Visualization is important when you’re assembling an illusion, and this was close enough that the same principles applied. I fixed the image of a simpler,
dress in my mind and muttered, “Cinderella dressed in yellow went upstairs to kiss a fellow. Made a mistake, kissed a snake, how many doctors did it take?”
The magic pulled tight before bursting, leaving me with the gritty feeling of sand coating my tongue. My head didn’t hurt. May’s magic had fueled the spell, not mine; my magic only directed it. May offered me the dress.
“Done,” she said.
“I didn’t know you could do that,” I said faintly, and took it.
The Queen designed a gown too fragile for heavy use and too impractical for anyone expecting to do something more strenuous than a waltz. It wasn’t that gown anymore. The fabric was still the color of dried blood, but it was velvet now, not silk, and the material was slashed to reveal a dark rose under-skirt. The slashes were designed to look decorative, while allowing me to both conceal and draw my knives.
“Well, I can. Now go get ready.”
I slung the dress over one arm before sheathing my knife and taking the belt off the rack. “Seriously, do you want to tell me how we did that?”
“Radical transformations stay malleable for a day or so; her spell was fresh enough to transmute. And you bled on it for me.” She shrugged. “I’m your Fetch. I know when things are possible. Just go with it.”
I eyed her, trying to figure out what she wasn’t telling me. She smiled guilelessly. I finally sighed. “Be right back.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
I managed to resist the urge to slam the bedroom door, but only because it would have bothered the cats.
Getting into the transmuted gown was a hell of a lot easier than getting out of it had been. Most of the hooks and ties were gone, replaced by buttons; my knife belt went over the interior skirt, the slight bulge it made hidden by the gold brocade band that rode easy on my hips. Maybe it’s tacky to go to a formal party armed, but these days, I try not to go anywhere without a way to defend myself. Sylvester would understand. He always did.
I raked a brush through my hair, scowling at my reflection. It scowled obligingly back. One good thing about having hair with no real body: if I brush it out and clip it back, it stays clipped. “The things I do for Faerie, I swear,” I muttered, before dropping the brush and calling it good.
Spike jumped onto the couch when I came back into the living room, rattling its thorns encouragingly in my direction. It chirped happily as I walked over and started stroking it. There’s an art to petting a rose goblin without injuring yourself. They’re basically animate, vaguely cat-shaped rosebushes, and you have to make sure not to move against the grain of the thorns.
“Let’s go!” May gestured at the door.
I only flinched a little as Spike jumped up onto my shoulder. “Are you coming?” I asked. It chirped, rubbing a prickly cheek against mine. “Of course you are.” Spike likes riding in the car a bit too much. I’ve had to fetch it from Stacy’s twice, after she left without checking for hitchhikers.
“Think of it as a fashion statement,” said May. “Ladies used to wear parrots and little monkeys. You wear a rose goblin. It’s very chic.” She waved her hands. The smell of cotton candy and ashes rose, fading to leave us both looking entirely human. I also appeared to be wearing an outfit identical to hers.
I raised an eyebrow.
you needed to save your magic for later, and you can’t go out looking like you just escaped from a Renaissance Fair.” May grinned. “I’m not on the super-saver plan. I’ll make myself something when we get there, after I see what my date’s wearing.”
“Show-off.” I grabbed my jacket, shrugging it on over my illusionary sweatshirt and too-real ball gown. It was going to look funny either way, but I wanted it with me.
May waited for me on the walkway, trying to look huffy, and spoiling her own efforts by giggling as I locked the door and reset the wards. “Are you ready
” she demanded, with a playful stomp for emphasis.
“As ready as I’m going to get,” I replied. “Come on.”
Still giggling, May grabbed my elbow and steered me toward the car. One way or another, I was going to the Ball.
HE DUCAL SEAT OF SHADOWED HILLS is anchored to the mortal world through Paso Nogal Park, located in the small, sleepy suburb of Pleasant Hill. It’s the sort of town where kids play in the streets, men mow lawns, and women walk dogs, content and happy. A nice place. I could never live there. I’d go nuts and start shooting people inside of a month, driven over the edge by picket fences.
The parking lot was packed when we arrived, holding everything from a small bus to a pair of motorcycles held together with duct tape and ropes of enchanted ivy. Fae magic doesn’t work on iron, but newer vehicles don’t have much iron in them. That can save a lot on repair bills, if you know the right sort of mechanic.
Spike jumped out of the car as soon as I opened the door, vanishing into the bushes. I sighed. “I’m starting to feel like a taxi.”
“Does that mean we should start tipping?” May asked. I glared. She laughed, putting up her hands in mock-surrender. “Kidding!”
“Liar. Now come on. I want to get in, see Sylvester and Luna, and get out. This is going to be a long night.” I paused. “Can you find your own way home?”
“Don’t worry about it.” She climbed out of the car, starting up the hill. I double-checked the locks, and followed.
May dropped our illusions as soon as we were out of view of the street. They might make me look and even feel like I was wearing jeans, but brambles without any senses to confuse would still tear my skirt if I didn’t keep it out of the way. Getting into Shadowed Hills through the front door requires executing an ornate series of maneuvers that wouldn’t look out of place in a gymnastics competition. May scrambled through them three yards ahead of me, pureblood grace combining with sensible clothes to let her beat me to the top by almost a minute.
The door into the knowe was open and May was gone when I finally got there. Quentin was standing in the doorway. “Took you long enough,” he said, and grinned.
I paused, studying him as I caught my breath. He was wearing a dark blue tunic over yellow linen trousers—the Ducal colors are blue and gold—and the crest of Shadowed Hills was embroidered above his heart. He’d grown over the summer. The dandelion-fluff of his hair was starting to darken, going from childhood’s blond to an almost metallic bronze. That happens with pureblood Daoine Sidhe kids. They’re born pale, and they darken into their adult coloring as they move through puberty. Quentin was growing up.
“Yeah, well, I’m old and slow,” I said. “You look spiffy. Something going on?”
“You mean besides the Beltane Ball?”
“Oh, right. I knew I was forgetting something.”
“Because you’d so be dressed that way if you didn’t have to be.” He rolled his eyes. “Get in here.”
“Your wish, my command.” I stepped past him into the knowe. The walls of the entry hall were draped with floral garlands, and the floor was polished to a mirror shine. “Aren’t you going to say something about my dress?”
“The fact that you’re wearing one without Her Grace needing to slap you is too weird to think about.” Quentin closed the door. It dissolved into the wall.
“Way to insult my fashion sense.” I’ve known Quentin almost two years, and I’ve never heard him call Sylvester or Luna by their proper names. “You on duty?”
Quentin nodded. “Care for an escort?”
“If you insist.” I hooked my arm through his, letting him lead me down the hall.
Shadowed Hills pays little attention to silly concepts like “linear floor plans.” The archway at the end of the hall showed a peaceful-looking library. Lies. Bracing myself, I closed my eyes and let Quentin tug me through. The world did a sickening dip-and-weave around us. I opened my eyes when the floor stopped moving, and found that we were standing in a vast ballroom, the walls decked with ropes of flowers and ribbons.
The band at one end of the room played a waltz with more enthusiasm than skill. Dancers of every shape and size packed the floor, ranging from a Centaur in a farthingale trying to tango with a Urisk to a Hob foxtrotting with a Glastig in widow’s weeds, while a pair of Cornish Pixies danced an aerial polka above them. Dancers shouted across the crowd, dignity and propriety abandoned for the duration of the party. Those were things for other nights. Tonight was for welcoming the summer home. It was a cross-section of Faerie, standing in perfect contrast to the cold perfection of the Queen’s Court.
“Can you find Sylvester for me?” I asked, letting go of Quentin’s hand before shrugging out of my leather jacket and handing it to him. He took it without comment or complaint. As a working courtier, taking my coat was part of his job. He’d have been a lot more likely to object if I’d tried to walk into the dance with the jacket still on.
Quentin nodded. “I should be able to.”
“Good. I’ll be over there.” I indicated a relatively clear stretch of wall, suitable for leaning against and waiting. Quentin nodded again and turned, vanishing into the crowd with admirable speed. I moved more cautiously, skirting the edge of the dance floor until I reached the wall. A Brownie passed with a tray of drinks. I snagged a glass of wine and settled in to watch the room.
Beltane is one of the fixed points of the fae year, when the Unseelie Court steps down in favor of the Seelie and everything starts over. It used to be celebrated only by Titania’s descendants, but it’s become more general since the King and Queens disappeared. Now even Maeve’s lines come to join in the fun. The fae equivalent of going secular, I suppose.
“Toby!” shouted May. I turned to see her bearing down on me, tugging a dark-haired woman along with her. “There you are!”
“Here I am,” I agreed.
My Fetch wore a subdued smoke-gray dress that complemented our mutual skin tone, accented with opal jewelry in tarnished silver settings. She looked fabulous. She also looked almost shy as she stopped in front of me, the dark-haired woman stopping next to her. “Toby, I want you to meet my date, Jasmine.”
I nearly choked on my wine. “Your
“My date. Remember, I told you I had one?” She leaned over to pluck the glass from my hand. “Jasmine, this is my roommate, Toby Daye.”
“Most people call me Jazz,” said Jasmine, with a semiavian bob of her head. “May’s told me so much about you. It’s great to finally meet you.”
Still coughing from the wine I’d inhaled, I gave Jazz a quick once-over without even trying to be subtle. She was barefoot under her brown velvet gown, and barely topped five feet. Her skin was a rich medium-brown, and her hair was glossy black, filled with green-and-blue highlights. Her eyes were amber, rimmed with brown. Bird’s eyes. They confirmed her bloodline; Raven-dancer, skinshifter cousins of the Swanmays, probably from one of the flocks that originated in India.
Raven-dancers used to be considered death omens. Just like Fetches.
Catching my appraisal, Jasmine said, “I promise my intentions are good.”
May laughed. “Don’t mind Toby. She’s my parent and original.”
It takes more than an unexpected girlfriend to get me too flustered for Shakespeare. “Fairy, skip hence,” I replied. “I have forsworn your bed and company.”
“Haven’t,” she countered. “The rent would be awful, and you’d have no one to do the dishes.”
“Fair enough.” I turned to Jazz, offering her a smile. “Nice to meet you.”
“I know, right?” She grinned. I decided to like her. “I was starting to feel like May was hiding one of us away.”
“Toby’s been too busy inheriting a County to talk to us peons,” May said.
I groaned. “Oh, don’t start.”
Jazz cocked her head to the side. “You didn’t want it?”
“What gives you that idea?”
“The way you wrinkle your nose when May says ‘County.’ ” She laughed. “She wasn’t kidding when she said you looked alike.”
“There are reasons for that.” I gave May a sidelong look.
She shook her head. “It’s cool. She knows I’m your Fetch.”
“You do?” I looked back to Jazz, surprised. A lot of people won’t even talk to a Fetch. What sort of person dates one?
“I’m a raven.” She shrugged. “We’re psychopomps. If she wants to be an omen of death when we’re not hanging out, that’s cool.”
“So you’re saying you don’t mind if your girlfriend has a job?”
“Congratulations, May,” I said, reclaiming my glass. “You found someone weirder than you are.”
“It took work, but it was worth it.” She winked at me. “And now we’re off.”
“To do what?”
“Dance!” She grabbed Jasmine’s hand, hauling her back into the crowd. I returned to my spot against the wall. That’s yet another thing we don’t have in common: I hate dancing.