Radiant Shadows – Melissa Marr

Devlin stood immobile as the spectral girl approached. The plume of her hat and the dark ringlets that framed her face were motionless, despite the breeze that swept over the field. The air did not touch her; consequently, he was unsure if he could. “I seem to be dreaming or, mayhaps, lost,” she murmured. “Indeed.” “I was resting over”—she gestured behind her, frowned, and gave him a shaky smile—“in the cave that seems to have vanished. Am I still resting?” The girl presented Devlin with a dilemma. All those uninvited to Faerie were to be brought before the High Queen—or dispatched if he deemed them threats. His function was to assure order, to do what best served the good of Faerie. “In a cave?” he prompted. “My guardian and I had a quarrel.” She shivered and folded her arms over her chest. The dress she wore was not this season’s fashionable attire, but it wasn’t horribly outdated. When he didn’t reply, she added, “You look like a gentleman. I don’t suppose your manor is near here? Your mother or sisters? Not that my aunt expects me to make much of a match, but she would be… displeased if I were to be found unchaperoned in the company of a gentleman.

” “I am not a gentleman.” She blanched. “And meeting my mother-sisters is not something I’d wish on the innocent,” he added. “You should turn back. Call this a bad dream. Go away from here.” The girl looked around at the field; her gaze took in the landscape of Faerie—the spider-silk hammocks that hung in the trees, the pink-and-gold-tinted sky that the queen had fashioned for the day —and then settled on him. Devlin did not move as she observed him. She did not falter at the sight of his opalescent hair or inhuman eyes; she did not flinch at his angular features or otherworldly stillness. He wasn’t sure what reaction he expected: he’d never been viewed as he truly was by a mortal.

Over in their world, he wore a glamour to appear like them. Here, he was known for what he was, the Queen’s Bloodied Hands. The girl’s assessment was a singular event. Her cheeks became pink as she boldly stared at him. “You certainly look like a kind man.” “I am not.” He stepped toward her. “I exist to keep order for the queen of Faerie. I am neither kind nor a man.” The girl fainted.

Devlin leaped forward to catch her and knelt on the ground, arms empty—as her form settled inside of his skin. He couldn’t hold the insubstantial, but she apparently could take residence in his body as if it were her own. Her voice was in his head. Sir? He couldn’t move: his body wasn’t his to control. He was still inside of himself, but he was not animating his body. The girl’s spectral form had filled his skin as if it were her own body. Can you move? he asked. Of course! She sat up and, in doing so, left his body. He swallowed against the burst of peculiar emotions coursing through him. He felt free and excited and a number of the things that were unlike the restraint of the High Court—and he liked it.

She lifted a hand as if to touch him, but it passed through him. “I’m not dreaming, am I?” “No.” He felt unexpectedly protective of her, this foundling mortal. “What is your name?” “Katherine Rae O’Flaherty,” she whispered. “If I am awake now, that means you are an ethereal creature.” “An ethere—” “I have three wishes!” She clapped her hands and widened her eyes. “Oh, what do I wish for? True love? Eternal life? Certainly, nothing frivolous like gowns! Oh, perhaps I just want to save my wishes!” “Wishes?” “You cannot force me to make my wishes now.” She squared her shoulders and looked at him. “I’ve read texts. I know there is dispute over the goodness of your kind, but I do not believe for a moment that you could be other than kind.

Why, just look at you!” Devlin frowned. He did not idle away his time with foolishness; he did only that which his queen required. Except for those stolen moments of pleasure in the mortal world. His queen knew of his indulgences, looked the other way even. What harm an indulgence here? She was a specter of a mortal girl, no threat to the queen of Faerie. Sheltering her violates no order. He tried to smile at the girl. “Katherine Rae O’Flaherty, if you’re going to stay in our world, the term you will want is sidhe, faery, or fey.” “I will use those… since I am staying.” She scrambled to her feet.

“I have read Reverend Kirk, in fact. My uncle’s library has quite a few books of your people. I have read Mr. Lang’s fairy tales as well. The sweet—” “Books are not the same as reality.” Devlin stared at her. “My world is not always kind to mortals.” The look in her eyes was no longer guileless. “Nor is the mortal world.” “Indeed.

” He looked at her with a pleasant burst of curiosity. She stepped closer. “If I return to my body, would I still be alive? If I return there, how long will have passed?” “Time passes differently, and I’ve no idea how long you’ve wandered. If you stay, you might die as well. The High Queen does not allow uninvited guests in Faerie.” Devlin tried his gentlest smile, one he’d not had much use for in his life. “If she learns of your presence—” “Do I get my three wishes?” Katherine Rae interrupted. “You may.” It wasn’t traditional to grant wishes, but he found himself wanting to please her. She tilted her chin.

“Then, my first wish is that you keep me safe from harm… what is your name?” Devlin bowed. “I am Devlin, brother and advisor to the High Queen, assassin, and keeper of order.” “Oh.” She swayed as if she might faint again. “And now, protector of Katherine Rae O’Flaherty,” he quickly added. He’d never had anyone in his life who was truly his, never had a friend or confidante, never had a lover or partner. He wasn’t entirely sure he could have any of those. His first duty was to his queen, his court, to Faerie itself. He had been created to serve, and it was his honor to do so. It was also very lonely.

He glanced at Katherine Rae. She had no body, no power, no allegiances. What harm can taking in a spectral girl do? L ATE 1900s When Devlin entered the banquet hall, the room was empty— save for the queen herself. In the center of the hall, out of place among the stone pillars and woven tapestries, a waterfall splashed down. The spray formed misty shapes in the air, and then the water washed away and vanished into one of the far walls. The High Queen stared at the falling water, at the threads of possibility she saw there. The filament-fine images of what could be weren’t certainties, but Sorcha kept order by monitoring potential futures. She’d realign them if the disorder was within the boundaries of Faerie, but if the aberration was in the mortal world, she’d dispatch him to correct it. He approached the dais upon which her throne sat. For all of eternity, he had served as her Bloodied Hands.

He was made for violence, but he served the court of order. Without taking her gaze from the water, she stood and extended a hand, knowing he would be where she reached. None other has been in her trust for all of eternity. That didn’t mean she should trust him, though. Devlin released her hand, and she crossed the room. He followed. “Look at them.” Sorcha gestured toward the air, bringing a woman’s image into focus. The mortal was pretty: a heart-shaped face, light brown hair, and olive-green eyes. In the room with her were two small children, one of whom tackled the other.

They giggled as they rolled around on the floor together. “The youngest whelp is a problem.” The High Queen paused, her features softening into what looked like longing. Then her expression stilled as the image dissolved into mist, and the temperature plummeted. “It needs to be remedied.” “Shall I retrieve it?” Devlin washed his hands in the now-frigid water that ran through his mothersister-queen’s hall. He’d collected squalling infants and silent artists; he’d brought musicians and madmen to his queen at her command. Retrieving mortals or halflings was common—but not as pleasurable as some tasks. “No.” She glanced at him for a long moment.

“This one should not enter Faerie. Ever.” Sorcha stepped forward so the edge of her skirts touched the water. Her ever-bare feet were exposed in the icy water, and for a brief second, he saw her as she was: a candle with a dim flame surrounded by the darkness of chaos. Her flame- toned hair shifted in a breeze that only existed because she willed it. Around her, the room changed from a chilly hall to a fecund jungle to a desert and back again to the hall, reflecting her briefest thought—as all things in Faerie did. She was their source, his creator. She was order and life. Without Sorcha’s will, only she and her antithesis, her twin Bananach, would exist. “What would you have of me?” he asked.

Sorcha didn’t look at him. “Sometimes death is required to keep order.” “The child?” “Yes.” Her voice was emotionless even as she ordered the death of a child. She was reason personified, sure of her place, certain of her righteousness. “It is born of the Dark Court, daughter of the Wild Hunt, of Gabriel himself. It will cause unacceptable complications if it lives.” She stepped farther into the water. The waterfall paused mid-flow, so her words were the only sound in the suddenly silent room. “Correct this, Brother.

” He bowed, but she didn’t turn her gaze from the suspended flow of water, didn’t turn her attention to him as he left. She knew, though, where he was. The water crashed down louder than before as he exited the hall. She knows even when she does not look. Devlin wondered sometimes just how much of his life Sorcha did see. He lived for her, at her will, and by her side. But I am not solely hers. She never forgot that truth. Out of earth and magic, will and need, the twins—Sorcha and Bananach—had made him, the first male faery. They’d needed both male and female to exist within their world, a balance in that, as in all things, was required.

Not son, but brother, she had told him. Like me, you are parentless. Order and Discord made him as if carved of stone, a sculpture crafted by two who would never work together again. They gave him too many angular features and too many softened spots: his lips were too-full and his eyes too-cold. He was their best traits compromised. Where Bananach had hair of the purest black and Sorcha had multitoned hair of living flame, his was opalescent white: all colors shifting in and out of existence. They gave him purest-black eyes and strength not unlike Bananach’s, but none of her madness. They gave him tall stature and Sorcha’s love of art, but none of her physical restraint. Together, they’d made him a thing of extreme cruelty and extreme beauty. And then they’d fought over his loyalty

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