A new queen has been crowned.
Following the battle against the Unseelies, Ophira’s Light Crown has been stolen and her reign thrown into question. Fay fails to convince her friends that Kayla is being controlled by something, and left without support, she teams up with an unlikely ally. But when they reach the Unseelie Court, they unknowingly provide Queen Keília with the fourth and final Treasure of Light, which allows her to break the seal of an ancient prison.
READ CHAPTERS 1-3 BELOW!
1 A PROMISE
On a clear day, the Seelie Court’s Citadel sparkled in the sunlight like diamonds, reflecting the hills and houses of the court. Today, the setting sun didn’t even reach the Citadel’s towers. It was blocked by a blanket of clouds that swallowed the smoke rising from the pyres, as if sucking in the souls of those who had given their lives on the battlefield.
Fay stood in the front row of the congregation. As the haunting melody of a flute echoed across the land, she slid her hand into Nooa’s by her side, leaning her shoulder against his. She could still smell the tang of blood on his skin—his own mother’s blood.
After the burial, she asked him to stay with her, but he shook his head, tears trailing down his cheeks. Though faeries didn’t age like humans, he looked worn, his mouth set in a grim line as if he hadn’t smiled in years.
“I think… I need to be alone.”
But I don’t want to be, Fay thought.
“I understand,” she said. “I’ll be in the Citadel if you change your mind.”
Nooa pressed a kiss to her forehead. He left the burial grounds guided by their friend Maeve, who refused to look Fay’s way.
While Queen Ophira was too busy giving her condolences, Fay slipped away from the scene. Their last conversation was stuck in a loop inside Fay’s mind. Fay had pleaded with Ophira, desperate for her to understand that Kayla wasn’t the enemy. That Kayla needed their help. To Ophira, the possibility of the Light Crown corrupting Kayla was just one more reason to stop her—with force, if necessary.
Once inside the Citadel, Fay went straight to the first floor, where she hesitated for a moment before facing the solitude of Kayla’s room. The dress Kayla had worn to the revel for the dead was still on the floor. A few of Kayla’s black locks stuck to the comb on her vanity table. Some memorabilia lay scattered on the nightstand: a book titled Deities of the Old World, a cellphone that had stopped working a while ago, a wooden casket in which Kayla had received her necklace, and a small stuffed hamster.
As Fay curled up on Kayla’s bed, still dressed in armor and covered in battle wounds, she hugged the stuffed hamster to her chest and buried her face in the pillow. Kayla’s scent of lavender and marigold clung to the sheets.
“I’ll fix this,” she murmured. “I promise.”
In her dreams, her heart beat next to Kayla’s as they held each other close. When she woke, the emptiness beside her was suffocating, and she squeezed her eyes shut again, wishing she could turn back time.
The door to Kayla’s room flung open without warning. Fay rolled over in bed to find Dahlia—now in an auburn dress that matched her hair and furry ears—standing on the threshold, one hand propped on her hip and her cat-eyes narrowed.
“I should have known you’d be in here. Come on, we’ve got to go. Or have you forgotten?”
“No, of course not,” Fay mumbled. Nothing in the worlds could make her forget what had happened during the battle and what it had set into motion. “Just give me a minute.”
Inside Kayla’s bathroom, Fay avoided glancing at the mirror as she discarded pieces of her armor until she was left with black tights and a green tunic. They could use a thorough wash—and so could Fay—but that had to wait. She did her best to clean her face and brush her hair, hoping she was at least somewhat presentable. Her broken wrist still stung like a boggart’s bite, every movement bringing tears to her eyes. She swallowed her pain and returned to the bedroom.
“Out here!” Dahlia called.
The second Fay set foot on the balcony, Dahlia whispered, “Domhúr ni scail,” and the floor gave way beneath them. Fay yelped as they tumbled through the portal. When her feet hit solid ground again, she stumbled and landed face first in a field of flowers.
Fay stood and dusted off her pants, cursing under her breath. “You could have warned me.”
“We’ve been through worse.”
“That didn’t make the trip any less nauseating.”
Dahlia simply shrugged and set off. Fay followed, soaking up the sight before her. The field of flowers she had landed in stretched all the way to a quaint farmhouse that glowed golden in the late afternoon sun. The air was pleasant and smelled like dandelions. As Fay and Dahlia approached, Kayla’s best friend Abby stepped out onto the porch to greet them with a grin that fell the second she realized Kayla wasn’t with them.
“Eileen! Theo!” she called. “We have visitors.”
A few minutes later, Fay sat in a chair on the porch, one hand holding a mug of black tea and the other one resting in her lap. Her wrist throbbed with pain even now. Opposite her sat Abby, who hid her worry beneath an encouraging smile. Kayla’s little brother Theo ogled Fay like the strange creature she was to him, while Kayla’s mother wore a frown that was painfully like that of her adoptive daughter.
“We faced the Unseelies in battle,” Fay said. She took a sip of her tea, her hand trembling on the mug. When she spoke again, her voice was still hoarse. “And Kayla… she went after the Unseelie Queen herself. She wanted to convince Titania to surrender, but no one could ever reason with Titania. Then… Titania died. I-I don’t know how—”
“We didn’t quite see how it happened,” Dahlia continued. “Something must have gone wrong. Kayla took possession of the Crown of Tír na nÓg and crowned herself as the new Unseelie Queen. After that, she marched off the battlefield with the Unseelie army. She used her magic to immobilize everyone she left behind, and by the time we were released from her grip, she was long gone.”
Abby shook her head. “This doesn’t sound right. Why would Kayla steal the crown and run away with it? She hates the Unseelies. They’re the ones who took her father.”
“She didn’t do it on purpose,” Fay said.
“What do you mean by that? Someone forced her to do it?” Abby straightened in her chair, as if she were preparing to take on whoever harmed her best friend.
“The Light Crown was forged by a goddess and given to the Seelies,” Fay said, eyes glued to her tea. “Only those who belong to the bloodline of the first Seelie monarch can wear the crown. Everyone else will be driven mad by its magic, which is why Titania desperately wanted Kayla to reign in her stead. Titania’s own blood was corrupted, but Kayla…”
“She’s an Unseelie too, right?”
“We always believed Kayla could bear the crown because her birth father was King Arawn’s illegitimate son. It seems we were mistaken.”
Silence ensued, broken only by Dahlia’s raven cawing in the distance and the tall grass in the field rustling in the wind. Then Eileen placed her mug on the table with a loud clang that startled everyone.
“You should have known better,” she said. “My daughter told me I didn’t have to worry about her because she had friends that protected her. She told me she would be safe with the Seelie faeries. But she isn’t safe now, is she?”
“Eileen,” Dahlia said. “No one could have expected this.”
“What good is all this magic if it can’t keep my daughter safe?” A sob broke free of Eileen, and she clasped one hand to her mouth. As Theo leaned in to comfort her, she rose from her chair. “I-I need a minute.”
Eileen’s words had been a blow to Fay’s chest, and she was on the verge of tears. She put down the mug before it could slip from her shaking hands.
Dahlia emptied her own mug and stood. “I need to upgrade some of my spells. Until we know what truly happened to Kayla, I cannot risk her entering this place. Fay, we’ll leave as soon as I’m done.”
Fay nodded. She feared that if she spoke, she’d burst into tears.
“Here,” Theo said as he pushed a napkin toward Fay. “You shouldn’t take it to heart. Mom’s just… stressed.”
Fay accepted the napkin and dabbed her cheeks. When she glanced at Theo, she had the urge to smooth out his unruly brown hair and draw him into a hug. She knew he was only twelve, but his eyes—hazelnut brown—looked way too serious for such a young child.
“You’re going to get my sister back, aren’t you?” Theo asked.
“Theo,” Abby chided. “You can’t ask her to do that.”
“It’s fine,” Fay said. “I am getting her back. You have my word, and I’ll promise the same to your mother.”
Fay entered the cabin, where Kayla’s mother was sitting at the dining table and staring at the empty fireplace. “Eileen, I want to apologize. I should have protected your daughter.”
Eileen lifted her head, revealing tear-streaked cheeks. “I’m the one who should be sorry,” she said in a raspy voice. “There’s only so much a single person can do.”
“I never expected Kayla to challenge the Unseelie Queen by herself,” Fay admitted. “I tried to go after her, but I was too late.”
A small part of Fay was angry at Kayla—angry that she had made a crucial decision without involving Fay. That anger was insignificant compared to the guilt that rolled over her like waves, again and again. Kayla might have decided to separate from Fay at the start of the battle, but Fay knew why she had done it. She had wanted to keep Fay away from Titania, to prevent her from using the Light Sword replica against the Unseelie Queen. Fay was willing to risk her life for Kayla, and Kayla was just as willing to risk hers for Fay.
“Do you think Kayla is in pain?” Eileen asked.
“I can’t say for certain what Kayla is going through,” Fay said. Only once in the history of the faerie realm had someone unworthy worn the crown, and that pooka had eventually died by suicide, proving that whatever the crown did to an undeserving heir, it wasn’t anything good. “But I won’t fail your daughter again. I promise.”
“Thank you,” Eileen said and smiled. “My daughter is truly lucky to have you.”
As soon as her feet hit solid ground again, Fay staggered forward. She reached for the banister, clinging on to it for dear life. They had returned to Kayla’s balcony, the Seelie Court below them. The alleys were filled with Seelies, and the air carried a hint of sea salt.
“I need to do some research,” Dahlia said. “And you should go see a healer.”
“What about Kayla?”
“Not much we can do now. Get some rest and come see me in the morning.” Dahlia dashed off before Fay could argue.
Fay headed to the infirmary on the lowest floor of the Citadel. It was packed with wounded people groaning in pain and calling out to loved ones. Every single bed was occupied, and even though they had covered the ground with cushions and layers of sheets to provide makeshift beds, it still wasn’t enough.
When Fay glanced at the stone fountain in the center, a shiver crawled down her spine. She had only been here a few times, but whenever she entered this room, her best friend’s mother stood by that fountain, washing a cloth or filling a cup. Siân would never again stand by that fountain.
A healer, one of Siân’s apprentices, noticed Fay hovering in the doorway and gestured her closer. There was no place to sit, which didn’t seem to bother the healer. She checked the bandages around Fay’s wrist and arm, rubbed a healing potion on every cut that hadn’t healed yet, and pulled a few herbs from the basket by her feet.
“Stew a pinch of these in hot water,” she said, “then drink the infusion in small sips. Repeat at least three times a day. Now if you excuse me, my lady, I must continue.” The healer curtsied before hurrying to the next patient.
“I see you’re still at court.”
Fay spun around to find her friend Maeve sitting on a stool. Her seaweed-green hair had come loose from its braid, and her skin, which usually shone with golden undertones, was paler than ever. Black circles underneath her amber eyes hinted at an exhaustion that wouldn’t be solved by a good night’s sleep. Fay knew why Maeve’s strength was dwindling. The spriggans’ herbs that she had stolen had eased the illness of her younger brother Taliesin, but at the cost of her own health.
Fay was tempted to ask Maeve how she was holding up, then decided her friend wouldn’t appreciate the sympathy. Instead, she asked, “Why wouldn’t I be here?”
“I figured you’d chase right after her,” Maeve said, and rose to her feet. “I am going to check on Nooa now. Come or don’t, it’s all the same to me.”
“Of course I’m coming with you.” Fay wouldn’t let her disagreements with Maeve get between her and her best friend. She never had, and today was certainly not the day to change that.
The moment they stepped into the golden-tiled corridor, a guard approached Fay. “My lady, Her Highness requests—”
“I do not want to talk to Ophira. It can wait.”
“I shall pass on the message,” the guard said with a bow. “May I accompany you to your room? Or perhaps some place else?”
“There is no need for that,” Fay said.
As they continued onward, Maeve mumbled, “Must be hard to be a princess.”
Maeve knew all of Fay’s triggers, and she didn’t mind pushing the buttons. In the days leading up to the battle against the Unseelies, Fay had thought they had grown closer.
“Guess we weren’t friends after all,” Fay blurted out before she could stop herself.
Maeve stopped mid-step and shoved Fay’s shoulder so hard that Fay stumbled and knocked into a wall.
“I’m sick of your bullshit.”
“My bullshit?” Fay pushed herself away from the wall and tried punching Maeve in the shoulder.
Maeve dodged it masterfully. “At the first chance you got, you accused me of gloating over Kayla’s… whatever you want to call it! You thought I’d be happy I was right all along that Kayla did work for the enemy.”
“Well, aren’t you?”
“No!” Maeve cried. “I’m not as heartless as you make me out to be.”
“So you’ll believe me when I tell you Kayla didn’t steal the crown on purpose?” Fay asked, arms crossed before her chest.
Maeve rolled her eyes. “You got hit hard on the head, didn’t you? There’s no reason for Kayla to run off with the crown—unless she wanted to!”
“You know that’s not true. That crown is magic, and it can corrupt anyone.”
“Even the ghairsola, who was apparently chosen by the goddess Dôn herself? Kayla stunned an entire army with her magic! She’s way stronger than that crown.” Maeve placed both hands on Fay’s shoulders, her amber eyes locked on Fay. “I am not happy that I was right about Kayla. But after what we witnessed… Fay, how can we still be sure Kayla is on our side?”
Fay groped for a response. How could she ever explain to Maeve that she just felt things weren’t as they seemed? Maeve would just brush it off and tell Fay to stop thinking with her heart, and Fay couldn’t do that.
“Whatever,” Maeve said, dropping her hands with a sigh. “Let’s not argue in front of Nooa.”
“At least that’s something we can agree on,” Fay mumbled as she followed Maeve down the hallway.
Outside the Citadel, clouds shrouded the sun to a point where it was hard to tell if sunset or sunrise was close. A drizzle fell to the ground like a curtain, and the alleys were swept empty. Fay and Maeve were drenched by the time they slipped through the curtain of moss into the warmth of Nooa’s home.
A Faery Light hovering through the air illuminated the dining area. Nooa was sitting at the table—or so Fay had thought. Maeve pulled a dagger and pointed it at the man.
“Who are you, and what are you doing in our friend’s home?”
The man didn’t move an inch. He only cocked an eyebrow as he said, “If I had to bet, I would guess that you are Maeve.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Nooa told me.” The man placed a hand on his chest in a sign of peace. “I am Ifor. Nooa’s father.”
Fay had never met Nooa’s father, but the similarities were undeniable. Ifor had the same charcoal-black hair as Nooa, though he wore his cut short. His face was almost identical to his son’s, though more rugged with age, and his skin was a darker shade of brown.
“Ah, and you must be Fay,” Ifor said, inclining his head toward her. “A pleasure to meet the Seelie Princess.”
“The pleasure is mine. But if you came here for your wife’s burial—”
“I arrived last night. My son reached out to me the day before the battle, and I knew I would not make it to the Barren in time, so I came here instead.” Ifor glanced at the dagger still gleaming in Maeve’s hand. “You can put that away. I mean you no harm.”
“Then where is Nooa?” Maeve said.
Ifor pointed to the bedroom. “He is packing,” he said. “I will take him home with me.”
“What are you talking about? Nooa!” Maeve yelled.
She was about to stomp into the bedroom when Nooa appeared in the doorway. He was hugging his arms to his chest as if he feared he would otherwise fall apart. His hair was a mess—but not in its usual handsome way—and he had thrown on some tattered pants and shirt in which he would have never set foot outside this hut.
“Nooa…” Maeve said, her voice choked with tears. “Tell me it’s not true. You can’t go!”
“I cannot stay…” He kept his gaze glued to the floor as he brushed past Maeve, dropped his satchel on the table, and turned to a cabinet in search of something.
Ifor watched the ongoings calmly. “We should head out soon,” he said. “Say your goodbyes, son. I will wait outside.”
Once Ifor had left, Maeve rushed to Nooa’s side and grabbed his arm. “You can’t leave me, Nooa.”
He didn’t pull away from Maeve. He stood still as he said, “Why are you always so selfish? This is not about you, and I am not staying just because you want me to. I am done cleaning up your mess. You will just end up doing something foolish again, like stealing an ancient treasure from the spriggans, and I can no longer chase after you. My words never mattered to you.”
Maeve staggered back a step, her bottom lip wobbling. “T-That’s not… t-true.”
As Nooa returned to rummaging in the cabinet, Maeve sank into the chair Ifor had occupied, sobbing silently.
“Nooa, I know you are hurting,” Fay said. “Are you sure this is the right decision?”
“Fay, ever since my parents separated, all I wished for was to be united again. The three of us. But now that Mother—” He pressed a hand to his lips, fresh tears glittering in his eyes. When Fay reached for him, he withdrew. “No, I do not want your pity,” he said. He pulled a vial from the cabinet and tossed it in his satchel. “I just… I need to be with my father.”
“You’re doing this for him, aren’t you?”
Nooa faced her again, and despite the tears in his eyes, his gaze was kind and gentle. “Even if he had not asked me to come with him, I do not think I could bear it here without her.”
Fay wrapped her arms around her best friend, pressing her face into his chest, smelling his scent of sandalwood and bonfires, and he held her close in the kind of hug she had grown to love.
“I am going to miss you,” she murmured.
Humans had a saying, which Fay had often seen printed on posters or other memorabilia: if you love someone, let them go. She wondered if faeries knew about that too. Maybe they did. Ifor loved his son—and he had loved Siân—but when the dispute between the Seelies and the pookas had worsened, they parted ways. They let go of each other because they wanted the people they loved to be safe, even if it pained them. These posters didn’t mention how much it hurt to let go, and the moment Nooa released Fay, she ached for his embrace.
“We will meet again,” Nooa whispered, offering Fay a weak smile.
Then his eyes snapped to the doorway, where Oilibhéar was standing by the moss curtain. When they had left their camp in the Dark Forest, he and some of the other knights stayed behind to clean up and secure the area. He seemed to have gone straight to Nooa’s house upon returning to the Seelie Court. His armor had lost some pieces, and his face had a few cuts partially hidden by his beard.
“I was looking for my sister,” he said with a glance at Maeve crying at the dining table. “There is a man outside.”
“That is my father.”
“Nooa’s leaving,” Maeve sobbed.
Fay stepped aside to give Oilibhéar some space. He closed the distance to Nooa, cupping his face with his hands. “Do not go,” he said softly. “I cannot be separated from you again.”
Nooa touched his brow to Oilibhéar’s. “I cannot stay. I need to be with my family.”
Maeve failed to cover a sob. They were Nooa’s family too.
“Where will you go?” Oilibhéar asked.
“Father lives in a settlement in the Whispering Woods, close to Blackpond.”
“It will not be safe with the pookas.”
“This court is not safe either.”
Oilibhéar’s shoulders drooped in defeat. He had to know that Nooa was right. A few days ago, the pookas had infiltrated the Seelie Court on Titania’s behalf and almost stolen the crown. Now Kayla had all the power, and even though Fay was convinced that Kayla wouldn’t do anything to harm the Seelies, she feared the magic of the crown. The barrier that kept out the Unseelies since their creation was useless against Kayla.
“I cannot linger any longer,” Nooa said. “Goodbye, Oilibhéar.” He leaned in to kiss Oilibhéar on the cheek. Then he shouldered his satchel. “Goodbye, Fay… Maeve.”
Maeve didn’t move. She sat motionless, a stubborn frown on her face, until Nooa vanished through the moss curtain.
When they all left, a different pooka was waiting outside Nooa’s hut. Sólas was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed and his expression pensive.
“I am surprised Queen Ophira allows you to stay,” Oilibhéar said, “after what you did.” He shifted to stand in front of Maeve—as if that would ever stop her.
Maeve pushed past her brother and joined Sólas’s side. “He fought on our side on the Barren.”
“That does not change the fact that he wished to destroy the crown.”
“All I did was speak the truth,” Sólas said. His silver eyes rested on Oilibhéar, cool and calculating. “That crown is nothing but trouble.”
Oilibhéar clenched his hands into fists. For a second, Fay worried he would use Sólas as a punching bag, but he swallowed his pain and anger caused by Nooa’s departure and strode away.
Once Oilibhéar was out of earshot, Maeve glowered at Fay. “So you snitched on me to Nooa? About the herbs?”
“Yes,” Fay sighed. “I told your best friend something that you should have told him yourself. Maybe if you had been more honest with Nooa and had treated him with more respect—”
Fay saw Maeve swing her arm just in time to dodge. She prepared to deal a blow but faltered when she noticed Sólas pinning Maeve to his side.
“I guess you still trust Sólas,” Fay said, hoping her glare would match Maeve’s.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Maeve growled.
“He lied about why he wanted to forge a replica Light Sword, and yet you’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Why not Kayla?” Maeve didn’t respond, and Fay kept pushing. “If you truly have a heart, help me find out what happened to Kayla.”
“Fay, does it matter why she stole the crown?”
“It matters to me!”
“Well, this kingdom matters to me. So no, I won’t help you.” Maeve hooked her arm through Sólas’s and began dragging him away. She didn’t even bother to glance back.
Fay disappeared into her room and locked the door by pushing a chair in front of it. She didn’t want anyone to bother her—knights, guards, maids, and certainly not the queen. Just for once, she wanted solitude.
She went into the bathroom and prepared a bath. Once she had discarded her clothes, she slid into the tub, her gaze wandering to the massive floor-to-ceiling window. It spanned an entire wall, and usually when she took a bath, she could see all the way to the Glistening Rocks. Now the world before her window was dark, rain lashing against the glass.
Staring into the void, Fay’s thoughts began to drift. She saw herself back in Chicago, pressed up against Kayla in a dimly lit alley. Kayla’s gorgeous eyes, which used to be blue, widened. What are you?
And Fay had wanted to pour out her heart to this girl, this complete stranger. But she told Kayla lies, so many lies. She lied about her name, about the reason they met, the reason she brought her to Tír na nÓg. She kept lying, the noose tightening around her neck, even as they held hands underneath the Bean. Even as they shared their first kiss in the glowing light of the moon.
I should have never lied to you.
And I should have never trusted you.
They had reconciled… hadn’t they? They searched for the Elder Tree together, fought the Unseelies, separated, and reunited again. The rift Fay had caused between them was closing, bringing them closer to each other again, until their hearts became one on the night they created the Light Sword.
I love you, Fay.
Fay refused to believe that those words had been a lie—that their love for each other was anything but genuine and pure. Something went wrong on the battlefield because Kayla would never hurt her.
The memory hit Fay like a slap to the face. Sitting on the forest floor with Kayla, speaking about blood and loyalties, about the things given to one through birth.
You would never hurt me, Fay had told Kayla.
What if Titania forces me to do it? What if I won’t have a choice?
Fay sank deeper into the bathwater, which had long gone cold, as tears trickled down her cheeks. She had promised Kayla to protect her from becoming the monster Titania wanted her to be—and she had failed. No matter what everyone else believed, Fay knew the truth: Kayla was in trouble. And Fay wouldn’t fail her again.
3 THE TRUE HEIR
Fay spent the night in Kayla’s room. She kept waking, her hand searching for Kayla.
Shortly after sunrise, a guard knocked on her door. “My lady, I have been looking everywhere for you. Have you forgotten about the council meeting?”
Fay pulled the sheets over her head with a groan. “I’ll be there in a bit,” she said. The guard wouldn’t let her escape her responsibilities so easily, and he insisted on accompanying her to her own room, where a maid was already waiting for her.
Once her hair was fixed and she had been forced into a green dress with golden trimmings, Fay trotted along the Citadel’s hallways, trailed by the guard who had woken her. She crossed through the empty throne room and headed toward the council chamber, which she expected to be crowded.
Half of the chairs surrounding the round table were unoccupied. Siân’s seat was painfully vacant. Farren and Gwylim had been wounded in the battle and were still recovering in the infirmary. The only two councilors present were Cassán, Queen Ophira’s personal adviser, and Bedwyr, Maeve and Oilibhéar’s father, who offered Fay a smile as she entered.
The seat to Ophira’s left was reserved for Pwyll, chancellor and general of the knights, while the one on her right belonged to Fay. It was impossible to not look at the Seelie Queen. She was as radiant as the sun, and just as dangerous to be close to. Her long golden hair was draped over one shoulder, giving some space to her wings. Even with the Light Crown missing from her brow, her golden dress and airy attitude were enough to remind everyone of her royal title.
Dahlia took the seat next to Fay. “Pretty poor turn-out,” she said. “This is going to be interesting.”
When they had last held a meeting like this, the room had been crammed. Not only were some councilors missing, fewer clan leaders had showed up too. While the pixies had once again sent their chiefs, Bluebell and Thistle, and Brógán, the leader of the Faosor faoladh pack, had joined the meeting, the faoladhs of Chicago were nowhere to be seen. Fay wasn’t surprised. The night before they had set out for the Barren, Fay had overheard the two leaders, Lilika and Gabor, tell Ophira that this would be the last time they fought for the Seelies.
And of course the pookas and the merrows were missing as well. The pookas had long abandoned their alliance with the Seelies, and the merrows had accused the Seelies of kidnapping their chief’s daughter.
Ophira must have concluded that no one else would show up, and she cleared her throat before addressing the room. “I am aware that many of you have suffered great losses during the battle, so I wish to express my gratitude for your participation in today’s meeting.”
“I must confess,” Bluebell said, her blue head barely visible over the edge of the table. “We were quite surprised you summoned us to court so soon.”
“The matter at hand is urgent.” Though Ophira’s voice was steady, the tips of her wings twitched. “My crown has been stolen, and it is important we recover it at once. We have all been told the story of the pooka who claimed the crown for himself and was driven mad by its magic. The longer Kayla wears that crown, the higher the chances she will endure the same fate as that pooka—only the consequences will be way more devastating. We have all seen the extent of her ghairsola powers.”
Fay dug her nails into her skirt and bit down on her tongue. Most people in the kingdom were under the impression that Kayla was unworthy of wearing the crown. And while there was still a chance that the crown’s magic would be too much for Kayla despite her relation to the Royal Family, Fay saw that as the reason they needed to save her; Ophira used it as the reason to stop her.
“Your Highness,” Brógán said. “My people have sacrificed a lot for your cause. Many gave their lives on the battlefield, many more are grieving for their loved ones. The Unseelies destroyed the area in the Dark Forest where we had set up camp. I fear my pack cannot bear any more losses…”
Ophira took a measured breath. “I understand.”
“If you can spare any of your men…” Pwyll began.
“I cannot make any promises,” Brógán said. “However, I will talk to my pack, and if any of them are willing, I will send them to your court.”
Ophira nodded, her lips pinched into a grim line. A tiny voice inside Fay rejoiced at Ophira’s misery. If Ophira failed to find supporters, maybe she would listen to Fay and they could approach Kayla peacefully.
“Don’t sacrifice your men’s lives for a false queen, you fool.”
Everyone spun around in their seats to see Cadfael, the leader of the pookas, towering in the doorway. As he strode into the room, his magnificent deer antlers scraped the wooden jamb. He still hadn’t regained possession of his spear, but he had brought plenty of other weapons and several guards.
Brógán shot to his feet. Even without taking Cadfael’s antlers into account, the pooka leader was a head taller than the faoladh. Brógán made up for it in width, which he used to block Cadfael’s way.
“How dare you speak like this in front of Her Highness!”
“You will always take her side, won’t you? Like a stupid little lap dog.” Cadfael shouldered his way past Brógán, who grabbed him by the arm, his nails already transformed into claws.
“Brógán,” Ophira warned.
“Yes, heel. Good boy.”
With a growl, Brógán released his grip on Cadfael, nicking the pooka’s skin with one claw.
“What do you want, Cadfael?” Ophira asked.
The pooka’s lips twisted into a malicious grin. “To reveal the truth that you have been trying to hide, Your Highness.”
Pwyll reached for his weapon; the guards by the door followed his lead.
“Stand down,” Ophira said. “Let our guest speak.”
“You want us to believe that we should all fear Keília and the consequences the crown will have on her poor, unworthy mind,” Cadfael said. His black eyes bored into Ophira, who held her breath as she waited for the blow. “In truth, we should bow to Keília. The rightful heir to the Light Crown.”
Only a few of those present weren’t aware of Kayla’s lineage. They exchanged confused looks, while those who knew feigned ignorance.
“Care to elaborate on this preposterous claim?” Pwyll said.
“Queen Titania told me everything about her niece,” Cadfael said. “Daughter of Lasarian, the illegitimate son of King Arawn, and a Sidhe-turned-Unseelie.” He was visibly gloating while Ophira grew paler with every word. “If there’s anyone you should bow to, it is Queen Keília. A queen with both Seelie and Unseelie blood and immeasurable magical powers. Those who still fight for Queen Ophira will be on the losing side of history.”
Bluebell and Thistle exchanged whispers; Brógán looked at Ophira, waiting for her to dispel what he must hope was merely a rumor.
Ophira gripped the armrests of her chair. Her wings were folded against her straight back, and she was as strung as a bowstring. It was a rare occurrence to see the queen at a loss for words.
“Why should we believe a word you say?” Pwyll asked. He rose to his feet, fingertips hovering over the hilt of his sword. “You sided with Queen Titania before the battle on the Barren. Perhaps you are still on her side, spreading dissent among our remaining allies by feeding us lies and half-truths.”
Cadfael disregarded Pwyll’s sword and approached the wall hung with decorative weapons. “Everyone in here must be familiar with the Treasures of Light. Four mythical artifacts created by the goddess Dôn.” He kept inspecting the weapons on the wall as he quoted the famous poem: “‘The Sword to defeat the strongest of man, the Spear that never misses its mark, the Cauldron to call back the dead, and the Stone that knows a true heart.’”
“I am losing my patience with you, Cadfael.”
Ignoring the chancellor’s words once more, Cadfael continued, “Many stories are told about these treasures. Some people believe they never existed. Others devoted their life to finding them. But there is no need to search for something that is right before our own eyes.” His gaze found the spot on Ophira’s brow where her crown used to be. “The Light Crown, the very crown now in Queen Keília’s possession, holds the Stone of Destiny. Titania somehow obtained the Sword of Light, which she was proud to present to me at her court. And then there’s the Invincible Spear, passed down through generations of pooka leaders.”
“Well, I appreciate the history lesson,” Pwyll said.
“You asked me why you should trust my word!” Cadfael’s booming voice echoed off the walls. “When I aided your princess to infiltrate the Unseelie Court, my men and I were imprisoned. Titania stole my spear, and I realized what she was truly after: the treasures. I knew I could either try to fight her and lose, or I could join her side to assure my people’s safety. I was clever enough to face reality and accept that Titania was an enemy I could not defeat. I am clever enough now too and recognize Queen Keília as the powerful monarch she is.”
“I’ve heard enough. Guards, escort our guest to the dungeons.”
Cadfael shoved aside the guards that drew in on him as if they were flies. “We will not be staying,” he said, then he turned to Brógán and the two pixie chiefs. “Whether or not you believe me, even you fools must realize that fighting Queen Keília is suicide. The choice is yours.”
As Cadfael waltzed out of the council chamber with a lightness in his steps, Pwyll chased after him, shouting orders at the guards.
Fay chanced a glance at Ophira. She was near to tears, something Fay had only ever seen behind closed doors.
“Your Highness,” Bluebell said. She stood on her tiptoes so that more than the top of her head was reaching over the table’s edge. “Is it true what Chief Cadfael told us? About Kayla’s claim to the throne?”
Ophira gave a single nod.
“And you chose not to share this with us?”
Bluebell clasped a tiny blue hand to her chest. “Dear Mother Goddess… I am speechless.” She looked at Thistle, and something quiet passed between them. “We will need some time to process this revelation. In the meantime… we cannot aid you in your quest.”
“I understand,” Ophira said, echoing her words from earlier. She turned to Brógán, though she didn’t quite meet his eye. Out of all the different clans, the pixies and Faosor faoladhs were the only ones who never opposed the Seelies, who had bowed to their king or queen from the beginning. Losing their loyalty and trust was like pulling the bottom pieces from an already tilting Jenga tower.
“It pains me to admit it, but I agree with the pixies,” Brógán said, and the tower crumbled.
Defeated, Ophira bowed her head as Brógán, Thistle, and Bluebell left the council chamber.
“We need to talk,” Fay said once the room had cleared.
Ophira stood and straightened the skirt of her dress. “Not here,” she said and headed toward the door.
Fionn, Ophira’s deaf personal guard, tried to follow her, but she waved him off. “Go fetch Pwyll and bring him here,” she said, accentuating each syllable. “I shall have a word with him once Fay and I have talked.”
Fay hurried after Ophira. When they stepped out into the gardens, heavy clouds blocked most of the sunlight, cloaking the world in shadows. A sharp wind blew up from the ocean, and Fay shuddered. She trailed Ophira closely, but it wasn’t until Ophira led her up a crest that she realized where they were heading.
Underneath an oak tree stood three gravestones; there used to be two. Ophira sank to her knees before the stone that gleamed fresh, its inscription clear even in the gloomy light: Titania. Beloved daughter and sister. The sight twisted Fay’s stomach into a knot.
“Two nights ago,” Ophira said, her voice a whisper in the wind, “after we had burned the bodies of our fallen brothers and sisters, I buried Titania’s ashes. I was alone, the only person in this world mourning her death.”
Fay swallowed. The knot in her stomach kept traveling up, squeezing her windpipe.
“Titania did not deserve to die like this.” Ophira dropped a hand to the ground, digging her fingers into the soil. “Killed by her own blood, abandoned by the people who claimed to be loyal to her as their queen.”
The knot in Fay’s chest evaporated, giving way to frustration. “You cannot blame Kayla for Titania’s death.”
“Who else is there to blame?” Ophira snapped. Fay expected to see tears glittering on the queen’s cheeks, but her eyes were stone cold, like the sea in winter—beautiful and deadly. “Kayla ruined everything. I asked both of you to fight in my stead if I could not go on and what did she do? She stole the Light Sword replica from you and challenged Titania on her own.”
“She only did that to protect me,” Fay said, her cheeks burning hot.
Ophira laughed, shaking her head. “You made me feel guilty for treating Kayla like a pawn. You told me I should trust her. Did you ever stop to think if we could trust her?”
“You don’t know Kayla like I do. She’s a good person.”
“So was my sister, once.”
Fay dragged her hand through her hair and took a deep breath. “You were willing to give Titania the chance to resolve this peacefully. Why not Kayla? We should try to talk to her. Reach out to her at the Unseelie Court—”
Ophira rose to her feet, spreading her wings. It was an act Fay was incredibly familiar with, but if Ophira hoped to intimidate her, it no longer worked.
“Today’s council meeting was proof that I need to reclaim my crown,” Ophira said. “I cannot care about what happened to Kayla, not when the safety of my kingdom is at stake. Without my crown, I have lost the bit of magic I was given by the Light Goddess. Kayla… she has the magic of the Sidhe, the power of the ghairsola. She already has three of the four treasures in her possession.”
“Which might just be coincidence,” Fay pointed out.
“I knew my sister well enough to understand that nothing she ever did was coincidence. Whatever Titania planned to do with those treasures, we cannot allow Kayla to follow through with it.”
“How can you be so sure that Kayla will finish what Titania started?”
“I am not taking any risks, Fay,” Ophira said. “I will find that cauldron before Kayla does. And I will destroy it.”
A cold sweat broke out all over Fay’s body, and she shivered in the cool breeze. Something about the destruction of a mythical artifact didn’t bode well. Even if Ophira was right about Kayla, even if destroying the cauldron was the only way to stop her, Fay feared what consequences it would have for the kingdom. The imbalance caused by all this fighting between the courts had already taken its toll on Tír na nÓg.
“How would you even find it?” Fay asked. “No one who is alive today has ever seen that cauldron. By the time you get to it, Kayla will have…” She wasn’t sure how to finish that sentence. Kayla will have succumbed to the crown’s magic? Conquered every part of this realm?
“I am closer to finding it than you think,” Ophira said. “When you returned to court with that pooka in tow, I realized I needed to learn more about the treasures. Cassán has been studying them ever since.”
“You can’t seriously plan on destroying a sacred treasure,” Fay said. “Let us speak to Kayla first. Please.”
Ophira’s expression soured.
“You told me you regretted pressuring me to lie to the girl I loved. You told me you were blinded by your desperation to save Titania, and you realized you were risking to lose the family you still had. Do you want to make the same mistake twice?”
Ophira averted her gaze. “You must understand… I am trying not to repeat my mistakes.”
“And you’re convinced this is the right thing?”
“I am convinced I must decide what is best for the kingdom, regardless of what I want. Personal bonds caused all this pain in the first place.” Ophira brushed her fingers across the top of Titania’s gravestone, lingering on the edge. “I cannot let myself be guided by my relations to the enemy anymore.” Her eyes snapped up to meet Fay’s. A stony determination had settled into them, like a wave about to crash at the shore. “And I will not be influenced by your love for the enemy either.”
As Fay held Ophira’s gaze with her own determined one, she understood the reasoning behind Ophira’s words. It was true—personal bonds had led to this tragedy. Titania had fought to get rid of Ophira because they were sisters, and Ophira had hesitated to go into battle and stop Titania with force because she had clung to the hope that her sister could be saved.
Fay wished she could make Ophira see that ignoring her emotions wasn’t the solution. Before the battle, Ophira had been guided by hope and the love for her sister. Now Ophira was guided by grief.
Something inside Fay shifted and clicked into place. She understood Ophira’s mind wouldn’t be changed with a few shrewd words, and it didn’t even matter. If Ophira refused to help her, she would get to Kayla on her own. She would let herself be guided by her love for the enemy.
“If this is how you feel—” Fay squared her shoulders, wishing she had wings so she could spread them menacingly “—then our paths have to part here.”
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