They say the first year of marriage was the hardest. If the blade to my new husband’s throat was any indication, they—whoever they were—would be right.
But this wasn’t my husband—not really.
Sure, this was Alistair’s body, and sure, he was probably hidden somewhere, crouched low in the recesses of his own mind, but the man looking through Alistair’s eyes, and wearing Alistair’s skin was not my husband. He was some kind of dark Fae, and he’d taken over.
“What have you done with him? Where is he?” I’d meant it to come out as commanding, but I didn’t quite hit the mark. I was a frantic mess at best, and the monster wearing my husband’s skin knew it.
This was what I got for coming to Faerie. Literally every single person with any lick of sense said demons could get possessed here. They said it was too risky. They said Alistair was in danger by following me to this place.
Did I listen?
Of course not. I smiled, nodded, and did whatever the fuck I wanted to anyway, and look where we were. Look at what happened to the man I loved.
I should have known something was off the moment I saw Alistair fall in the gorge. We’d been trying to keep the Unseelie Fae back. We were trying to stop Verena and whatever cracked plot she was trying to carry out. I’d thought we’d succeeded. Peering into the strikingly blue eyes of Alistair’s hijacked face, I’d say we missed one.
I saw the lie cross his face before he opened his mouth. No. Not today, buddy.
“Think very carefully about what you say next.” I could practically feel my molars cracking from how hard I was clenching my jaw, and if my blade happened to nick his neck, well, it was just a sign that I meant business.
And yeah, this was far too close to home for me. Not just that it was Alistair—not that it was the man I loved being used in such a fashion. No, this was Maria all over again. This was everything I’d buried bubbling up to the surface.
And if Alistair’s face wavered a little due to some unshed tears, well, I’d say I’d earned them.
Not-Alistair took that moment to pounce, bringing the sword from his scabbard up and knocking my blade away from his neck.
I scrambled back a step, before our swords clashed—or rather my athame went from dagger-sized to short-sword sized after I pressed the rune on the handle, and I attacked. My fencing skills were weak at best, but no-rules swordplay? Aidan had once said I was a natural.
Still, this guy was parrying every single strike like he was humoring me rather than fighting for his life.
“I am not your enemy,” Not-Alistair’s mouth said, but his voice was no longer my husband’s. It had a burr of something else I couldn’t place. A smokiness that had never been there before—not even when he’d been phased.
“Really? You got a funny way of showing it.” My frustration bubbled up inside my chest as I slashed and parried. I couldn’t say why I didn’t want to use the power that roiled beneath my skin, but I didn’t.
I could kill him. I could hurt him. But I didn’t want to because of the face he wore. It was a weakness I knew I had, but I didn’t have the luxury of time to analyze it.
“I didn’t want to take over this body,” he grunted, staving off the edge of my blade with a bit less finesse than before. “It was the only way I could talk to you. I tried in the valley. But you couldn’t understand me. I helped you, remember? I am on your side.”
I had a tough time remembering the battle. Everything from the last twenty-four hours was a blur of one shitshow after another.
“I tossed Verena into a cliff face like she was—what do humans call it? A frisbee?” he offered, not unkindly.
That rang a bell. A huge monster of a Fae had taken Verena out for us, and then helped us fight the rest of the zombie-looking Fae back to the door. “Smoke guy?”
All the while, our blades were spinning as we slashed and parried and stabbed at one another—or rather I did the stabbing and slashing, and Not-Alistair, AKA, Smoke Guy parried and danced around me. Granted, I was wearing him down, but he still hadn’t had so much as another nick from my steel. Or whatever the hell these blades were made of.
“Niall, little goddess. My name is Niall.”
I found I liked the use of the goddess title no better than “highness” or “majesty” and growled at him. “I don’t care who you are. Give me back my husband. Now.”
If he even could. I couldn’t get Maria back. Who was to say I could get Alistair? Who was to say that this would be how everyone left me? My nose began to sting, and his face wobbled and distorted.
“I will. I have no intention of staying in this body. I will return him to you alive, intact, and unharmed. I promise. I just need your help.”
For some reason, even though his words made sense and his tone was kind, I brought my sword down harder, my slashes sped up, my jabs grew sharper. He was lying. Alistair had been taken away from me just like she had.
“I don’t believe you.” With that, I shoved at him with my mind, causing his body to fly back into the wall as my blade kissed his throat.
I didn’t even hear the footsteps behind me before my mother started speaking. “You know, I’m all for setting my husband’s head on fire, but I’ve never actually tried cutting it off. You think that would work, or is that just a good way to become a widow?”
I couldn’t help it, I snorted, a sharp bark of laughter bubbling up my throat. Still, I didn’t move my gaze even a millimeter from Alistair’s stolen ones.
“This isn’t Alistair.” Yes, I knew I probably looked like I’d cracked. Here I was holding a sword to my husband’s throat insisting that he wasn’t my husband.
Like a crazy person.
Which totally explained why Teresa was shifting her weight from foot to foot as she tried to decide what to do next. “It’s his body, but it’s not him. Remember how everyone said demons could be infected by Fae? Meet Niall, Mom.”
The heat of fire blooming in my mother’s hand swept over me, and I relaxed just a smidgen. She didn’t think I was crazy.
“Like I told your daughter, I need your help. This was the only way I could speak to you. Please. I don’t want to quarrel with you or yours, and I will give this body back unharmed. Just listen to me. Please. The fate of Faerie depends on it.”
It didn’t matter how much I wanted to believe him, I didn’t know if I could. I didn’t know if I could trust Niall.
“Go on,” my mother prompted. “If you say the fate of Faerie depends on you delivering a message, give it to us and then return Alistair.”
Niall’s lips—so different than any expression Alistair had ever shown me—twisted in indignation. “You won’t listen. You won’t do what I need you to. My only leverage is this body. Faerie and all Fae will die if you don’t. I can’t risk it.” He shook his head like he was coming to a decision. “I will not leave this body until the task is done.”
“Sure. I’ll just drop everything and let an Unseelie Fae lead me on an epic quest. Who the fuck do you think you are? Give him back to me, or so help me, I’ll kill him to save him from you.”
Niall shook his head, his pitying expression pissing me the fuck off. “No, you won’t. You love this man too much. It is a harsh thing I do, Little Goddess, but it is what I must. I pray you might forgive me one day, doing this horrible thing to you. But maybe not. Stealing him away—even for such a short time—is cruel, I know. I do not wish to do it. But there are many things I have done in service to your family that I had never wished for. Still, these things must be done.”
None of this smelled like a lie. It didn’t mean any of it made sense or was the truth, either. The Fae were a tricky lot, and they could lie without trying. Still.
I couldn’t help asking a question that had been on my mind throughout all of this. “Is he okay? Is he hurt?”
“No, child. He is safe. Right brassed off at me for stealing his body, but he is safe inside his mind.”
I couldn’t say why that gave me a bit of relief, but it did. “So he can see me? Hear me?”
Niall nodded before pinching my blade between his thumb and pointer finger and gently pushing it back. He did this with enough power that I knew there was no way I could have bested him in a sword fight—or any other fight for that matter.
“I am not here to hurt you. I am not here to injure you or yours in any way. Please listen. Please. We don’t have much time.”
“Tell me what he’s saying to you,” I ordered. “Tell me what he’s saying, and I’ll listen. I’ll believe you that he’s okay in there. I’ll let you speak.”
Niall considered me for a second before his eyes went unfocused. He looked like he was listening to a far-off voice. “To the ends of the earth and far beyond. Vaster than Heaven or Hell or any of the worlds in between.”
I couldn’t help it, I started crying in earnest, relief making me wilt to the stone floor. Those were the words Alistair had said when he told me he loved me. He was in there. He was.
When I’d gotten myself marginally under control, I touched the rune on my athame, collapsing the blade into a dagger and sheathed it.
“I’ll listen. I can’t promise to do what you need, but I will listen.”
Niall considered me, a faint trace of approval in his half-smile. “I appreciate a goddess who doesn’t make promises she doesn’t think she can keep. You remind me of your father.”
“Lying pisses me off. What can I say?” I shrugged before indelicately wiping my eyes and nose. “You knew Dušan?”
“No, child. I know Dušan. And we need him back before this world and everyone made from it collapses into nothing.”
I couldn’t help the half-crazed bark of laughter that bubbled up from my throat. I sounded like I needed a straitjacket STAT. “Well, that’s tough shit, Niall. Dušan is dead. Has been for about four hundred years.”
I kept giggling as I turned to my mother. “I guess we’re fucked then, huh?”
I personally felt I had every right to crack. I mean, hadn’t I stopped one Apocalypse after the other? Hadn’t I lost enough? Sure. Let’s add in an entire realm of people and my life while we were at it. Absolutely. That would be the cherry on top.
So, there I was—giggling like a loon as I sat splayed on the floor of a Faerie castle that I was now the apparent Queen of, and my husband was possessed by a dark Fae.
Someone just shoot me now.
Niall crouched at my feet, concern etched in Alistair’s face. “I don’t know where you heard Dušan was dead, but I can assure you, he is not. For one, we’re all alive. If he were dead, this realm would have collapsed in on itself. Secondly, I have no idea where you got the idea that gods were so easily killed, but one little changeling who is more human than anything else does not have the power to murder a god—especially not the father of all gods.”
I supposed Niall could be right. Dušan was in a little pocket of existence he’d made for himself, so I assumed it was possible that he could be alive. How I thought I could possibly convince a god older than time that he was wrong was anyone’s guess.
“Again, child, we don’t have time. If we do not get Dušan back before the Blood Moon rises, this realm will be lost.”
I snorted, rolling my eyes. Blood Moon. How fucking cliché. “Fine. How much time do we have until this Blood Moon?”
Yeah, I started giggling again, but could anyone blame me? I had three days to get my birth father back from the brink of existence.
Piece of cake.