Chapters two and three sneak peek – full length novel available on Amazon
TO SPARK A FAE WAR: The Fair Isle Trilogy Book Three
*NOTE: this is an early sneak peek at the ARC edition of To Spark a Fae War. Some changes may be made to the final published edition.
By Tessonja Odette
Madame Rose leaves me in the foyer for several minutes. When she returns, she guides me into one of the halls that branch off from there. The carpets are plush and red, the walls papered with red and gold designs of roses and vines. Before I went to Faerwyvae, I might have considered the decor luxurious. Compared to fae luxury, however, this place is hideous.
We walk past several doors as we make our way down the hall, and I try not to blush at the sounds of pleasure that emanate from behind them. I constantly summon my inner fire to keep my nerves at bay until Madame Rose pauses outside a door at the end of the hall. “Your merchandise awaits.”
I give her my thanks and enter the room. Inside is a modest accommodation with more gaudy crimson satin and papered walls. A vanity and wash basin peek from behind a dressing screen next to a narrow wardrobe. The only other furnishings in the room are a high-backed chair and a small bed. Upon the latter rests a petite female with lavender hair and pale green skin.
“Enjoy,” whispers Madame Rose before she closes the door.
“Welcome,” the fae female says without warmth. She lies on her side wearing a sheer nightgown, head propped up by one arm while the other hand is draped over her hip. Her pose would be seductive if it weren’t for the scowl etched over her face that no false smile could hide.
With slow steps, I approach the bed. She tenses as I near her, violet eyes trained on me, burning me with their hate. “Finally, I can take this off,” I say, pulling the enormous hat from my head and tossing it on the ground. With a sigh, I lower myself into the chair and adjust my bone-crushing corset to no avail. I can no longer stand restrictive human clothing, and corsets are the worst offenders. Another reason I should have come dressed as a man today.
But would Madame Rose have bought my disguise? I’ve barely begun to test my fae powers over fire, and glamouring others is a gamble. There’s no way I would have been able to conjure a physical glamour over myself.
Still, what’s done is done, and there is more yet to do.
The fae courtesan looks visibly alarmed by my behavior as she watches me from the bed. “Do you…want me to come to you?”
“No need.” I wave my hand dismissively. “We can talk as we are.”
She furrows her brow. “Talk?”
“Yes. Go ahead and make yourself comfortable. There’s no need to sprawl out for my sake.”
Her eyes widen, and she makes no move to change positions. Meanwhile, I fiddle with the pins in my hair until half of it comes down from its achingly tight updo. For some reason, this seems to set the fae at ease. Slowly, she folds in on herself and moves into a seated position, shoulders hunched. “May I put on a robe?”
“Do what you will,” I say without looking at her. However, as soon as she stands and turns her back to me, I take the opportunity to study her. She’s smaller in stature than Lorelei, with narrow hips and dainty limbs. Thin iron cuffs circle her wrists and ankles, the skin beneath them visibly red. She approaches her wardrobe and retrieves a colorful robe. I’m about to look away as she drapes it over her shoulders, but my attention is snagged on something I can barely make out beneath the sheer back of her gown—two jagged marks over her shoulder blades. Scars.
Bile rises in my throat as I recall the sets of wings I saw in Mr. Meeks’ underground laboratory. Did any of them belong to her?
The fae returns to the bed, sitting at the edge. She leans back halfway, chest arched slightly forward, before she seems to reconsider. Straightening upright, she crosses her arms over her torso and fixes me with a glare. “I don’t understand what you want me to do.”
“Let’s start with your name.”
“Mikaela,” she mutters.
“Pleasure to meet you, Mikaela. I am Evelyn, Queen of the Fire Court.”
She rolls her eyes with a grunt of irritated laughter. “Right. So that’s the fantasy you came here for.”
I ignore her. “Are you a pixie?”
Her expression hardens. “I’m whatever you want me to be,” she says through her teeth.
“But what are you really?”
Another eye roll. “Yes, I’m a pixie.”
“What court are you from?”
“I see. How many of your kind are there in the Briar House? Not pixies, exactly, but fae.”
She shrugs. “Seven, unless you count the children.”
The blood leaves my face. “Children?”
“There are two who haven’t been taken from their mothers yet.”
“Are these half-fae offspring born from relations had here?”
She scoffs at the word relations but nods.
“What is done with the children who are taken from their mothers?”
“Madame Rose sells them,” she says, and her fury is written on her face. I’m sure it’s reflected on mine as well, because my gloves are growing dangerously hot. “Rumors mention experiments.”
A chasm of grief threatens to open up beneath me, pulling me under as the slice of a scalpel flashes through my mind. I channel my pain into rage, let my fire burn it away until I can breathe again. I curl my fingers into fists. “So, Madame Rose is complicit in everything that happens here?”
There goes my final doubt that Mr. Duveau could be the sole offender in this operation. Madame Rose must not be spared from my wrath. I lean forward. “If there were to be an emergency here, what would happen?”
She lifts a brow. “An emergency?”
My lips curl into a smile. “A fire, let’s say.”
“Chaos, I suppose. Everyone would fight to flee out the front door, and hardly a man would be wearing pants.”
“Is there a back door?”
“Yes, outside the kitchens, but it opens into an alley. Not the best escape in the event of a fire.”
“I see.” I ponder this for a moment. “When would be the worst time for such a tragic emergency to occur here? Meaning, when might it be the most difficult to escape?”
Mikaela’s green skin goes a shade paler. “Is this really what gets you going?”
“Just answer the question honestly.”
She pulls her arms tighter around her. “I would have to say around three in the morning. The last patron has left by then and everyone is asleep.”
“Does Madame Rose retire by then as well?”
“How much time would you need to ensure your fellow courtesans knew to escape through the back door during a fire?”
Her body goes still as stone. “Why are you asking me this?”
I rise to my feet and take a step closer to her, summoning every ounce of regal air I can find. To be honest, it isn’t much. I haven’t been Queen of Fire for more than a week. At least I know how to fake it. I repeat my question, slower, firmer. “How much time would you need?”
Her answer comes out in a whisper. “A few hours, I suppose. I would circulate word during our nightly bathing hour.”
“Good. See that it’s done. Discreetly.” I retrieve my hat from the floor and begin pinning my hair back up under it. I can feel her eyes on me, her expression dumbstruck. “I must confess I cannot pay you. When are you required to pay your mistress her dues?”
“You mean give her everything?” Her voice is heavy with venom. “At the end of each Sunday.”
“Good. Since that’s the case, may I borrow some coin from you? If I must remain in town until three in the morning, I should probably have dinner.”
She eyes my gown. “You need money? From me?”
“I don’t have any of my own.”
“You don’t understand. Madame Rose requires I give her every last coin—”
I round on her, leaning in close. “No, you don’t understand. You won’t be here by Sunday to pay her. Nor will this building be left standing by morning.”
Her mouth falls open. “Who are you really?”
“I told you who I am,” I say flatly. “Now do what I’ve asked of you. Speak to your fellow courtesans. A fire will occur at three in the morning. Anyone who wishes to escape must flee to the alley in secret by then and meet me there. Must I make it clear Madame Rose is not to be privy to this information?”
She shakes her head.
“Good. Will you do it?”
Her lower lip quivers. “If this is part of your game for pleasure, it is cruel and I beg you not to play it with me.”
My first instinct is to lay a comforting hand on her shoulder, the way Lorelei often does with me. However, knowing the unwanted touch the pixie is forced to tolerate, the gesture seems inappropriate. Instead, I turn to my fire.
I pull the glove off my right hand, let my rage burn to my fingertips until a ball of fire ignites there, swirling purple, pink, and aqua. “This is no game, Mikaela. I am burning down the Briar House. Now I will ask you one more time. Will you do as I’ve requested?”
She swallows hard, hopeful tears swimming in her eyes. “I will.”
The city clock chimes three times, its bells echoing through the otherwise silent, sleeping city. With bated breath, I fix my eyes on the back door of the Briar House, the view clear from where I lurk in the shadows farther down the alley. Unwelcome thoughts threaten to shake my resolve; the chimes recall memories of the first time I heard them in the city and the fate that visit led me to. The alley, on the other hand, reminds me of Aspen’s lips on mine, the weight of him pressing me into the wall behind my back. One memory fills me with terror while the other teases me with joy. Both are distractions I can’t afford right now.
I refocus on my anger, my mission at hand. As the echo of the third chime fades, panic rises within me. What if something went wrong? What if Mikaela got caught or needed more time to spread the word? What if she didn’t take me seriously? There’s no way I can stay in this city any longer than I already have. It’s taken nearly everything I have not to succumb to the grief Grenneith stirs within me, and I know from experience I can only ride the wave of my rage so far before I suffer for it.
Just as I’m tempted to storm inside and drag each courtesan out of the building by force, the door swings open. My hand moves to my obsidian blade, ready to strike should danger be revealed behind the door. I release a heavy sigh as the figure emerges and moonlight illuminates a hint of lavender hair and green skin. I’m even more relieved when I see several other figures file into the alley behind her.
I move from my hiding place and approach the growing crowd. There are far more than seven, but not all of them appear to be fae, and more than a few look like servants. The pixie must have warned all the courtesans and staff, not just her own kind. I’m relieved to find this to be the case, for I don’t want to consider what I would have done if I knew anyone but Madame Rose was left inside to handle their own fate.
Mikaela’s eyes widen upon seeing me, as if she never truly expected I would follow through with my plan.
“Is this everyone?” I whisper, scanning the crowd. Mikaela nods, the fae huddled close to her, eyeing me with suspicion. Two of the females hold wrapped bundles in their arms, which I can only assume are their sleeping babies, and I’m surprised to see one of the fae courtesans appears to be male. Their human comrades hesitate only a moment longer before taking off into the night.
“What do we do now?” Mikaela asks.
“Now you run,” I say. “Get at least three blocks from here and wait for me to find you.”
One of the fae mothers—one with enormous black eyes and a squirrel-like face—squints at me through slitted lids. “Why should we even trust you? Why shouldn’t we run off on our own like the humans did?”
My gaze slides to the iron cuff around her wrist and the puckered red skin around it. “Do you have means to get that cuff off?”
She purses her tiny lips. “No.”
“Then you’ll need someone who can touch iron. Someone like me. Now go. I’ll find you.”
Mikaela turns toward the group and ushers them toward the mouth of the alley. I, on the other hand, turn away from it toward the Briar House.
With slow, silent steps, I creep into the open door and find myself in a dark kitchen. Aromas of rotting food and pungent perfume assault my senses the farther I step into the room. I remove my gloves and toss them to the ground. Raising a palm out before me, I shape my intent into a need for light. With that, a pale blue flame hovers over my hand, lighting my way as I leave the kitchen to enter a hall. I follow that hall until I find my destination: the foyer I was in mere hours ago.
My blue flame throws the crimson room under an eerie glow. I glare at the pillows, the privacy screens, the papered walls, recalling Mikaela’s scarred back, her mention of half-fae children being sold for experimentation. Such a thought can’t occur without memory of Mr. Meeks’ laboratory, the severed wings, Mr. Osterman’s dark room, the iron chains he had Lorelei strapped into. Lastly, for no more than a second, I allow myself to remember an iron bullet lodged between Mother’s eyes.
Just like that my blue flame turns a pink so dark it’s almost red.
I stalk the perimeter of the room, hand outstretched as my fire-laced fingertips brush the seat of the divan, the tassels of the pillows, the paper of the privacy screens. In a matter of seconds, the room has fallen beneath a beautiful, rosy inferno. Turning my back on my work, I exit the same way I came and return to the alley. Keeping my anger burning hot inside me, I close my eyes and take it to the Twelfth Court.
I wish the effect were immediate, the way it seems to be for fae like Aspen, Franco, and Nyxia. But quarter-fae that I am, and new to the ability to shift forms, I’m stuck seeking for a frustrating stretch of time. Violet fills my inner vision, turning the alley into swirling particles of light. I continue to turn ever inward, seeking my inner firefox, my instinct, my wild birthright.
Finally, calm settles over me. My body shrinks in on itself, while my senses grow sharper. Slim legs replace my four human limbs, each ending in dainty white paws. Sound becomes louder, the night more alive now that I can hear the bats fluttering in the sky, the distant hoot of an owl. Smoke tickles my nose, even though it has yet to enter the alley.
Fully in my firefox form, I sprint away from the Briar House and into the streets beyond.
As a fox, I find the fae with ease and guide them to the outskirts of the city just as the first siren begins to wail. Ignoring the sounds of alarm, I focus on the distant smell of dew-soaked grass, of towering trees. The woods. I traveled through them with Aspen, Foxglove, and Franco the first time I came to Grenneith, but even if I hadn’t, I’d be able to find them now. They call to me, with their sounds and aromas, with the sense of peace left in the absence of human houses and bustling cities.
Only once we are safely beneath the blanket of trees do we rest. That’s when I return briefly to my human form to melt the cuffs from each fae’s wrists and ankles. Without the iron bonds suppressing their powers, a few of the stronger fae are able to shift into their unseelie forms and head north to find the faewall on their own. The remaining four, plus the two babies, stay with me. This includes Mikaela and the fae male, who I think must have had his wings shorn as well, considering the way he absently rubs his shoulders.
I know I should let them rest. I should let them sleep. They cannot keep up with a fox, and being this far from the faewall cannot offer them the ability to heal from blistered feet and torn heels. The two mothers need to nurse their babies and rest their weary arms from carrying their charges so long already.
But we must keep moving.
Shifting back into my fox form, I prod them onward.
Progress is slow as more than a full day of travel passes. In my fox form, I fight the urge to race on without my companions. Although my instincts tell me I’d reach my destination much faster on my own, a part of me remembers that this journey means nothing without those I lead.
By the time we make it past the faewall, the sun is lowering in the sky and creeping toward evening. Just as planned, I’ve brought us to the Lunar axis, where I know we’ll all be safe. The dusky light is a welcome respite from the glaring sun combined with the unforgiving late-October cold of the Eisleigh side of the wall.
I return to my human form, although my ribs protest at being back inside my corset. I should have had the foresight to keep the fae clothing I’d discarded when I borrowed this stupid dress. Although, when I first set out to do this, I didn’t exactly have a plan. Just a need. A need to run, to flee, to seek vengeance on something before the empty void inside my heart swallowed me whole.
The four fae fall to their knees. Mikaela sobs into her hands while the male stares blankly ahead, shoulders slumped. The squirrel-like mother rocks her child with tears streaming over her round cheeks, and the other, a petite fae with gnarled brown skin, begins to wail a mournful song in a language I don’t understand.
I remember feeling this way when Lorelei and I made it past the wall after the incident at the laboratory. It was the most agonizing grief mixed with solace I’d ever felt. The main difference between myself and the fae before me is that none of them were forced to become murderers tonight.
That burden lies on my shoulders alone.
With a sigh, I sink into the grass, letting my satin skirt pool around me. What remains of my inner connection to my fox form slips away, leaving nothing but aching limbs and a pounding headache. I breathe the pain away, too tired to even summon my flames for relief. There’s nothing left to do but let the magic of Faerwyvae do its work.
“Do you have homes to return to?” My voice comes out small, revealing the truth behind my feigned confidence. The broken girl is showing beneath the mask of the unseelie queen, and I’ve exerted too much energy to keep her hidden a moment more.
Only the male nods, but his expression isn’t hopeful.
“You are all free to stay in Lunar,” I say. “Queen Nyxia will welcome you. And when I claim my palace in Fire, you will be welcome there as well.”
Mikaela’s gaze whips toward me. “Are you truly Queen of Fire?”
“How is this possible?” the squirrel fae asks. “King Ustrin has ruled Fire as long as I’ve been alive.”
“And you—you can touch iron.” The male rubs his wrists, the red welts left by the cuffs only now beginning to fade.
I open my mouth, but again exhaustion drags me under. “It’s a long story, but King Ustrin is dead and I have taken his place.”
With that comes an image of orange scales covered in tricolor flame, of my teeth sinking into a scaly neck. Blood in my mouth. Smeared on my fur. I can almost taste it all over again, as well as the bile that rose in my throat afterward. My eyes unfocus as the moment I ended his life replays over and over in my mind.
I’m so lost in the memory, that when I return my gaze to the fae, they’re gone. I barely recall them leaving, but now that I think about it, I remember each one offering at least a parting glance, if not a distinct farewell. Whether they continued on through Lunar or went to their home courts, I do not know. I can only hope they’re safe. And that the ghosts of what has been done to them will cease haunting them one day.
I wish the same for me.
As I rise to my feet, I expect to feel a surge of triumphant pride over doing exactly what I set out to do. I took down the Briar House and put an end to one of Henry Duveau’s disgusting operations. I set seven fae free and just as many human courtesans who were probably also kept there against their will.
I may not have claimed my vengeance against the councilman who killed my mother, but I did something. Something good.
Good? The word strikes a painful chord inside me. Is ending yet another life good?
My stomach lurches as Madame Rose’s face flashes through my mind. As much as her actions disgust me, the weight of what I’ve done to her hits me for the first time. Without the fire of rage burning away my fears and pain, I am defenseless against my own cruelty. My own violence.
Was it really me who set that fire, condemned a woman to die?
Or was it the fox inside me?
Is there even a difference?
Something builds in my throat, something enormous and painful. It’s a sob, and with it comes stinging tears and an agonizing guilt so vast, I think my vision will go black from it.
I sink to my knees with a wail, and suddenly all I can think about is Mother. Mother at the trial. Mother in chains. Mother in a tub of freezing water. Mother shouting to defend my honor. Mother fighting the guards. Mother with a bullet between her eyes.
And between all that lies every cruel thing I’ve ever said to her. Every right thing I’ve ever dismissed. Every eyeroll. Every instance where I denied her magic and spouted off about how superior Mr. Meeks was.
Burning down the Briar House was supposed to make me feel better. It was supposed to alleviate this pain that continues to plague me. I thought I’d faced the full depth of my grief when I cried in Aspen’s arms the night I defeated Ustrin. I thought I’d at least begun to recover from my mother’s loss.
But I haven’t.
My cheeks grow hot, breaths too shallow. My lungs feel like they’re shrinking into nothing. All around me spin images I cannot bear to face. For if I do, I’ll be buried beneath them forever. Instead, I seek my fire, let it burn my pain, my regrets. I let it build within me, let it light my way from the bottomless sorrow I’ve fallen into.
With a deep breath, I turn it into rage. Then I take it to the Twelfth Court.
Thank you for reading this excerpt of To Spark a Fae War! The rest of the story will be released on December 31st. You can find it here on Amazon.***
©Copyright 2020 by Tessonja Odette. This work may not be reproduced or redistributed in any way.
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