I looked at the place he’d been for a long moment before I sighed and turned toward the parking lot . . . where my car wasn’t, thanks to my having taken the yarrow broom express from the Queen’s Court.
“Damn,” I said. This didn’t make my car appear, but it made me feel a little bit better. I considered turning around, walking back to the Tea Gardens, and asking if anyone could give me a ride. The urge passed as fast as it came. Lily’s subjects were upset enough without their erstwhile protector stomping in and admitting that she forgot she didn’t drive there.
Most of the world’s payphones have vanished in the last twenty years, but there are survivors, if you know where to look. I made my way through Golden Gate Park to the phone near the oh-so-touristy “picnic meadow,” swearing under my breath as I realized that the Queen’s transformation of my clothes hadn’t left me with pockets, much less pocket change. Calling a taxi was out; I’ve been developing moral objections to hexing taxi drivers since I started hanging out with Danny, and he was busy taking care of May. It was the bus or nothing.
If the bus driver thought there was something strange about a bedraggled woman in a ball gown getting on in the wee hours of the morning, he didn’t say anything. The odds were good I wasn’t the worst thing he’d seen that night. I held up a hand, palm cupped to make it look like I was holding something, and used the last of the magic I’d called up for my makeshift human disguise to make the driver see a monthly pass. He grunted acknowledgment, and I slumped into the seat nearest the door.
At that moment, I would have given almost anything for a way to find my mother and tell her what was happening. She was the strongest blood-worker in Faerie before she went crazy. She could probably follow Lily’s waters back to their source and give us the key to everything. Or she could have, once. Unfortunately, while I might have been able to find Amandine’s body, there’s no detective in the world good enough to find her mind. The lights are on, but nobody’s home, and the electric bill is getting high.
The ride to my apartment took twenty minutes, mostly because several of the late-night passengers were drunk, and insisted on trying to talk to the driver before they’d take their seats. I left the bus with a hearty respect for bus drivers, and a renewed desire to never take public transit again.
The living room lights were on as I walked toward the door, and the wards had been dissolved, not broken. That’s a crucial difference: broken wards mean something’s in your house that shouldn’t be there. Open wards mean somebody’s home. I let myself inside.
May was asleep on the couch with Spike in her lap. The television was on but muted. I turned it off before walking down the hall to my bedroom, careful not to disturb May. It was better if she took the chance to get some rest. We’d know more soon, and in the meanwhile, I needed to close my eyes for a few minutes before I called Shadowed Hills and brought Sylvester up to speed.
Once I was in my room, I kicked off my shoes and sat down on the bed, still wearing my ball gown. I needed to call Sylvester. I needed to change my clothes. I needed to get moving.
I vaguely remember hearing the cats jump onto the foot of the bed. After that, there was nothing.
OPENED MY EYES TO A WORLD made entirely of flowers. Entirely of white flowers, no less, morning glories and white roses and the delicate brocade of Queen Anne’s Lace. I blinked. The flowers remained.
“Okay, this is officially weird,” I murmured. The flowers overhead shook in the breeze, sending loose petals showering down over me. There was no perfume. Even when the wind was blowing, there was no perfume. I relaxed, suddenly understanding the reason for the bizarre change of scene. “Right. I’m dreaming.”
, Auntie Birdie,” said an approving voice to my left.
I sat up, shaking petals out of my hair as I turned. “Given how often you people throw me into whackedout dream sequences these days, it’s becoming a survival skill. Why are you in my dreams, Karen? I’m assuming it’s not just boredom.” I paused. “Crap. I’m asleep. I can’t be asleep now. I have things to do.”
My adopted niece looked at me gravely. She was kneeling in the grass, petals speckling her white-blonde hair. Her blue flannel pajamas made her look out of place, like she’d been dropped into the wrong movie. Karen is the second daughter of my best friend, Stacy Brown, and oh, yes—she’s an oneiromancer, an unexpected talent that decided to manifest when she was captured by Blind Michael. She sees the future in dreams. She can also use dreams to tell people things she thinks they need to know. Lucky me, I’m a common target.
Good thing I like the kid, or I might get cranky about having my dreams invaded by a twelve year old on a semiregular basis.
“You can’t be awake now, either. There’s something you need to see,” she said, and stood, walking away into the flowers. Lacking any other real options, I stood, brushed the flower petals off my jeans, and followed.
She had an easier time making it out of the impromptu bower than I did; she was lower to the ground, and could duck under branches that slapped me straight across the face. I was swearing under my breath by the time I pushed the last spray of gauzy white irises aside, stepped into the open, and froze, the profanity dying on my lips. I knew this place. Oh, sweet Titania, I knew it.
Amandine’s tower stood tall and proud ahead of us, white stone glowing faintly against the twilit Summerlands sky. It always glowed like that, a lighthouse that never needed to be lit. Stone walls that matched the tower circled the gardens, delineating the borders without doing a thing to defend the place. Amandine never seemed to feel she needed defending, and when I was living with her, I was still too young to realize what a strange attitude that was in Faerie.
“Karen,” I said, slowly, forcing myself to breathe, “what are we doing here?”
“Just watch,” she said.
So I watched.
Dream time isn’t like real time. I don’t know how long we stood in my mother’s garden, but being there, even in a dream, made my chest ache. I spent half my childhood in that garden, trying to be something I wasn’t. It’s grown wild since Amandine abandoned her tower, and I’m glad. It’s the only reason I can bear to go there at all.
“There,” Karen whispered, taking my hand. “Look.”
The eastern gate opened; someone was making her way down the garden path. I narrowed my eyes, squinting at the woman walking toward us. Black hair, golden skin, pointed ears, and eyes the bruised shade of the sky between stars. Oleander de Merelands. I stiffened, trying to push Karen behind me. “Damn,” I hissed. “Karen, get down.”
“This is a dream, Auntie Birdie,” she said calmly. “Just watch.”
Thrumming with tension, I stayed where I was, watching Oleander like a mouse watches a snake. Not a bad comparison. Oleander de Merelands was half-Peri, half-Tuatha de Dannan, and all hazardous to your health. She was there when Simon Torquill turned me into a fish; she laughed. Even knowing the things they say about her—the rumors of assassinations, the fondness for poisons, the trafficking in dark magic and darker services—that’s the thing I can never seem to forget. She laughed.
Fae never get old, but most grown purebloods look like adults. Oleander barely looked sixteen, with a dancer’s build and straight black hair that fell unchecked to her narrow hips. It was easy to see why no one took her seriously . . . at least until the stories about her started getting around. A velvet scarf with weighted edges circled her waist: barbs glittered in the fringe. Anything’s a weapon if you know how to use it.
She walked straight past us. I relaxed slightly. This was a dream; she couldn’t see what wasn’t really there. She stopped at the tower door, where she raised her hand and knocked, calmly as you please. A minute or so later, the door opened, and my mother stepped out onto the tower steps.
My breath caught again, this time for an entirely different reason. I haven’t seen my mother in years—not really. The real Amandine slipped away while I was in the pond. I wasn’t prepared for the sight of her in her prime. It was easy to forget how beautiful she was, to assume I was romanticizing her, making her into some impossible ideal. I wasn’t.
Karen’s hair was white-blonde and looked faintly bleached. Amandine’s hair was white-gold, the simple, natural color of some unknown precious metal. She wore it twisted into an elegant braid that trailed down the back of her wine-colored gown to her waist. Her eyes were the same smoky gray-blue as morning fog. They widened when she saw Oleander, before narrowing in outrage.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded. “You are not welcome. I grant you no hospitalities, nor the warmth of my hearth.”
“Why, Amy, aren’t you the high-nosed bitch these days.” Oleander’s own voice was thick with loathing.
sent me. Someone thought he should know you’d come home again, and now he’s wondering after your welfare.”
Amandine pursed her lips. Finally, dismissively, she asked, “Is this what you’re reduced to? Playing messenger girl for the Daoine Sidhe? I thought you held yourself better than this.”
“At least I didn’t whore myself to the mortal world for a replacement,” Oleander spat. “Has he even seen your little imitation, Amy? I can take her to see him, if you still think you’re too good for social calls. Or are you afraid she’ll realize what she is? Are you afraid—”
I winced even before Amandine started to move. Oleander didn’t know her like I did, and didn’t recognize the tension in her posture until it was too late. Amandine lunged, wrapping one hand around Oleander’s throat and the other around her wrist before the other woman had a chance to react.
I shouldn’t have been able to hear what came next. We were too far away, and she was speaking too softly. But this was a dream, and I was going to hear what Karen wanted me to hear.
“If you come near my daughter, if you touch her, if you
at her, I will know, and I will make you pay.” Amandine’s tone was light. She would have sounded almost reasonable, if not for the fury in her expression . . . and the fear in Oleander’s. Oak and ash, one of the scariest women in Faerie was looking at my mother like she was the monster in the closet. “Do you understand me, Oleander? I will make you pay in ways you can barely comprehend. I will make it
, and the pain won’t stop just because I do. Do you understand?”
“Bitch,” hissed Oleander.
Amandine narrowed her eyes. The smell of her magic—blood and roses—suddenly filled the formerly scentless garden, and Oleander screamed. Her own magic rose in response, acid and oleanders, and was almost immediately buried under Mother’s blood and roses. Amandine didn’t move, but she must have been doing
, because Oleander kept screaming, a high, keening sound that wasn’t meant to come from any human-shaped throat.
The smell of blood and roses faded. Oleander slumped in Amandine’s hands. My mother looked down at her dispassionately, not letting go.
“How much of who you are is what you are?” Amandine asked. Her voice was still soft. That was possibly the worst part. “How much do you think it would change? Would you like to find out?”
“No,” whispered Oleander.
“I’m afraid I can’t hear you. What was that you said?”
Oleander licked her lips. “I said I wouldn’t go near your daughter. I’ll leave. I’ll say you don’t want to be disturbed.”
“Ah, good.” Amandine released her, looking satisfied. Oleander dropped to her knees, gasping, as Amandine stepped back to her original position. “That’s what I hoped you said. Your visit has been most enlightening, Oleander. I trust it won’t be repeated.”
Oleander staggered to her feet, glaring daggers at my mother as she stumbled backward, out of reach. “It won’t. I won’t come here again.”
“Not even if he sends you?”
“There are some things I won’t risk for anyone.” Oleander took another step back, keeping her eyes on Amandine the whole time. “Keep your little half-breed bitch. The two of you can rot for all I care.”
“I’ll take that under advisement,” said Amandine. Turning her back on Oleander, she walked back into the tower and closed the door.
Oleander stayed where she was for a brief second, glaring daggers at my mother’s wake. Then she turned, storming down the path and out the gate, into the fields beyond the tower grounds.
I turned to Karen. “Why did you show me that?”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged helplessly. “I’m still not very good at this. I just sort of do what the dreams tell me I have to. But I didn’t show it to you.”
“What?” I frowned. “Of course you did. I just saw it.”
“No.” She looked past me, into the bower of whiteon-white flowers where the dream began. “I didn’t show you. I just reminded you that you knew it.”
It took me a moment to realize what she was saying. Slowly, I turned, and saw myself—my much smaller, much younger self, still new to the Summerlands, still so dazed by the wonders of Faerie that I hadn’t started looking for the dangers—crawling out from underneath the branches.