A dead girl, a frozen lake, a heart taken…
Pip, a kelpie sent to our world as punishment, is forced into a human form. But she cannot even recall her crime—there are only fragments in her memory: a dead girl, a frozen lake, a heart taken. Welcomed by other fae, she discovers the fairy realm itself is disappearing. Their enigmatic leader believes Pip can save Otherworld—but she senses she cannot fully trust him. As she unravels the truth, she knows she can reclaim her true nature, but the human world may be the cost . . .
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CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT
Time did not exist within the stone tower’s walls, nor across the blooming fields that spread outward from its base, nor over the rocky hills which rose from these fields, nor to the sea beyond the fields that tongued sugar sands into submission. Time did not exist, even though one might note changes that only its passage could bring: the bearded emerald moss and clustered gray barnacles dotting the stones, salt-crusted waterlines giving proof of water’s long-ago trespass.
Within the tower, the oaken floor was likewise ageless, unmarked by any footstep, though countless feet had crossed it. Countless feet stood upon it even now, clad in gleaming plate-armor sabatons and greaves, scuffed leather boots, sandals made of summer’s sweetest: white lily tongues, pink peony ruffles, the bruise of grape hyacinth. My own feet—feet, not my normal hooves—were bare, stripped as the rest of me had been. I would have normally taken great delight in ten chilled toes, in the delicate metatarsals and extensors wrapping the core of an ankle, but now iron cuffs bound me at ankle and wrist alike. I thought the iron would burn through my flesh, straight into to my bones where it would crack them and boil the marrow. While time had no tangible meaning within Otherworld, I could mark the passage of time by the scars the iron was making on my flesh. Time was but an idea to guide humans through their lives, not we fae. But time was now having its way with me—stinging me as surely as the irons.
The standing figures that ringed me faded at mid-calf, details lost under the ceaseless shimmer of a clear hot light, the way stars are lost when the sun eclipses the night. This light came from no natural source or construct; it simply was, as it had always been. The heart of Otherworld, some called it—the color of Her pulse, the warmth of Her heart. I, a creature of night and water, had no love of this light, no matter that it was part of my world. Being Unseelie, I was drawn to its opposite, to the cold shadows permeating the places most did not dare go. Chained to the floor, there was no escape from the light. They didn’t mean for there to be.
None of my kind stood here as witness. Or, if they did, they were well hidden from my light-tearing eyes, held back by the fiery pain that held me at wrist and ankle. I could not reach out and sense them as I might ordinarily—another facet of the punishment. Of those gathered, only one moved. Only one spoke. It was a male voice: baritone, even, certain. I knew the voice, but could place no name to the person. Even then, my memory was sliding away. Was being taken.
“Do you deny these actions?”
I had not listened to the Minister’s list, but presumed it to be the same: my so-called crimes enumerated in grisly detail.
Did you mention how sweet her heart was against my tongue, Minister? Don’t leave that out.
A kelpie drawing someone into her lake should not have been a crime. We needed to eat, and what sweeter fare than innocent human flesh? Was it a crime for a flower to turn its face to the sun and throw its neighbor into shade? Was it a crime for the sea to suck sand into its tide and carry it far from the shore, into the depths where shadow swallowed all light? This was nature, even for the fae, even in Otherworld.
“I do not deny them.”
I could not.
In the space of a breath, the tower vanished. The interminable light was eclipsed by shadow, and the heat from the iron chains disappeared. Relief came with my second breath—no tower, no light, no accursed iron—but my third breath brought agony. I fell as if from a great height, plunging into icy waters that should have been welcoming, but instead engulfed and smothered. My element was water—I was kelpie—and kelpies did not drown. But drown was what I began to do.
Water that should have embraced me instead overwhelmed me, rushing into my open mouth, into my lungs and gut. Once I would have taken nourishment from such an assault, but now the water stole my breath. I could not see, nor was there anything to hold to.
It had been this way for every single person I had charmed into my lake and pulled under the clouded violet waters. This is what they had known. In my true form, I would have taken comfort in the cold dark, but in this new body, I knew only fear—running like a needle through my flesh, barely keeping me together. It had been like this for her too, of course, the small girl I had drawn under, the small girl whose life I had drained.
My human form sank like a thrown stone, feet sucked down to the lake’s muddy bottom, long slick fingers of reed wrapping my waist. What little breath I had exploded outward in a torrent of bubbles, through long hair that was no longer black but so pale as to be white, as though the water had erased every drop of color.
The muck at the bottom of the lake spread over me, gobbling toes, ankles, calves. I watched this with a disconnected fascination until I remembered these feet and legs were my own. There should have been glossy hooves, four slim legs made for running—but knowing this didn’t make it so, didn’t explain their absence.
Minister, what have you done to me?
I kicked hard, the way a horse might, and the lakebed physically recoiled. Clouds of silt bloomed in the already murky water. The reed fingers snapped apart and I stroked my way to the surface, breaking through with a shuddering sob. I coughed, bringing up a steady torrent of muck as I fought my way to the muddied bank. There, I dug my fingers into the mud and pulled, but could not haul myself far. There wasn’t enough air, or strength in my limbs, so I flopped much like a fish, pressing cheek into mire, blinking water from my eyes. In the scant light of the pre-dawn, an unmoving girl slowly came into focus. She lay within arm’s reach of me on the shore.
The girl was thin-limbed, tangled in weeds, a length of decorative blue fabric, and a coat. Her ebon hair spread around her neck, sodden and tangled with a chain of gold. The dress that clung to her beneath fabric and coat was the red of old blood, her coat colored like clay. The bare feet that peeked out were spiderwebbed with stark veins. Her mouth was small, purpled lips parted as if asking for a kiss. I leaned in closer, but whatever glamour the girl had held was long gone, her lips like ice. She should have tasted like almonds, smooth where teeth had split the meat apart, and full of sweet, drinkable energy. How I knew this was beyond me. I thought backward, remembering a bright space where I had been—
Been what? As I fought to reach the memory, it skipped out of my unsteady grip and slid away, and I could only watch it slither into shadow. The memory of the bright space burned when I thought on it, so I withdrew, even if it was all I could remember. To not think of the one thing you knew with certainty? I shivered in the cold mud, not understanding.
And the girl? Had I dragged her into my lake? A glance over the shimmering water and the rolling mountains beyond it told me this was not my lake. For all I knew, my lake might be a world away—or just over those mountains. I only knew these things as I thought about the water and tasted it against my chilled lips.
Otherwise, the knowledge fell from my grasp. The moment I looked away and noticed something new, the status of the lake became uncertain again. Could this be home and I would never know it? I looked at the water pearled upon my skin and knew again this lake was not mine.
I tried to cling to that thought even as I reached for the dead girl. The cold dampness that crept into my bones was familiar, yet in this form it was too cold, too wet. While she was as wet as I, she was at least clothed. I fumbled with the overly large coat she wore, working her arms free so that I could wrap my now softly rounded body into the heavy, soaked wool. I knew wool, wool came from sheep… but I should be sleek angles, not shapely curves—
These thoughts also skittered away as quickly as they had come.
The appearance of a vehicle boasting bright crimson and indigo lights on its roof jolted me into motion. The need to get away from the light was overwhelming, because the light brought the unending pain, the pain of—I looked at the lines marking my wrists and didn’t know. Didn’t know, wasn’t certain I wanted to, and nausea rolled through me. I pushed myself to standing and lurched into a mass of bushes, water flooding from beneath the fall of the coat to erase my footprints on the muddy shore. My legs were like rubber forced into sudden motion and they were but two. Two, and there should have been four, and this knowledge drew a ragged sob from me. I wasn’t supposed to be a girl. I was a kel—
The word dissolved in my mouth.