Night and Silence – Seanan McGuire

YOU CAN SAY WHAT you like about San Francisco, but one thing is eternally clear: it’s a city that could only have been built by human hands. The fae, faced with a landscape made almost entirely of hills and dells, with very little flat, arable land between natural obstacles, would have shrugged their shoulders, waved their hands, and either turned the entire thing into a range of beautiful crystalline spires, accessible only by twisting spiral stairways, or flattened it into a perfect pastoral meadow, ready to be planted with whatever their homesteader’s hearts desired. In other words, extremes. The fae like to traffic in absolutes, not this mucky, glorious middle ground. San Francisco is a city of hills and valleys, impossible slopes and ridiculous workarounds, with residential streets so narrow that trying to park becomes an eternal game of slow-motion chicken interspersed with wide tourist boulevards designed to present everything in the best possible light. It doesn’t help that so much of San Francisco burned down in 1906, allowing city planners to design half of the metro area according to a reasonable, sensible grid system, while the remaining slices of old San Francisco . weren’t. And still aren’t, and never will be, since the odds of the city burning down again are, thankfully, pretty slim. This does make San Francisco a challenging place to do my job, since the terrain is frequently working against me. My name is October Daye. I’m a knight errant in service to the Court of Shadowed Hills and, by extension, in service to the Kingdom in the Mists. Worse, I’m a named and recognized hero of the realm. All this is a fancy way of saying that when fae problems impinge on the mortal world, it’s on me to take care of them before they accidentally reveal the existence of Faerie to the mortal world.

We’ve been in hiding for a long time. “A flying hedgehog slammed into my front window” is not how we want to be discovered. Hence my evening. Quentin, Danny, and I had been running around a residential neighborhood for more than two hours, moving as quietly as we could in an effort not to wake the neighbors. They weren’t our neighbors, thankfully. If one of us did make too much noise and wake them up, we could make an excuse about a lost dog or something and run, secure in the knowledge that we’d never see them again. Humans are good at sleeping through ordinary night noises. Blame it on centuries of diurnal living. They tend to write off things that go bump in the night as overenthusiastic raccoons rummaging in their trash. The noises we were apt to make weren’t quite as ordinary, and humans are substantially less inclined to ignore pointy-eared strangers running around outside their kitchen windows. Especially when those strangers are waving butterfly nets over their heads like a bunch of weirdoes. To be fair, we are a bunch of weirdoes.

It’s just that we were a bunch of weirdoes on a mission, and I didn’t want that mission to involve yet another run-in with the local police. I think they’re getting tired of my face. I know I’ve long since gotten tired of theirs. And, really, waking the neighbors was less of a concern than what would happen if we were still outside when the sun came up and burned away all our illusions. That would be when we declared ourselves officially screwed. As if we weren’t screwed already. Because so much of San Francisco is built on impractically steep hills, many residential streets are connected by narrow alleys which serve as conduits for the stairways lain along the line of the hills. Some of the stairs are stone, some of the stairs are wood; all of the stairs are maintained by the local residents, and that means most of the stairs are death traps. No two steps are the same height, making them a constant tripping hazard, and half the wood stairways have at least one stair that’s been rotted through for a decade without anyone getting around to fixing it. In case that wasn’t bad enough, a damp wind had blown in from the Bay, and all the stairs were slippery.

The night had been an adventure, and I was not in an adventurous mood. Danny—our designated driver for the evening, and one of my staunchest, most indestructible allies —propped his butterfly net against his shoulder and frowned. “I’m just sayin’, maybe you’d feel better if you actually learned to open up about your feelings,” he said, voice deep and gravelly enough to have come from a concrete mixer instead of from a man. The impression wasn’t far off. Despite the illusion which made him look like a reasonably nonthreatening human man, Danny is and has always been very far from human. Like most Bridge Trolls, he stands easily seven feet tall, with skin the color and consistency of granite. He’s as difficult to injure as your average mountain, which is one of the many things that makes him such desirable backup when I’m called upon to do knight errantry in the local cities. I heal fast, but it’s easier on my wardrobe if I have something—or someone—I can duck behind to keep myself from being hurt in the first place. That’s a very healthy attitude on my part, especially considering how often my friends and allies accuse me of having a self-destructive streak. Unfortunately, those same friends and allies seemed to be too busy focusing on my latest set of problems to see how proactive and mature I was being.

I glowered at him. “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” “You didn’t want to talk about it in the car, either.” “Quentin was in the car.” Danny scowled down his nose at me. “He’s not a kid anymore. You know that better than anybody.” “Tell me about it,” I grumbled. My squire, Quentin Sollys, had been a dandelion-haired bundle of limbs, manners, and annoying points of etiquette when he’d initially forced his way into my life—and I do mean forced. I hadn’t been looking for a squire.

I hadn’t been looking for someone to take care of. I certainly hadn’t been looking for a teenage boy to eat all my groceries and complain when I was out of ice cream. I’d somehow managed to acquire all three of those things in one body, and it had turned out to be surprisingly wonderful and exactly what I’d needed. Until I’d learned he was the Crown Prince of the Westlands, aka, “all of North America.” That had been less wonderful, since suddenly it wasn’t just my squire I was shoving merrily into danger as a learning experience, it was the future of my entire continent. Not that the knowledge had stopped me for long. What’s a squire for, if not testing for traps? And he’d continued growing up the whole time, going from a kid whose biggest romance had been the hand-holding and kissing kind with a human girl from a local high school to full-on dating one of the local Counts. Trying to have the sex talk with my squire was not an experience I wanted to repeat. That meant never taking another squire, and honestly, I was fine with that if it meant sparing myself the squirming indignity. “So how about you actually talk for a change, and not go looking for excuses?” I pinched the bridge of my nose.

“You really think this is the time?” “I ain’t seeing a better one.” Danny shrugged like a landslide. “I also ain’t seeing any magical flying piggies, so I guess we can take a few minutes to talk about the elephant in the room.” “There are too many nonexistent animals in that sentence, Danny.” I dropped my hand. “We’re not looking for pigs, we’re looking for hedgehogs. Totally different.” Specifically, we were hunting for arkan sonney, a fae creature originally found in Avalon. They aren’t supposed to exist in the mortal world. They certainly aren’t supposed to infest upscale San Francisco neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, a changeling named Chelsea Ames lost control of her powers about two years ago, and “supposed to” no longer reliably applies. Chelsea’s father, Etienne, is Tuatha de Dannan, and she inherited his teleporting magic without inheriting his control, or the natural limitations that would have kept her from opening doors Oberon wanted closed. Chelsea’s lack of limitations might have been okay, had she not come to the attention of a local Duchess with an interest in expansion. Duchess Riordan had decided to use Chelsea to rip open doors to deeper Faerie, which Oberon had sealed for a thrice-damned reason. It wasn’t pretty, but in the end, Chelsea survived, Riordan got her just desserts, and we wound up with a minor monster problem. Because, see, open portals go both ways, and Chelsea hadn’t exactly been watching to make sure none of the local wildlife followed her through. Being fae creatures, some of our unwanted guests had proven incredibly adept at concealing themselves, and we only found out they were in the mortal world when they popped out and scared the locals. Danny snorted. “Pigs, hedgehogs, whatever. They have wings, they shouldn’t be here, and they’re not here, which means we have time to talk.

” “Danny, this isn’t—” “If he blames you, he needs to stop. And if he won’t stop, then maybe you need to think about whether he’s good for you. Or whether you’re good for him.” I froze. For a terrible moment, I wasn’t looking at Danny, my friend and ally. I was looking at Tybalt, my former enemy, current lover, and best friend, as he stepped into the shadows at the corner of my bedroom and disappeared, leaving me alone. The one thing he’d promised I was never going to be again. The scent of pennyroyal and musk hung in the air, taunting me with my inability to follow him. I blinked. The moment passed.

Danny reappeared, looking concerned, and I hated him, oh, how I hated him. Not for long. More than long enough. “No,” I said. “I’m sorry, but yeah,” said Danny. Being a hero of the realm means I’m constantly putting myself in the path of danger, like I want nothing more than to have my bones broken and the skin stripped from my body. Being a person means I’m never doing it alone. I have friends. I have allies. Not just Quentin and Danny, but others, like my Fetch-turned-sister, May, and her girlfriend, Jazz.

Like Tybalt, the King of Dreaming Cats. The man who’d hated me, helped me, fallen in love with me, and saved my life more times than I cared to count. The man who was supposed to marry me. The man who could barely even look at me anymore. Who hadn’t been able to look at me since my mother, Amandine the Liar, had decided to lock him in a cage and trap him in feline form until she was done with him. Tybalt didn’t blame me for my mother’s actions—I blamed me more than he did—but when he looked at me, he saw her, and it was breaking us both. “I don’t want to talk about this,” I said softly. “I know. But maybe you should.” “I don’t think that’s for you to decide.

” Danny sighed. “Toby, this isn’t healthy. You need—” Whatever he thought I needed was cut off by the sound of Quentin’s sudden, high-pitched yelp. I whipped around, scanning the shadows until I spotted the outline of my squire, half a block away and struggling to keep hold of his butterfly net. He’d managed to snare something the size of a small raccoon, and whatever it was, it looked like it was winning. “Later,” I snapped, casting a quick look back to Danny before I raised my own net and ran toward Quentin, ready to join the fray. The trouble with hunting creatures no one has seen in hundreds of years is that when figuring out how to capture or subdue them, we have to rely on the accounts of people who have long since forgotten what the beasts were actually like and have, instead, started remembering them through pleasantly rose-tinted nostalgia. According to the records in the Library of Stars, arkan sonney are sweet, playful creatures, like hedgehogs with wings longer than their bodies, capable of bestowing great fortune on people and places that please them. Supposedly, they’re also about as intelligent as the average sheep, and regularly had to be fished out of wells or freed from hunters’ traps back when they coexisted with the rest of Faerie. The thing Quentin had snared in his net bore about as much resemblance to something sweet and innocent and bumbling as I did to a eucalyptus tree.

For one thing, it was far too large, and the records hadn’t mentioned anything about arkan sonney being chalk white with blazing red eyes and enormous tusks. It looked less like an ordinary hedgehog than it did the result of some unholy hybridization of a porcupine and a wild pig, with the wings of a falcon stapled on for good measure. It thrashed. It squealed. It gnashed its terrible teeth at Quentin, who quailed but stood fast, refusing to let go of the net and allow the creature to escape. Brave boy. That was on him, although if I’d asked, he would have said it was all because of what he’d learned from me. Quentin had always been brave. He’d just needed someone to let him show it. The sound of my approach caught his attention.

He shot me a grateful glance, still struggling to keep hold of the net. Our location meant we couldn’t shout the way we normally would have, and Tybalt’s absence meant we didn’t have a major part of our backup. We’d grown shamefully accustomed to having someone who could step through the shadows in the field with us. I am nothing if not a skilled improvisor. I glanced frantically around. A trash can rested on a nearby curb, set out for the garbage collectors. Saying a silent apology to the sleeping homeowners, I grabbed it, dumped its contents out, and hoisted it over my head as I ran toward Quentin. Realizing my intent, he let go of the net right before I slammed the trash can down over the shrieking pig-thing. Silence reigned. I looked up, meeting Quentin’s wide, startled eyes.

“That’s one,” I said. His shoulders sagged. “Her Majesty said there were at least three.” “Her name is Arden,” I said. “She’s not here. You don’t have to use her title.” Quentin actually smirked at that, although the expression wasn’t enough to drive the weariness and worry from his eyes. “Can I be there when you tell her that?” he asked. “Better yet, can I be there when you tell my father that?” I grimaced. Arden is the daughter of the last legitimate King in the Mists, Gilad Windermere, and as such, has been a princess all her life.

The throne was always going to be waiting for her, no matter what else she chose to do . or what else was done to her. Thanks to the machinations of Evening Winterrose—once my supposed friend and ally, always secretly my enemy, Firstborn daughter of Oberon and Titania, and stone-cold bitch—Arden had been in hiding for most of her life and had only recently been able to claim her father’s throne. We were all still getting used to the idea that we had a queen who wasn’t regularly going to try to have me arrested or banished from the Mists. There are nights when I feel like my life should come with some sort of flowchart, and then there are the nights when I feel like even that would be too confusing to understand. The arkan sonney in the trash can made a sad whining noise, somewhere between a pig’s squeal and a songbird’s hum. “I’m not calling your father anything that implies overt familiarity,” I said. “The last thing I need right now is for him to make another stab at taking you away from me.” Quentin cast a quick, uneasy look at Danny, who was scanning the nearby bushes for signs of another arkan sonney. My squire’s status as Crown Prince is supposed to be a secret, and while more people know about it than is probably ideal—his fosterage was meant to be completely blind, keeping the rest of us from knowing his family—we’re still not advertising it.

Fortunately, Danny didn’t seem to have noticed. That, or Danny was politely pretending he had no idea he was standing only feet away from a fairy tale cliché. Either one was fine by me. “Hey, Quentin, tell your knight she needs to talk to her boyfriend,” said Danny. I groaned. Audibly groaned, drowning out the sorrowful whine of the arkan sonney. “I said I didn’t want to talk about this.” “See, if there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure since you called my cab and pulled me into your weird world of monsters an’ shit, it’s that you never want to talk about anything that seems like it might be hard.” Danny sounded perfectly matter-of-fact, like this was something I should already have realized for myself. “You’re a Troll, Danny,” I said flatly.

“You’ve always lived in a weird world of monsters and shit.” “Yeah, but before you, they were always paying customers.” Danny drives a taxi. I’m pretty sure he has a medallion, since he spends about half his time ferrying mortal customers around the city, and San Francisco has strong opinions about independent contractors taking money away from people who’ve actually paid for the privilege of letting strangers into their cars. At some point a very long time ago I did a favor for his sister. As a consequence, he’s sworn to help me with whatever I need, forever. I try not to take advantage. It’s bad form to abuse the kindness of your friends. But wow, are there times I wish I paid to ride in his taxi, just so he couldn’t say that kind of thing. Lacking the moral high ground, I scowled at him.

Then Quentin spoke. “I think Danny’s right,” he said, voice small and worried. “Not about this being a good time to talk about this sort of thing—I think that part is sort of stupid and maybe we shouldn’t be doing this—but talking at all needs to happen, and it’s not. Happening, I mean.” He paused before he added reluctantly, “Raj is really worried, and so am I.” Raj is Tybalt’s nephew, and one of Quentin’s best friends. Raj is also the Prince of Dreaming Cats. With Tybalt not fully capable of performing his duties, Raj was being called upon to spend more and more time in the Court, covering for the fact that his uncle wasn’t taking care of everything he was supposed to handle. It was a mess. It was a big, convoluted, complicated mess, and I didn’t know how to deal with it, and I wanted it all to go away.

I wanted everything to be back the way it was supposed to be. I wanted to get out of bed one afternoon and find Tybalt in the kitchen, eating toast and arguing with May about the right way to poach an egg. I wanted my life back. I had no idea how to make that happen. Because, see, once upon a time there was a girl named October, and her mother was a princess out of a fairy tale. Only that turned out to be a little more literal than I could ever have dreamed: my mother, Amandine, is the youngest daughter of Oberon, which makes her Firstborn among the fae, terrible and powerful in ways the rest of us can never fully understand. She raised me to believe I was Daoine Sidhe, like Quentin, when the truth is, I’m Dóchas Sidhe, the second one ever born, and no one, not even her, can say exactly what my magic is capable of. That’s the first big problem. The second big problem came when she forced her way into my house and took Tybalt and Jazz— May’s live-in girlfriend—as hostages against my good behavior. She had wanted me to find her first daughter, my older sister, August.

She had informed me, in no uncertain terms, that unless I could bring August home, I’d never see my loved ones again. “Home.” That’s a funny word, especially given the way Amandine had invaded mine and what she was trying to do. The children of Faerie take many forms. There are the ones like me or May, who can almost pass for human in the right light; for us, fitting into the mortal world is a comparatively simple thing, especially when compared to what someone like Danny has to go through. No matter how many illusions he spins to change the color of his skin and the composition of his features, he’ll always weigh more than the average car, and no matter how short he makes himself appear to human eyes, low ceilings will always be his bane. Then there are the people like Tybalt, and Raj, and Jazz. Shapeshifters, skin-changers, equally at home in fur, or feathers, and skin. When Tybalt is in his humanoid form, he looks a lot like a Daoine Sidhe, if you’re willing to overlook his vertical cat-slit pupils and the black stripes in his brown hair. When Jazz sheds her cloak of feathers, she looks like any beautiful human woman, assuming you overlook her bird-bright eyes.

Neither shape is their “natural” one: they’re meant to switch back and forth at will, transforming to suit their whims. That’s how it used to be. That’s how it was supposed to be. But Mom forced them both into their animal forms and locked them there, denying them the freedom to choose. Shapeshifters locked too long in one shape can start to lose themselves, forgetting who and what they’re really meant to be. I’d located August as quickly as I could, fear and anger driving me to do in a matter of days what Mom and all her power had failed to do for more than a century . and it hadn’t been enough. By the time I regained what she had taken, both Tybalt and Jazz had gotten stuck in their animal forms. Freeing Jazz had been difficult but doable. Freeing Tybalt had been .

harder. His magic was stronger than hers, and when faced with what it viewed as another attack, it had resisted. I’d been able to do it—it turns out one of the strengths of the Dóchas Sidhe is a certain understanding of how magic can be unraveled—but it had come with consequences. Tybalt is one of the strongest, canniest men I’ve ever known. I would trust him with my life. I have trusted him with my life, over and over again, until falling in love with him had seemed like the most sensible thing in the world, until agreeing to marry him had been the only right and reasonable thing to do. And since I’d recovered him from my mother, he had been sinking deeper and deeper into his own fear, unable to break himself free, unwilling to let me help. That stung. It would have stung more if he’d been willing to reach out to anyone else, but he hadn’t been willing thus far to even admit there was a problem. Tybalt was drowning, and every time one of us tried to throw him a rope, he batted it away like we intended to strangle him with it.

So far as I was aware, he hadn’t changed forms once since I’d brought him home. He was a shapeshifter living in a single skin, and it was slowly but surely destroying him. Quentin and Danny were right to be worried. I was worried, too. I was terrified. But I couldn’t see a way to fix it. Not when Tybalt left every time I tried to start the conversation, until we had reached the point where he wasn’t coming to see me at all. How do you tell your fiancé “I think you’re killing yourself” when they’re not willing to slow down long enough to listen? Given how often he’d accused me of having a death wish, it was hard not to see the irony there. The arkan sonney whined again, louder. An answering whine echoed from a nearby bush.

I straightened, pointing with one hand while gesturing to Danny with the other. He nodded, creeping toward the sound with all the stealth of a man big enough to punch through walls. I leaned forward and shook the trash can, making our captive’s cries even louder. The second arkan sonney burst into the open, wings spread in fury, ready to fight for the safety of its companion. Danny dropped his net, leaned down, and grabbed it with both hands, pinning its wings to its sides in the process. The arkan sonney squealed, kicking at him with its hooves and slapping him with its tail. Quills broke against his stony skin, unable to puncture it. Danny grinned. “Aw, they’re adorable,” he said. “Think I can keep ’em?” “The Barghests may not like that, but as far as I’m concerned, sure,” I said, scanning the bushes.

There was a third one around here somewhere. My head felt strangely light, as if a weight had been lifted when we’d been forced to let the subject of Tybalt drop. I shouldn’t feel that way about the man I’m going to marry. I knew that, and it hurt just knowing that it was even possible for me to be grateful for the subject change. If he would only let me help . “Danny, shake the pig,” I said. “Thought you said they weren’t pigs.” “Danny, shake the thing that isn’t a damn pig. I want to get out of here.” Danny heaved a long-suffering sigh and shook the arkan sonney.

It squealed fury and indignation, and the third member of their little herd—pack? What the hell was I supposed to call a group of winged hedgehog-pig-monsters from the depths of Faerie?—charged into the open. This one was bigger than the others, with quills as red as its eyes. Crimson streaks blazed across the brown feathers of its wings. It didn’t take a genius to guess that this was the male, and that we had captured both of its mates. It looked around, eyes blazing, and squealed a furious challenge before charging straight at Quentin. He stood his ground. Once the arkan sonney was close enough to pose a serious danger, I shouted, “Now!” Quentin lifted the edge of the trash can, revealing the cowering arkan sonney inside. The male rushed in, still squealing. Quentin dropped the trash can back over both of them. I threw myself against the other side, holding it down.

“Danny, a little help here?” I demanded. Danny rolled his eyes. “See, when I want to have a serious conversation about feelings, you say it’s not the time, but when you want me to wrestle pig-monsters—” “Please?” With a huff, Danny carried his captive arkan sonney over to me. I let go of the trash can and grabbed the discarded lid. He gave me a nod. As if we had practiced it, Quentin lifted the can again, Danny flung the third arkan sonney at the other two, and I swept the lid into place, sealing the three intruders safely inside. They whined and squealed, kicking at the metal. Their hooves left dents. All right, maybe not safely inside, but at least we had them all— “Um, Toby?” I turned toward the sound of Quentin’s voice, and groaned at the sight of six puffball monster piglets creeping out from under a hedge, their flightless wings drooping and their snouts to the ground. Danny laughed.

“Oh, man, that’s great!” “We’re going to need a bigger carrier,” I said dolefully. The people who lived in this house were never going to know where their trash can had gone. Maybe that was for the best. There are some things that should never be explained. Fairy pigs in hand, we faded back into the San Francisco night, and left the uncomfortable conversations, however temporarily, behind.

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