty little undercurrent of amusement in Agnar’s voice.
Pete stared. “Whatever you’re up to
isn’t just about me. You’ll turn up again when you decide to show your cards.”
Crantz decided to remind everyone
of his presence. “Not that it isn’t just loads of fun to take in all this
family melodrama while I sit here
, but you might want to take
note of the new arrivals.”
Pete turned to face the entrance,
senses already prickling with a powerful energy signature he recognized. From
just beyond the curve of the tunnel, still out of sight, came a ragged
scratching noise. Like nails on a blackboard, or in this case a stone wall.
Inch long nails filed to dangerous points, stained with blood in a sickening version
of a French manicure─that had been part of her signature look. Pete
remembered those nails slicing open his flesh over and over.
She entered the cave at a stately
pace, dragging her fingers across the stone until she ran out of wall. Dressed
in layers of her favorite colors black and red, a mass of dark curls piled high
on her head and held in place by a crown made of finger bones. Her eyes
glittered like jewels and her full mouth stretched into a wide grin. Her pale
skin was marred only by the scar that began just below her left eye, traversed
across her nose and lips, and ended at her jaw line near her right ear. She
might have been beautiful if not for the scar and the madness that oozed from
her like sweat.
The Bone Queen clapped her hands.
“My darling Leoben! My favorite pet. How good it is to see you again. You have
grown more handsome in our time apart.” She giggled, holding her thumb and
forefinger an inch apart. “It will give me a little twinge when I tear your
face off your skull. But just a little.”
Pete wanted to run, vomit, blow
stuff up. Not necessarily in that order. He had to agree when he heard Sanngrid
mutter, “Sideways is full of psycho bitches.”
The part that really bothered him,
though, was the sight of dozens of the Queen’s guards arrayed behind her,
cutting off their only exit. The three of them would have to fight their way
out. He had no doubt Agnar and his lackeys would refuse to help.
Pete withdrew Bloodsinger from its
sheath. “Game on, Valkyrie.”
Bettine tossed the magazine to the
floor and glanced at the clock on the wall. An entire day and now half the
night wasted on this ridiculous goblin hunt. She’d never understood why Judith
didn’t employ a larger security detail. The least the director could have done
was insist Pete and Sanngrid be the ones to deal with this nonsense, leaving
the rest of them free.
Even if Judith had done so, Chet
still would still have wanted to help. He took on entirely too much
responsibility, usually at the expense of time with her. Bettine was used to
being the one in charge in her relationships and though she still was in this
one, Chet had a bad habit of asserting his independence when it least pleased
her. If he wanted to get his hands dirty capturing a goblin, let him. She had
better things to do.
Except she really didn’t. Her work
running the Collections department bored her no matter what sort of interesting
magical items came into the institute. None of them could do what she wanted
and she found it increasingly difficult to even pretend to give a damn. Chet
made for a pleasant diversion but even that was beginning to wane. She’d
briefly considered tossing him aside for Pete but it was clear the younger man
had no use for her and only had eyes for Eve Kane. Not that that made any sense
to Bettine, but humans were frequently inexplicable to her.
With a wave of her hand she turned
off the lights in her office and gathered her coat and gloves. She locked her
office door and walked briskly through the department, the click of her heels
the only sound. Something tickled her senses as she reached the exit. She
ignored it and passed into the hall, locking the second door. The goblin could
be parked in plain view in the hall for all she cared. It was not her concern.
Still, it did surprise her to find
exactly that. The nasty little creature sat several feet away noshing on a
pilfered cupcake. Chocolate frosting was smeared over its greenish skin and
under its yellow nails. Bettine curled her lip, disgusted at both the sight and
smell of the thing. They had their uses, to be sure, but she’d always agreed
with her father that the best use of a goblin was on a hunt. He had always
enjoyed killing the vile things.
It made her sad to think of her
father, which made her want to hurt something. She’d become skilled at putting
thoughts of home in the back of her mind. She’d had no choice. For some reason
now the memories filled her.
Bettine swayed, catching herself
with a hand on the wall. The goblin chuckled, a sound even dirtier that its
face. The thoughts of home were coming from it. It held up its free hand to
display fingers busy weaving nightmare gossamer.
She stalked toward it, ready to
kill. How dare the nasty little thing use its magic on her. She would teach it
a lesson by putting her heel in its filthy face.
It stopped her cold. “Your father
sends greetings.” It smacked on the last of the cupcake.
No such creature would dare mention
her father, even in an oblique way, without reason. Without sanction. Her
insides twisted. Unable to voice a question, she stared.
“Does thee wish to return home?”
Its mouth curled into a semblance of a grin, baring crooked, pointed teeth.
Bettine found her voice. “Don’t
play with me, goblin.”
It tittered. “No, highness, no. I
would do no such thing.” It managed to sound both obsequious and menacing at
the same time. “I bring a message from your king and father.”
Her exile had lasted decades, the
curse that kept her from returning to Sideways immune to her best efforts at
lifting it. She didn’t dare hope this could be real, or even if it was that a
reconciliation might be in the offering. “Speak your message and leave.”
“His Majesty will allow the wayward
half-breed to return. If the one displays proper remorse. If the one is willing
to do what is necessary to lift the curse.” It rubbed its hands together in
glee, a sure sign that what was
would be quite bad indeed.
But the thought of home, that took
her breath. All these years of living among mortals had taken a great toll. At
times she despised them, even Chet. She tried not to, she really did, even if
the others at Bradbury didn’t see it. She tried to care for them and find
common ground and even allowed Chet to show her kindness, affection. But no
matter how hard she tried, her nature
true Unseelie nature, not her mother’s mortal blood
always found its way to the surface.
“Tell me more.”
They’d made a dent in the Bone
Queen’s guards but not enough. Pete and the others had been forced into the
back of the cave, badly outnumbered. He hacked and slashed with Bloodsinger,
careful in the tight space not to hurt anyone he cared about. If Crantz got in
the way, well, too bad.
A woman’s scream drew Pete’s
attention. Sanngrid slumped against the stone wall, blood flowing from a wound
in her upper right arm. Her sword arm, damn it. Eve rushed to her side and did
what she could to help. Pete returned his attention to the fight as another of
the queen’s guards advanced on him.
Exhaustion made it a struggle to
repel the guard but he got it done. Slumping briefly against the wall, Pete
began to contemplate the possibility that they were well and truly screwed. No
way out of the cave, no guarantee they’d be able to reach any portals, much
less the right ones. A whisper of magic teased just below his awareness, a
magic that was violent and brutal and guaranteed to leave blood in its wake.
That could get them out, but did he want to call on that part of himself? Could
he, and still face Eve after it was done? Face himself?
Pete glanced at his brother, backed
into a tight corner at the other end of what meager space they had left. The
familiar glow of Agnar’s magic, a reddish-purple light, was cast against the
stone. His lackeys were nowhere to be seen.
His brother never went anywhere
without a way out. It was one of their mother’s few useful lessons. Pete pushed
off from the wall and began to fight his way to Agnar. He yelled at Eve and
Sanngrid, “Follow me!” Eve nodded, taking the sword from Sanngrid and
Agnar greeted him with a sneer.
“Want something, little brother?”
“Don’t be an ass!” Pete slashed at
another attacker. “Get us out of here.”
“Are you deigning to ask for my
“She’ll cut you into ribbons too,
you know. Now get us out!”
Eve cried out as she struggled to
heft the heavy sword. Sanngrid used her good arm to help and they took out an
attacker. Pete called out to Eve, “The guns have cold iron bullets!”
Agnar raised his hands, the
reddish-purple light expanding across the wall. Magic parted the elements that
made up the stone like water, creating a wide opening. Pete ushered Eve and
Sanngrid through, then stood shoulder to shoulder with Agnar. “Where does this
“The lakeshore,” Agnar said. “After
you.” He jerked his head at the opening.
It might give them just enough
time. Pete couldn’t see the Bone Queen in the fracas but her mad laughter
echoed through the cave. He didn’t trust his brother as far as he could throw
him but he did trust his brother’s sense of self-preservation. Besides, he
didn’t have a choice.
Pete stepped into the opening. Eve
and Sanngrid were a few feet ahead, waiting for him. Agnar had created another
tunnel through the mountain, or perhaps found an old one long ago sealed by
magic. Either way, it would lead them out. “Let’s go.”
Agnar followed and sealed the
entrance behind them. Shouts of anger could be heard for a moment, then
nothing. Pete tossed a ball of blue-silver witchlight into the darkness. The
tunnel snaked through the mountain, the only sound their breathing and hurried
footsteps. The air gradually became colder. Soon they didn’t need the light. An
exit beckoned ahead, glowing with the intense light of the Long Night Moon.
They ran out into the snow. Pete
grinned, exultant. For one brief moment he considered thanking Agnar. Then the
shimmer of magic revealed itself to him, followed by the sight of the Bone
Queen and more of her guards surrounding them. Spears and swords were thrust inches
from their faces. The tip of a sword bit into the vulnerable flesh of his
shoulder, between the plates of armor that protected his arm and the top of his
shoulder. It sank deep, sending pain shooting through his body. He dropped
Bloodsinger in the snow.
Agnar stood flanked by his lackeys,
untouched by the guards. Smug triumph twisted his face.
Pete glared at Agnar. “You son of a
The Bone Queen’s laughter rang out.
With a lazy wave of her hand she raised Pete several feet off the ground and trapped