Serving the Fae – Leia Stone

It had been two weeks since Liam left me. The town was still reeling from the knowledge that Halflings existed. Of course, some of the older fae had known, but I was sure they’d thought it wasn’t an issue anymore. If only they knew the half of it… Now that I had admitted to the village that I was seeking the Tree of Life crystals and intended to restore Faerie, there was a reverence in the way people spoke to me. They were soft, serious, and respectful. It was way beyond weird. They treated me like they used to treat my mom, as someone highly important. I still wasn’t used to it. I’d spoken to Indra all of two times since I’d revealed things. We were walking on eggshells in our relationship. She’d had to call a village meeting and explain nearly everything to our people. All but the sleeping queen, whom I’d agreed to keep a secret. I wanted to protect her. People were angry with the Elders for keeping our dark past hidden from them, but some of them understood and wished that I’d never said anything. It was a tough time in Faerie, and the energy had changed from one of joy and innocence to something more serious and fearful.

I felt bad for being the harbinger of that change, but I felt it was better than lies. Faerie had been quiet lately—no earthquakes or issues since I’d placed the eighth crystal—but nonetheless, Elle and I were relentless in our search. Every day around noon, I went to New York City, to the Seeker stone, and searched for any leads. Every time, it gave me the same information. One crystal. In Seattle. That was Liam. I didn’t want that crystal; I didn’t want to see him or even think of him right now. Denial and repression of the memory of him leaving me heartbroken in front of my entire fucking town were so much easier than dealing with the heart-wrenching emotions that wanted to surface. I was just leaving my house to head to Elle’s before our daily New York City trip when I opened the door to find Indra on my doorstep.

Hand raised to knock, she startled when I jerked the door back. “Oh. Hey.” I stepped back a pace so I wouldn’t run into her. Indra and I had become frenemies. We needed each other, but I didn’t trust her, and I knew she didn’t approve of what I’d done or who I associated with. “Hello, Lily. Can we speak privately?” She clasped her hands before her. I nodded, opening my door wider so she could come in. It was then that I saw the familiar paper in her hands.

I braced myself for the fight that would no doubt come. “The council and I have received your application,” she said. I’d asked for a special section of Faerie to be given to the Sons of Darkness upon my return of all twelve crystals to the Tree of Life. It seemed the decent thing to do, considering the fact that taking all the crystals from Earth would kill them. Indra handed the paper to me, and I saw one word scrawled in bright red along the top: DENIED. Anger flared inside of me. “Why? How do you see this ending if we don’t offer them a place at our side?” Indra’s lip curled. “Your aunt tried this, remember? She invited them all here, and look what happened. They stole everything, they murdered a billion of our brethren. How can you be so stupid?” “Forgiving,” I mumbled.

“Excuse me?” “I’m not stupid. I’m forgiving. In the past, they brought their human wives here, and the humans died. That’s why they stole the crystals and left.” I crumbled the paper and chucked it on the floor. “This is different. We won’t let the humans come this time, and the Halflings can come and go as they please to be reenergized, then go back to Earth to visit their mothers or whatever human friends and family they have.” “No!” Indra roared, her orange hair shaking about her shoulders. I despised her more and more by the second. She didn’t have her eye on what was best for everyone in the future.

She only wanted Faerie to be restored at all costs. “And why not?” “Because you are not queen; you do not make policy. The Elders and I have considered your request, and it is denied. Do not ask again.” With that, she turned on her heel and left me fuming. I paced the carpet, not wanting to leave for Elle’s and be stuck walking behind Indra. How had my mother worked with her for twenty years? She had never complained about the Elders. Ever. She’d complained that her work was hard and that she was tired or stressed or worried, but I’d had no idea what she was dealing with. It brought me back to her deathbed and to some of the things she had said that had seemed weird to me.

Hadn’t she told me I couldn’t trust everyone? Did that include the very Elders with whom she’d worked so closely? Trissa? I wasn’t sure what she’d meant by all that. I felt confused and scared just thinking that I couldn’t trust the people I’d grown up with and looked up to. The only person she’d told me I could trust was Mara, so I was going with that. Mara and Elle were my family. I trusted Trissa, too, but found myself second-guessing everything these days. How were we supposed to live life here in Faerie once I helped awaken the queen and restore it, while the Halflings outside died off? That wasn’t right— we’d be just as bad as they were. I couldn’t bear the thought of ever bringing harm to Liam. Even though I was insanely mad at him right now, I couldn’t let him wither away and die, but I was stuck at the mercy of the Elders…for now. A knock on my door jarred me from my thoughts. Please don’t be Indra.

Crossing the space, I opened the door to reveal my bestie, armed to the teeth and ready to stab something. Elle frowned. “I thought you were coming over.” I sighed, then filled her in on the Indra drama as we walked. I’d told her about the sleeping queen last week, and she had been shocked but excited, as it meant we actually had a chance to restore Faerie. “Why did you put in a formal request?” Elle asked. We were at the river’s edge now, almost to the blue door that cut into the rock wall. I snorted. “What else would I do?” My bestie rolled her eyes, her brown hair shaking as she did. “Tell them to go fuck themselves and that you won’t find another goddamned crystal for them until they agree to your terms.

” I grinned. “I’ll save that demand for right before I get the final crystal. I’m pretty sure telling Indra to go fuck herself now would get me thrown in the cages.” In between the village and the farmlands, there was a copse of trees with cages made of sticks hanging from their branches. They were rarely used, and only for a short time, but they were effective in teaching a fae not to break the rules. Elle shook her head. “You don’t get it yet. They need you. Like, more than anything. You are the most important fae we have right now.

” I squirmed. “Well, then, I might as well demand a bigger house, too.” Elle grinned. “Now we’re talking.” With a smile, I opened the blue door and stepped into Mara’s office. The desk had been repaired after the last earthquake, and her office was back to normal. Two chairs with five-point harnesses sat on the left far wall, but the redheaded fae was nowhere to be seen. “Mara!” we shouted, just as the enslaved fae peeked her head in through the doorframe. “Hey, girls. Let me guess, New York City?” I grinned, nodding.

She held up a golden-cuffed hand. “All right, let me take these brownies out of the oven. I don’t want them to burn.” She scurried away, and Bashur trotted into the room, licking our hands and smelling our shoes. Ever since Jasper had revealed that Bashur might in fact be an Urisk demon fae—and Mara had all but confirmed it—I was nervous in his presence. “Oh, get over it,” Elle told me, sensing my apprehension. She squished Bashur’s face. “He’s adorable.” Mara came in, eating a freshly baked brownie. “Right! Off to New York.

” “Hey, sharing is caring.” I crossed my arms and frowned. She gave me a wicked grin and winked. “These are adult brownies, dear.” Oh. Elle and I shared a look and burst into laughter. “Hey, we’re adults. We’re, like, beyond adult age.” Elle wagged her eyebrows. Mara just shook her head, wearing a big smile.

“Buckle up.” I looked forward to this time with Mara every day. Not having my mother was a little easier with her around. Mara turned some dials and pulled knobs on her desk, and the whole room spun. The spinning sensation of the portal pulled at my gut, and then we were stopped suddenly. “I’ll wait here. Want to take Bash?” Mara asked. We’d been taking him on walks every day, since she was magically bound to her house by the Elders and couldn’t go out. “Sure.” TWENTY MINUTES LATER, Elle was letting Bashur pee on the Shakespeare Garden trellis while I placed my hand on the Seeker stone.

Come on, baby. Anywhere but Seattle. The map appeared, and a picture of a crystal etching hovered over… Seattle. Fuck. “Maybe it’s not Liam,” Elle whispered over my shoulder. “He lives there,” I growled. “That’s where Mara took him after he dumped me.” Elle shrugged. “I mean, his dad was there, too. Maybe we should just check it out.

” Go and see Liam? I might stab him to death. No. I needed more time. “Let’s check back tomorrow. One more day.” Elle groaned. “Nothing has changed for weeks.” Turning, I met my best friend’s gaze, my throat tightening with emotion. “I need… time. One more day.

” Her face pinched, and she reached out to grasp my upper arm. “Okay.” I didn’t bother placing my feet in the earth to seek a crystal, because that wasn’t working, either. Everything pointed to Seattle. I sulked on the way back to our New York apartment, all the while thinking of how cruel the universe was. The only crystal it kept showing me was his. How could he do that to me? Leave me like that after I publicly begged the Elders to let him live with us? Gods, it was mortifying. By the time Mara opened the door to our apartment and looked inside, I’d realized I needed a break from Faerie. “Hey, Elle, you go on back to Faerie,” I said. “I’m going to spend the night here.

” A frown tugged at my bestie’s lips. “You sure? I can stay, too. We can watch normie movies.” Her face lit up. “Yeah, I’m sure. I just need…” I didn’t even know how to finish that sentence. I didn’t know what I needed. I needed Liam to love me back. I needed twelve crystals and an awake queen to restore Faerie so I could go on a fucking vacation. “No worries, girl.

Love you.” Elle gave me a tight hug, and Mara caught my eye as she passed into her house, bringing Bashur with her. “I’ll be up late if you want to talk,” she said. I nodded. “I’m fine.” I’m not fine. I’m drowning, I wanted to say. With that, they closed the door, and I was left on my own. Walking to the bedroom, I let myself fall face-first into the soft comforter. Fuck this week.

Nothing was easy anymore, and I was over it. I was just about to call the concierge and ask about getting some ice cream delivered when I remembered the journal Bashur had found, the one I’d stashed in the bedside drawer. My mother’s journal. Sitting up, I reached into the drawer and pulled it out. The leather spine was well worn, and it brought tears to my eyes to remember my mother writing in it often. I peeled back the cover, looking at the blank pages. “What were you hiding, Mom?” I asked the empty room. Then a nudge of intuition prompted me to change my words. “What were you protecting?” You didn’t make journal pages blank for no reason. My mom had known something— the Elders had said the same.

She’d known something she hadn’t wanted anyone else to find out. I placed my palm flat on the pages. “Reveal.” Nothing. “Lily, daughter of Violet.” Nada. “Fucking open.” Yeah, that didn’t work, either. Ugh! I thought about asking Mara, but there was a reason my mom had hidden it in the Shakespeare Garden. She’d known I would eventually go there once I took on this job.

If she’d wanted Mara to pass it to me, she’d have given it to her. With a sigh, I collapsed onto the pillows. I lay there for hours, just listening to the sounds of the city: horns honking, sirens, people yelling, dogs barking. It was kind of soothing in a weird way, and it helped to calm my anxious mind. I didn’t realize I had even fallen asleep until I felt something heavy land on my chest and a wet tongue lick my face. Shit! I bolted up in bed and slammed my forehead right into Bashur. He whimpered, and I clutched him, rubbing his back. “I’m sorry, bud. What’s going on?” It was pitch black in the room, and I peered at the clock to see that it said one a.m.

“Lily!” Mara called out in alarm from deeper in the apartment. Bashur leapt off me and ran into the hallway. I shoved my mom’s notebook into my messenger bag and bolted into the hallway, rubbing my face. “What’s going on?” Mara looked stricken. “There’s been another earthquake. The…Tree of Life has split in two.” Oh, gods.

.

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