You can find the first snippets here, and here. As always, this is a raw first draft, and may (certainly will!) contain errors. Feel free to leave me a note in the comments, but this has revisions and editors to see before it is published. Sorry, guys, no cover art yet… probably end of February before that happens. I have elements, but no time, and I’m still writing like mad to finish the finale of the book.
I left Bella with Melcar, reluctantly. But I needed to get home to Mother and Devon, it was my solemn duty to tell them the news, not to leave that to others. Melcar insisted that Bella was fine, just overstressed, and she should rest if she could, while Corwin cleaned up after me. I didn’t give a damn about the mess. I’d sent my message, and the Court would remember it.
There was also a sense of urgency, folded up around that paper Bella had given me as I kissed her before bubbling out of the receiving room. She’d magically created an image, a sense of the thing that had killed my sister, and imprinted it on the sheet like some kind of macabre magical police sketch. I now knew what she meant about it, not he nor she, this wasn’t a human or Fae. As the moment of time in transit passed, I looked at the picture, then folded it back into my pocket. Mother didn’t need to see this. I’d be happier if she didn’t see Margot’s body, in the condition it was, but I knew she’d insist. She was a tough old broad.
“Lom…” She came to greet me, her deep purple skirts rustling, her face pale. She knew it was bad.
“Mother, I’m sorry.” I kissed her cheek, feeling the papery skin that reminded me how old she was. Even Fae grow old, and die. It just takes us a hell of a lot longer than humans. Usually. Unless someone cuts us off short.
I turned to my nephew and put a hand on his shoulder. “Devon.”
He paled, looking in my eyes. “Is it Bella? Dorothy?”
We had left his girlfriend Above, learning to fly tiny airplanes without the support of magic. She was fine, so far as I knew, enjoying the hell out of it, and it was a good thing for her. I shook my head.
“I’m sorry, kid. Your mother…”
I felt a lump in my throat. I’d never had any children of my own. Never even had the chance, before Bella, and Devon was the closest thing before those two pearls I had just seen. “Margot is gone.”
It was a pale euphemism, but I wanted to shield them a little. I know I can be a rough man, and these two were products of a society I’d spurned long ago. Soft. Not that that’s all bad. I didn’t see the need to roughen their edges any more than I was forced to.
Lucia sat down, hard, in the nearest chair. I felt Devon’s knees buckle through my grip on his shoulder, but he didn’t go down. Blindly, he groped for a chair.
“Gone?” my mother’s voice was thready, almost inaudible. “What do you mean?”
“She’s dead. Someone delivered her to my doorstep this morning, but I’d say it happened at least yesterday.” I didn’t add that I knew of preserving spells that could keep a corpse fresh as a lily for… a very long time. The human tale of Snow White had a sick basis in reality.
Lucia leaned back, closing her eyes. She had no color at all in her face except the pale rose of blush powder on her cheekbones. I knelt at my mother’s feet and took her hands in mine.
“I will find who did this, and why.”
Devon gasped a little. “I want to come with you.” He was crying, silently, the tears rolling from beautiful eyes that were so much like his mother’s had been.
I shook my head at him. “I need you here.” I wasn’t going to tell him that he’d be useless to me in this state. “I need you to look after your grandmother, and Bella.”
“Bella?” Lucia opened her eyes and looked at me, her worry plainly visible over the shock. She was not crying, and I didn’t expect to ever see her do so, not in public.
“Bella is not coming with me. Bella is expecting our children, and must be protected.”
Lucia nodded. She was still in shock, but that wouldn’t stop her. I had vague memories of her after my father’s death, moving around the vast mansion like a martinet, making sure everything was as it should be. It had been left to the weird Banshee to comfort me, the wee child who climbed into that fearsome creature’s lap and begged her not to wail so. I’d tried with all my toddler might to make that sad creature smile, and mother had been like ice while the Banshee coddled me that strange night.
Now, I needed that icy calm. I had to trust her with Bella, and our children, while I went out after those who would do my family harm. Margot’s death had been a warning, a message, and that was all I knew, so far. I didn’t know what the full text of that message was, and I had to find out, quickly, before the unseen enemy resorted to more such artistic media of passing a warning along.
Lucia drew herself up. I watched as she shoved her pain into some little mental box, and pushed it onto a shelf alongside the one labeled with my father’s name in some cobwebby part of her mind. It was an almost visible process, one I had used myself to keep going under great duress.
“She is at Court?” my mother asked about my wife, now.
“She was being watched by Melcar, but told me she would come home as soon as she could.”
Lucia nodded. “I will return here, then, but I must go to Elleria and make arrangments, inform the staff…” She took a deep breath.
“No banshee, mother. Not here.”
She looked at me oddly. I wondered if she knew about that night so long ago. Family tradition dictated that the death of a Mulvaney was always accompanied by the dree wailing of the Bane…
“Lom, there are no more banshee.”
I stood up, tucking that bit of information away. Why had she sounded as though I should know this?
“People will be arriving here soon. Devon…” I turned to him. He was leaning back in the deep armchair, tears drying on his cheeks. Now he opened his eyes and looked at me.
“Do I have to do anything? I don’t know what to do.” He looked and sounded much younger, suddenly, sliding backward from the young man he’d been only an hour before, to a child bereft.
“Come with me, and we’ll talk.”
He stood up, and followed me wordlessly. I knew him well enough to know that the best thing right now was to keep him busy, and not let him have time to brood on his loss. He followed me down the narrow steps to my armory, buried deep beneath the house, and stayed cautiously behind me as I unlocked the door. The layers of defenses on my private place were well known to be unpleasant, or if tried too far, lethal. Never mind that it had been decades since anything had tried hard enough to actually get themselves fried, all it took was one smoking goblin corpse to persuade certain factions to leave me the hell alone.
Devon had likely never tried any of the protections. He was a most obedient child, and one who had from an early age held me in some awe. I hadn’t dissuaded him of that, being the black sheep uncle held much attraction, and I didn’t need Margot killing me should Dev follow me into trouble. I swallowed at the memory of my sister’s temper and swung open the heavy door.
“You know how to use a pistol, I taught you that much.” I walked toward the workbench, seeing in my peripheral vision that he was rubbernecking at the shelves of weapons all around us. Good. He was going to be distractible from his grief.
“Yeah.” He stood and looked around while I took my time finding his weapon. I knew exactly what I was going to hand him, but I had to admit the armory was worth looking at. More than a century of trophies here, weaponry both mundane and magical. It wasn’t laid out fancy, very few people had ever been down here. But what had started as a handful of things had grown to be near enough kit for a small invading force.
I piled things on the bench. “Come here. Holster, semi-auto 9mm, ammo, more ammo, magazines…”
He was awkward with the shoulder rig I was giving him, and I made him put it on, take it off, and repeat until he was comfortable with that process. Only then did I hand him the pistol. He started to holster it, and I raised a finger.
Devon froze and looked at me. “What?”
“Did you check?”
“Oh… sorry.” He pulled it carefully and checked that it was unloaded and only then did I hand him a magazine, which was full.
“Look, I know I’m being a hardass.” He started to shake his head, and I stopped him. “Yeah, I am, you just lost your mother and I’m treating you like a green recruit. I have good reason. Whatever got your mother is likely to come after your grandmother, and possibly Bella.”
He gulped, and lost some of the color he’d regained in his face during my lesson. “That’s why I have a gun.”
“Yeah. And I hope you don’t have to use it. But this is Underhill, and guns are not common. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I know I’m considered uncouth for using them, that it’s a sign of weakness because I didn’t have a lot of magic.”
He considered that. I could see on his face that this was something either he’d heard, or had been told to his face. Most likely at some social function. Kids are cruel, and although Underhill handles education differently than Above, in human realms, they still act like little packs of wild animals given the chance.
I continued, “so I’m giving you a gun. And I’m telling you something your mother never wanted you to know. She was a spy, of sorts. Your grandmother was her spymistress, is King Trytion’s spymistress with more underlings than you or I will likely ever know about. That’s why she died.”