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The fae lord stalked back and forth in his cell of gray stone. Three steps, turn, four steps, turn, three steps. He could do it all day. Had, in fact, done it for two weeks.
His boots were soft and he made no sound as he paced. Sound distracted him unduly from his purpose—which was to bore himself to the point where he no longer thought about anything.
His clothes, like his boots, were practical, but still representative of his position as High Court Lord—though he no longer remembered much about that part of his life. Even so, his long red hair was confined in a complicated series of braids that trailed on the floor behind him, a court fashion of at least a millennium ago. Doubtless if there were still courts, still High Courts, he would be considered out of fashion entirely.
He’d worn High Court dress for the first week he was here, but there was no one to impress, so he’d left them off and exchanged them for the more comfortable clothing. He could have put on jeans, he supposed, but he was losing that long-ago lord a day at a time, and the clothes served as a reminder of what he had once been—though some days, some years, he could not remember why it was that remembering what he had once been was so important.
There was a knock on his door, and he hissed in irritation because he’d nearly succeeded in numbing himself to the imprisonment. Immortality was a curse because no matter how powerful you were, there was always someone more powerful. Someone to obey. Someone who stole what was yours and left you with the dregs of what you once had. Then they took that, too, and here he was in this prison while his gut ached with need and his body missed magic like meat missed salt. Without magic, he had no savor.
The knock sounded again. He’d pissed off whoever it was because his whole prison shook with a noise that hurt his ears and his heart. Wonderful. One of the Powers had come to call upon him. He almost didn’t answer—what more could they do to him than they had already done?
He stopped in the middle of the room, because, of course, there was always something worse they could do. It didn’t do any good to speculate upon what. He said, “Come in, then.”
The woman who stepped in was neat and small. She almost stirred that beast inside him. But then she spoke and the illusion was gone.
She was the spiritual archetype of the evil queen in the fairy tales, partially because she’d participated in quite a few of the actual events that had spawned the tales. She adored causing misery and pain to the short-lived humans. All those centuries of power lived in her voice, even if she liked to hold the appearance of helplessness.
“Underhill will become anything for you,” she said, her lip curling as she looked around his current home, “and you chose a prison.”
He straightened warily. “Yes, lady.”
She shook her head. “And they want you?”
She didn’t say who “they” were, or what they wanted him for. He didn’t ask because he still had some sense of self-preservation.
She walked around the small room. “They say you have imagination.”
She folded her arms as she walked, twisting her torso first so as to see the ceiling stones and then turning until she got the proper angle to see the subtle bend in the wall that made his hiding place less noticeable. She loosened the granite block, the only one without mortar. “They say you know how to hide from humans, from fae, from other creatures who might hunt you because your glamour is so very good.”
He wanted to stop her, to keep her from finding his treasure. He wanted to destroy her. But they had taken away his power and he was left with nothing. But that was vanity speaking; he knew that even if he’d had his power, it would have done him no good against one of the Gray Lords.
He watched as she pulled out the block and found the cubby it hid. She took out the doll he kept there and straightened the pretty yellow skirts, her fingers lingering on the faded tearstains.
A child cries with her whole heart, keeping nothing back. A child lives in the present, and that gives her pain an endless quality. Magic-shorn as he was, he could taste the power of those tearstains from here.
She put the doll back and replaced the block thoughtfully. Then she looked at him. “They tell me you were a skilled magician, subtle and powerful. Once the flower of a powerful High Court—later the bane of it, the first dark root of destruction. Able to hide from the best trackers.”
“I don’t know who they are or what they say,” he told her truthfully, trying to hide his temper.
She smiled. “But you don’t argue with the sentiment.” She walked toward him and touched his face with her left hand.
His glamour fell away, the illusion that truly represented the lord he had once been. But as his magic had twisted and fouled, so had his true form twisted and fouled over the years. He waited for her to recoil; he was not good to look upon, but she smiled. “I have a gift for you. A gift and a task.”
“What task is that?” he asked warily.
“Don’t worry,” she said, putting her right hand on the side of his neck. “You’ll enjoy the job, I promise.”
And his magic came back to him, flooding his body like the heat of the dead. He screamed, dropped to the floor, and writhed as the beautiful agony enveloped him.
She bent down and whispered in his ear, “But there are rules.”
“Okay,” said Charles Cornick, younger son of the Marrok who ruled the werewolves in North America and also, Anna had come to believe, the rest of the world. De facto if not officially. If Bran Cornick said, “Sit up and go there,” there was not a werewolf in the world, Alpha or not, who wouldn’t obey.
Charles had inherited a lot of the dirty work that allowed his father to keep their people, their werewolves, safe. The fallout when a good man was forced to commit heinous and necessary acts was that Charles’s emotions could be mysterious even to himself.
For instance, he’d just said “Okay” when Anna could tell he was anything but okay with the topic at hand. She knew that from the way her husband got up abruptly from the stool where he’d been playing and put his battered old guitar up on the wall hook. Restless, he wandered across the hardwood floor to the big window and looked out at the February snow falling down. There was a lot of it: it was winter in the mountains of Montana.
If he had been a little less self-disciplined, she was pretty sure he would have hunched his shoulders.