Prince of Ash [Shadow Fae Trilogy Book 2]
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by Elaine Corvidae
Category: Fantasy/Dark Fantasy Dream Realm Award Winner
Description: In the five years since Mina and Duncan broke the power of the Seelie Court, peace has reigned in the city of Dere. But now there are portents that the war in Faerie may spill over into the human realm--and the faelings will be draw into the conflict whether they wish it or not. Sixteen-year-old Pooka spends his days running with his gang...and his nights battling seelie fae. Without any hope for his own future, he fights against the creatures who would prey upon the inhabitants of the slums that are his home. Alexandreya Alekseevicha fled her homeland hoping for a better life in Dere. But her faeling blood makes her a target from the moment she sets foot on the docks. Before long, her life will be entangled with those of the faelings of Dere...and her heart with a boy who may unknowingly hold the key to their survival.
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, 2006 2006
eBookwise Release Date: June 2006
45 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [429 KB]
Reading time: 294-412 min.
"5 Stars! This is a fast paced story with lots of magic and action. Fascinating!"--Detra Fitch, Huntress Book Reviews
The night was dark and cold, born from the depths of a winter more bitter than even the oldsters could remember. No gaslight reached the ruin of the burned-out shop, but the cloudless sky was spangled with stars. The constellation of the Hunter strode over the horizon, a silver shape amidst the blackness of the infinite sky, proclaiming the dominion of winter.
Pook stood in the street for a while, watching for any movement, any sign that whatever lay within the ruins knew that he was there. Even from a distance, he could smell old smoke, the echo of fire wafting from the charred beams that rose, stark as bones, against the moon. The place had been a chandler's shop before the fire had taken it, and maybe flame and the memory of flame was why a seelie fae had claimed it for a lair.
Eight kids found dead, Rose had said, as she read the newspaper to him. Coroner thinks they was strangled, but there weren't no marks on 'em.
It had been near the back of the paper, just a short paragraph, the brief tale of a curiosity barely worth noting. Eight children, all of them guttersnipes, dustbin kids, not even indentured, and so of no value to anyone who mattered. But Rose knew by now what would catch his interest. Two years of looking through the paper whenever they could buy or steal one, two years of searching for any story that might hint of bad things to come, had attuned them both to the signs of fae activity.
Pook sighed, and his breath formed a cloud of steam in front of his face. Damn it was cold, so cold he was almost glad he wasn't all the way human. Then again, if he'd been totally human, he wouldn't be here now, would he? He'd be back at the Trap, or at the Sevens, snug and warm, with gin in his belly.
And it'd be somebody else's job then, wouldn't it?
But who else would do it? Not the dyana, that was for damn sure. She had the power to enslave the minds of other faelings, plenty to keep her safe; so why would she worry about what the fae were doing in some other part of town?
Someday she's going to find me. Someday I'll slip, and she'll feel it, and then...
He pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and thrust it between his lips, trying to distract himself with the ordinary. The matches, he carried in a small tin. He struck one, then held it up for a moment, staring at the fire as if it were something alive.
I ain't afraid of you, he told it. Maybe someday that would even be true.
Pook sucked smoke into his lungs, let it soothe his nerves. Somewhere far off, cathedral bells tolled midnight. In his blood, something turned, marking the hour of greatest darkness.
Time to go.
The smell of ash and old fire grew stronger as he approached the burned shop. The roof hadn't entirely collapsed; no wonder it had seemed like a good place for children to huddle together through the long winter night. Their little corpses must have been black from soot when the crushers pulled them out.
Pook shuddered and pushed aside thoughts of other soot-stained corpses. His life circled around, leading him back to fire, again and again, and damned if he knew why. Maybe God had it in for unseelie faelings like him. Hell, maybe God just had it in for everybody.
He paused in the soot-filled shadows, listening and smelling. No matter what Darcy thought, he wasn't stupid--if he was going to do shit like this, then he was going to do it when the advantage was all his, not the seelie's. Midnight on a winter's night, and he couldn't ask for the cards to be stacked more in his favor, and he thought for a moment that maybe the fae would just cut and run.
A flicker of light touched the corner of his eye--that was all the warning he got. Heat seared him, sucking the air from his lungs, and for a moment he heard flames and felt the dying struggles of the children whose breath the seelie had stolen.
Pook pulled cold from the night all around, banishing the suffocating heat. The memory of frost clung to the stone floor under his feet, and he built it into a shield, driving the fae back. He got a look at it then; it was a small thing made all of light. Dragonfly wings hummed in the air, and gossamer draperies clothed its tiny, perfect form. It was beautiful, enchanting--in short, exactly the kind of thing that most easily seduced kids to their deaths.
It flew at him with a buzzing sound, like an angry hornet. The tiny mouth formed into a sucker-like shape, striving to steal the life from his lungs. Claws raked him, leaving a trail of scorch marks across the sleeve of his coat. For an instant, he caught sight of its angry eyes, like quicksilver mirrors that reflected his own face back at him, a dark shape of brown skin and night-black hair.
He staggered back, struggling to put space between them, and flung shadows at its eyes. A high, thin shriek, like the sound of breaking violin strings, tore from its throat as it fell, blinded. He snatched the advantage it gave him, digging his fingers into the stone floor. Earth and shadow responded, opening like a maw, then closing around the seelie fae's small shape. Its light winked out, but he could still feel it struggling against the dirt that pressed in on it. Closing his eyes and forcing himself to concentrate, he shoved it deeper into the earth, down and down and down, until water seeped around it and put out its light for good.
Pook opened his eyes and found the night silent around him. He stood up slowly and wiped his hands absently against his thighs, smearing ash everywhere. Not that it made much difference; his clothes were already so filthy that it was hard to imagine anything making them worse.
His cigarette had fallen to the ground sometime during the battle and gone out. Pook picked it up, checked that the coal was truly dead instead of just smoldering, and put it in his pocket for later.
Got to move. His wards were as good as he could make them ... but in the end, he just didn't know if they would be good enough to keep the dyana from finding him. So he never lingered after a battle, not even when he had been hurt.
Pook left the ruin and took to the streets. Within a quarter hour, he was back amidst the crowds that thronged the slums down by the Blackrush. Even the bitterest cold couldn't keep the truly desperate at home, and they filled the garbage-covered streets, looking for the false warmth to be found in gin or whores. He moved through them without drawing a look; just another ragged youth, no different from a thousand others. The symbols scrawled on some of the walls warned him that he was flirting with the edge of another gang's territory, so he kept his head down and his step quick, knowing there were some who'd like nothing better than to catch a Rat Soldier alone.
But then, when wasn't he alone? Even when he was with the rest of the gang who'd taken him in, he felt like he was on the edge of things, not in the heart. Except for Rose, none of them knew that they had a changeling in their midst, a thing less than human. And even she couldn't help him in his battles.
Every night I fight alone. And every day I dream of the sea.
He shook his head sharply. Getting maudlin, that was what was happening. No sense in it, no sense at all. It couldn't change anything--and what was there to be changed, really? He was still alive, wasn't he?
But for how long, b'hoy? Been damned lucky so far, haven't I? Ain't never run into nothing worse than I could handle. But someday ... if the dyana don't find me and suck my brain out my eye holes ... if I don't get knifed or shot on the streets ... if I don't get some bad gin and keel over dead five steps out of the saloon ... someday I'm going to find myself up against one of the great ones. One of the Gentry.
The creature he had fought this night was just a poor country cousin to the Gentry. Dangerous enough, God knew, but in the end, its power was a candle before the sun. Every time he went out and faced down a fae, there was always the chance he could find himself up against something really deadly, something that would burn him up in a second. And there was no way to know beforehand. No way to know until he was face-to-face with it, and it was too late to run.
But there was nothing else he could do. * * * *
Mina stood in the shadows near the burned chandler's shop, peering into the darkness. Her eyes cut through the night, catlike, revealing the small clues left from the battle that had taken place earlier: disturbed earth and fresh footprints in the ashes. But her other senses told a fuller story; she could smell the tang of power on the wind, taste it like dark wine on her tongue.
"It's the same one," she said finally.
Wheels creaked over the uneven cobblestones, and a pale streak of moonlight fell across her husband's face, sparking off his spectacles and earrings. "Yes," he agreed; the word became a plume of steam in the air. She wished that Duncan had stayed home; despite his coat, muffler, and gloves, she could see that he was shivering. Too human to be out on a night like this, she thought wryly, although she would never say it. He had his pride, after all, or else might mistake "too human" for "too old."
So he was here with her, teeth chattering, but eyes intent. His long nostrils flared, scenting magic. "Definitely male. Young enough that he's just beginning to come into the fullness of his power."
Mina prowled restlessly near the boundaries of the broken building. "Why?" she asked the night, not expecting any answer that made sense. "Why's he doing this?"
The wheels of Duncan's chair creaked again as he maneuvered closer. The moonlight picked out the gray threaded through his long brown hair. "What is it that you think he's doing?"
The tone of his voice gave her pause. "Fighting a private war against the fae," she said uncertainly. "Do you have any other explanation?"
"No. But I think it unwise to assume too much at this juncture."
"Maybe." She stuffed her hands deep into her pockets. "If he attracted our attention, he's attracted that of others, too."
"I fear, on that count, you are likely correct."
Mina shook her head, her mouth tightening into an angry line. "Damn it."