Jaycee Hardwick was scrying throughout the Middle Worlds, and she was not happy about it. For one thing, her search was yielding no results. A task she’d blocked out an hour to take was instead consuming her entire morning.
For another thing, the hours she spent scrying meant that her damn tea was getting cold while she was zoned out. And now she needed to brew another pot.
“This is just ridiculous.” She pushed back from the palantír, which she had mounted upon a platinum stand in order to match the rest of her office’s furnishings.
Jaycee stood and smoothed her skirt over her hips as she walked toward the wall of windows. Seattle looked the way she felt—which was to say, buried under fog. It was raining again—it always rained at this time of year—and the moisture clung to the streets, the trees, the rooftops.
The weather would have been perfect for quiet fireside time with her mate, had she any clue what had become of him. “Where are you, Pierce?” she muttered, digging her fingernails into her mug.
Pierce Hardwick had once been famous primarily for his role as founder of Hardwick Medical Research. That had been before Genesis, back when Pierce had been a mundane human.
Hardwick Medical Research was no more. It had cured lycanthropy shortly before the company was shattered into a thousand smaller companies and sold off. The skyscraper that Jaycee stood in now was Frost Tower. It was a beautiful building that housed thousands of offices, and only some of those offices did medical research, and absolutely none of them under the Hardwick name.
If humans discovered that this year’s flu shots had been designed by sidhe…
Paranoid little ants.
Jaycee sipped her cold tea, set it on her desk, and glared at the palantír again. It was no longer filled with fog. It only reflected the clouds outside her window.
“I didn’t want to look anyway,” she said with a haughty sniff. She tossed a silk cloth over it. “You don’t even know where anything has gone.”
Her assistant was buzzing. Jaycee was ten minutes late for a meeting with the Somalian Health Council, and she was never late for meetings. In the days she’d been human, she had even shown up for meetings with a high fever and delirium.
The fact that Pierce was missing was far more problematic than a flu bug. Especially because he’d most likely left of his own volition.
The day that Pierce went missing, Jaycee had woken up to find a note in his handwriting on her bedside table. It had said that he was safe and had not been abducted. Which was exactly what a note from an abductee would say.
Jaycee was not capable of verifying that claim, since wherever Pierce had gone, the palantír could not scry it.
She flung open her office door. Her assistant was mysteriously absent. A fresh vase of wildflowers stood next to the last week’s bouquet, both of which Pierce had sent as an apology.
Jaycee flicked the card on this week’s bouquet open with a fingernail. “To my beloved…” she read aloud. She rolled her eyes and tossed the card into the trash. “My beloved, pathetic wife who is holding down the castle while I frolic through my midlife crisis.” She shoved the flowers into her assistant’s trash for good measure.
There. Take that, Pierce. A hollow gesture that you won’t even see.
Where was Jaycee’s assistant, anyway? She had just buzzed about the meeting. She should have been there.
Jaycee set a hand on the wall and pulsed magic through Frost Tower.
Her sidhe magic connected with the wards, which were embedded so deeply into the foundations that nobody knew they were there. Jaycee hadn’t filled out the proper paperwork with the proper authorities. They’d have never let her plant a magical building in the middle of Seattle without absurd regulatory nonsense.
Jaycee could set the entire thing on fire and turn it to ash within five minutes if she so chose. That was the beauty of below-board warding.
The wards were not catching fire at the moment. They were reporting to her.
And they reported…nothing.
Frost Tower was empty.
At this hour of day, that was impossible. People should have been trundling in from the parking garage for hours, and most employees were so mundane that they blared in Jaycee’s senses like stink lines on cartoon feces.
The wards detected nothing.
“Damn it all,” Jaycee said.
She took off her shoes—a pair of next season’s Manolos—and put them into her assistant’s drawer. The big one with the lock. Jaycee stuck her feet into sneakers instead. When something terrible is about to happen, fashion must be sacrificed for proper footwear.
The terrible thing started approximately ten seconds after Jaycee finished lacing the first shoe.
Her wards stopped being silent and started screaming.
Alert. Alert. Sidhe magic. Invasion. Alert.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Jaycee said, flicking her fingers to dismiss the alerts. Her wards strangled into silence.
Through the windows, Seattle had become foggier. She couldn’t even see the bay anymore, or the streets directly ringing her building, for that matter.
She gathered her power into her fists and blacked out the windows, obstructing the fog’s view into the building.
Jaycee returned to her office, shutting and locking the door behind her.
A second door was hidden behind her desk. It was a secret exit built into a water feature. The sound of the fountain running always made Jaycee feel like she needed to pee urgently, but it cloaked her escape route perfectly.
With a gesture, the water stopped, the wall opened, and a passage to her helicopter pad appeared.
Jaycee slung her purse over her shoulder and headed through.
She was barely two steps down the passage when she heard the thudding on her door.
Someone was trying to get in.
Jaycee lifted her watch toward her lips. “Remind me to call insurance about the extent of our coverage for magical battles tomorrow.” Her digital personal assistant blooped in serene acknowledgement.
The thumping grew louder.
She ran into her secret passage and the door shut. It was a small tunnel illuminated by only witchlights, urging Jaycee onward.
On the other side of the wall, she heard her office breaking open. My insurance better replace that door. It had been hand-carved by some Moroccan designer that Pierce liked. For all that Jaycee was annoyed by her husband’s mysterious absence, she still wanted him to have his stupid, beloved Moroccan doors intact.
The entire tower shook. Plaster dust showered around her.
“Good God, have they sent an entire army after me?” She hadn’t done anything worthy of being attacked by an army.
Well, at least not this week.
But if this was an army thumping around in her tower, ruining all her beautiful expensive furnishings, then they could have only come from one place.
The new unseelie king was even more of a moody brat than Jaycee had anticipated, and she’d anticipated he would be very bratty.
She pressed her hand to the wall as she rounded a corner. The wards were accompanied by a second, stronger set of spells that would demolish the whole building. She’d hoped she wouldn’t have to use them, but, well, if an entire army was coming…
Better demolished than turning everything over to King Konig.
King Konig. Lord, the sidhe were bad at names. Konig meant “king” in some other language, so he was “King King.” They might as well have named him “serious attitude problem” on his birth certificate.
Would a child with a normal name, like Eugene, have ever had the nerve to invade Frost Tower?
Jaycee activated her demolition spells.
A five minute countdown began.
It took another ninety seconds for her to spiral up to the rooftop. She was rounding the final curve when she heard an explosion from ahead.
Jaycee’s eyes widened as light poured into the tunnel.
“Well,” she said.
Nobody should have known the secret passage was there, but someone had broken into it on the far end.
In order to know it existed, the invaders either knew Jaycee’s architect—highly unlikely—or been capable of accessing her wards, which would have taken unusually powerful magic. She was betting on the second one. And her bet was confirmed when she emerged from the end of the tunnel.
“Well, well, well,” Jaycee said.
A frost giant was crouched on the rooftop, his hands braced on either side of what used to be a hidden escape hatch, looking down into the not-so-secret passage with a jagged face. He was bigger than a car and probably weighed as much. He turned the air around him so cold that moisture became snow.
And he had a witch mounted on his shoulder, sitting delicately as though she were riding a horse side-saddle.
Well, not a witch.
“Hello, Jaycee,” said Marion Garin, Queen of the Unseelie, also known as the Voice of God.
“Hello, Marion,” Jaycee said. “Want to tell me what’s happening?”
The hallway trembled. The army had penetrated her secret door and was coming up from behind.
There was no escape.
“We’re here to arrest you for sedition,” Marion said.
“Sedition?” Jaycee asked. “Couldn’t you have come up with a charge more creative? Or perhaps more accurate? You could have unleashed mundane bureaucracy on me just by reporting this building to the OPA.”
“Konig decided on sedition,” she said.
Of all the undignified ways to lose Frost Tower. Getting arrested over a silly charge by the wife of some temperamental brat.
“Just so you know, this tower is about to be demolished, and everyone inside will die,” Jaycee said. “There’s just enough time for you to escape. You may be able to withdraw much of your army if they access the ley lines as well.”
“No, I don’t think so.” With a wave of Marion’s hand, she hijacked Jaycee’s spells, laying claim to all of Frost Tower.
And she disabled the wards while she was at it.
“Well,” Jaycee said again.
She hadn’t expected that one.
Marion had always been good at magic, but she hadn’t been that familiar with sidhe magic. Becoming queen had done her a lot of favors.
The queen slithered off of the frost giant’s shoulder and her midnight blue dress pooled around her. “Ymir, would you kindly…?”
Ymir punched the tunnel wider and then reached in to grab Jaycee like he was King Kong. She slapped his chilly hand away. “Don’t you dare.”
Jaycee took herself up onto the roof, thank you very much, emerging into that dense magic fog. Even though she couldn’t see it, she could feel a helicopter incoming, and if any pilot would be capable of approaching in such conditions, it would be Isidora.
Even now, with her safeguards destroyed, Jaycee was not without options. She was never without options.
“What is the real goal of this?” Jaycee asked, circling Marion warily. “Have you allowed yourself to become pawn in Konig’s game of grudges?”
“We have no grudge against you,” Marion said.
“Surely you don’t believe I’m a traitor.”
“You were in the Autumn Court at the same time as the former leaders of the Summer Court. You invaded our party without an invitation. We’ve every reason to think you’re colluding with the seelie traitors.”
Jaycee couldn’t deny that she’d been in the Autumn Court. She had taken advantage of an opening in the wards, but only so that she could look for Pierce.
Far more concerning was the other thing that Marion had said.
“Former leaders?” Jaycee asked.
“We no longer recognize the sovereignty of the Summer Court. The entire Middle Worlds are ours, as they have always meant to be,” Marion said.
This arrest attempt was looking worse by the moment.
On the bright side, Jaycee’s sensitive hearing was picking up the chugging of chopper blades. Isidora was incoming.
Jaycee peeled away the illusions that made her appear human--very much like the human she’d been before Genesis, in fact. Her real skin was diamonds. Her hair was the black fog rolling in off of a stormy ocean at midnight. She was the moisture in the air, the mist that perpetually clung to Seattle.
Jaycee’s magic and presence extended into infinity. She was a mighty gaean creature, connected to the fabric of the Earth in the way that a half-angel could not be.
She understood that non-sidhe couldn’t handle the full effect of a sidhe’s presence. She was accustomed to hiding herself at all times to prevent humans from perceiving the well of gravity with Jaycee at its center.
Now she didn’t hold back.
She let it all out. She pushed it out, forcing it on Marion.
And she saw the moment that Marion was overwhelmed.
In someone as powerful as the Voice of God, it wasn’t a total mental breakdown. The pain was demonstrated by Marion wavering on her feet and her eyebrows crimping. It showed in the step backward that she needed to take, reaching out to Ymir as though she was no longer certain that the ground was stable under her feet.
Jaycee smiled. “Remember next time who you’re dealing with, my so-called queen.”
The helicopter was near. Jaycee felt it in the shifting air.
Jaycee summoned the wind of winter and her sneakers lifted from the roof of Frost Tower. It wasn’t a precise way to fly, but it flung her toward Isidora’s helicopter. It appeared in the fog as a black form, hovering like an oversized bee just beyond the edge of the roof.
She was almost there. She was going to escape.
But then the lightning.
It lanced through the sky in a bolt of blazing white. It struck the propeller.
The helicopter pitched to its side and tumbled from view.
In her shock, Jaycee lost control of the wind.
She tumbled through the air—an undignified head-over-heels cartwheel.
Electric magic snapped around her like a lasso, yanking her back.
Jaycee struck the roof in front of heeled shoes and navy blue spills of fabric. Looking up at Marion from below, the mage girl seemed taller, her hair brushing the sky as the smoking helicopter vanished behind her. Ymir sauntered up behind her. He cuffed Jaycee’s wrist and yanked her upright.
“Please,” Marion said. “Don’t waste your time fighting me. You have so little time left.”
The frost giant yanked them through the ley lines.
Konig had captured many political prisoners in his short reign as king, but he’d left Heather to worry about detaining most of them. Jaycee Hardwick was different. She was a prize—the head of a deer that he would mount on his wall to commemorate the hunt. He escorted her back to the Middle Worlds personally.
“Impressive,” Heather said, keeping pace with them as they headed into the depths of Niflheimr.
Jaycee wasn’t shackled, but she didn’t need to be. Every resident of the Winter Court lined the halls to see a Hardwick in custody. If she tried to escape, she’d be buried under a hundred blasts of simultaneous faefire.
The stick insect of a woman kept her chin held regally high. She didn’t make eye contact with anyone, remaining focused on the end of the hallway.
“She’s not that impressive.” Konig glanced behind him to make sure that Marion was still at his back. She was serenely quiet, surrounded by handmaidens, and without a single external indication of the enormous magic she’d cast to capture Jaycee Hardwick.
“I meant the fact you got her at all,” Heather said. “We’ve been looking for Jaycee and Pierce for weeks. I was starting to think we’d never find them.” Her lips twisted. “Although I suppose I shouldn’t underestimate you by this point.”
It was really Marion who shouldn’t be underestimated. She had declared that she was going to arrest Jaycee, and she had formed the plan. Konig had let her do it as a favor. In return, he’d taken the credit with the news media—and with his people.
Raising his voice, Konig said, “Draft a statement to be issued to all the Middle Worlds. Tell them that I’ve ensured the safety of the unseelie courts by removing a dangerous traitor.”
“You removed her?” Heather asked in a neutral tone.
Perhaps she did know that Marion had been behind it all. Heather was much less stupid than the average sidhe woman.
Konig cast another glance at his wife—and at the hundreds of sidhe behind her, who were listening attentively to the conversation. “Yes, I captured her,” Konig said. “And she’ll be put on trial for what she’s done to us.”
“I’ll draft a statement,” Heather said.
She broke away from the others. She cut a stunning figure with her curves wrapped in brown leather, and Konig’s eyes lingered on her back as she raced away.
They arrived in Niflheimr’s dungeon. Most dissidents were kept in Myrkheimr, but Jaycee was too dangerous to bring into Konig’s childhood home. Instead, she would get to enjoy the abattoir that Konig had built to contain demons.
Jaycee peered through the doorway and gave a disdainful sniff. “If you were as civilized as your father, you’d have the courtesy to lock me in a proper bedroom.”
“If I was my father, I’d probably chain you to my bed,” Konig said. “Is that your preference?”
She laughed. “Cute. No. Thank you.” Her eyes flicked down to his tight trousers. “Really, no thank you.”
Jaycee didn’t permit the Raven Knights to touch her. She climbed into the abattoir all on her own, dignified but for the sneakers that didn’t match her skirt suit. “What do you think?” Konig asked Marion.
He wasn’t asking what she thought of the capture or the reaction from the sidhe. That didn’t matter. He was asking what she thought of the aftermath—especially the statement where Konig took credit.
If Marion were attempting to play Konig, as he’d long suspected, being deprived of due credit should have set her off. She had too much pride to take that.
She should have exploded.
But Marion smiled thinly.
“You know what I think,” she said, quietly enough that everyone in the hallways wouldn’t be able to hear her. “I think you’re trying to provoke me.”
Clever as always. He lowered his voice. “How does Jaycee fit into your little pet project, anyway? Is she somehow qualified to help you with the…angel thing?” Marion had been working on some kind of heritage project where she recovered artifacts from Dilmun. Sentimental girl stuff.
“You said you don’t care about my project,” she said.
“I don’t, as long as you keep your attention where it belongs,” Konig said.
“Believe me,” she said, “my attention is exactly where it belongs.” She shot a cold look down at Jaycee. “Capturing Jaycee is a safeguard. The Hardwicks are too strong to let the Summer Court get them first. I did this for you, my love.”
Gods, he loved her when she was like this, cruel and pragmatic and focused. “I love you.” Konig wrapped a hand around the back of Marion’s neck and dragged her toward him for a kiss.
She leaned into it, biting at his lips. “I know,” she whispered back.
He pushed her away as quickly as he’d grabbed her. “Take care of whatever remains on your agenda. I will interrogate Jaycee Hardwick.”
She gave a shallow curtsy. “My King.”
Marion took two of her handmaidens by the elbows, and they vanished into the ley lines.
“Stay here with me,” Konig said to the third handmaiden.
Maddisyn looked startled. “Of course.”
He shut the door to the hallway, leaving the Raven Knights and onlookers outside. Jaycee was so far down the hole that she wouldn’t be able to hear them talking, not that there was anything she could do with information she overheard now. “You haven’t turned in any reports lately.”
“Reports?” Maddisyn asked.
“On Marion,” Konig said with an amount of patience that should have won him some big prize, like a Nobel.
Maddisyn fidgeted, pulling on her hair. “Oh. Well. You two have been spending a lot of time together lately, so I just figured you knew everything she’s been getting up to from firsthand observation.”
Spending more time with Marion made Konig feel like he knew her less by the moment. She wouldn’t budge from his side for weeks, but then vanish for days to work on her heritage project. And she never told him what she was doing when she returned.
It was an open, simmering point of resentment between the two of them. They both knew that this would explode. They’d even said it to each other’s faces more than once.
Marion was doing something, even if she insisted that Jaycee wasn’t part of it. Konig was busy enough trying to conquer the Summer Court to let her do it. But he’d have it conquered soon enough. Then there would be nothing left to do except break down the puzzle of his wife.
“Have you seen her working on her project?” Konig asked.
Maddisyn was the worst of the handmaidens at keeping her cool. Her face was already reddening like she might cry. “I’ve picked her up from Dilmun a couple of times, but I never stick around.”
“What’s she doing in Dilmun? Is she alone?”
“But not always?”
She chewed on a knuckle—a nervous habit she’d had as long as Konig had known her. Right now, her knuckle had been gnawed so much that the skin was raw. “Sometimes there are other angels.”
“Like who?” On a hunch, he asked, “Have you seen Leliel?” Leliel had long been an enemy of Marion’s, and even stabbed her a couple of times. There was no way in the world that they could be meeting amicably to do some trivial project.
Maddisyn’s gaze fixed to the floor at Konig’s feet. She wouldn’t look at him.
Konig seized Maddisyn’s arm. Hard. “Have you seen Marion with Leliel? Tell me right now.” He dragged her toward the edge of the abattoir, and she gave a tiny squeal. “Tell me, or you’ll join Jaycee!”
One of the Raven Knights, Wintersong, peered through the door. He was an old white-haired sidhe whose brain hadn’t worked right since Genesis. He’d always spoken with his words a little bit jumbled, his thoughts wandering, his behavior often inappropriate. Konig had written him off as a useless moron who was good with a sword.
Wintersong’s timing was way too good for a useless moron.
“What do you want?” Konig snapped, yanking Maddisyn away from the ledge.
“I camed here to get her to Marion,” Wintersong said. “They’s gots errands. Dresses fittings and shit.”
That was probably true. Sidhe had parties every day, and seldom wore outfits twice. They were constantly getting new dresses fitted.
Konig considered keeping Maddisyn anyway. He could pull the truth out of her with magic. He’d learned from keeping his political prisoners that even powerful gentry were susceptible to a good hard squeeze from, say, tree trunks.
But Jaycee was waiting for interrogation.
He Maddisyn go. She hugged Wintersong’s side, and he put an arm around her shoulder.
“Have fun with the dresses,” Konig said. “I’ll see you soon enough.” He bared his teeth at her in a grin. He’d been told he had a very handsome smile by women throughout his entire life. “Very soon.”
Konig expected Jaycee to be difficult to interrogate. He hadn’t expected her to ignore him completely. “Jaycee,” he snapped for approximately the seventeenth time since he’d entered the abattoir.
Again, she didn’t even look his way.
It wasn’t as though Jaycee Hardwick couldn’t hear him. The abattoir transmitted sound superbly. His voice resonated so clearly that it was like three other Konigs spoke from opposite ends of the room.
Yet she was still circling the bottom of the abattoir, staring at its blank walls of black ice as though they held all the information she needed for escape.
“Jaycee!” He lashed out with magic that time, making the walls blaze with fire.
She jerked away from the edge of the abattoir. “Like a toddler,” Jaycee snapped, upper lip curling as she surveyed Konig. “You’ll do whatever it takes for attention, no matter how obnoxious. There’s a reason Pierce and I never opted to breed little Hardwicks. I’ve no patience for snot-nosed children.”
Snot-nosed? Konig was attended by so many healers that his mucosa couldn’t have permitted him a runny nose if he’d waded through a sea of pollen, cat hair, and dust. “Why don’t you rephrase that in a way that’s more respectful toward the man who has you captive?”
Her laughter was unpleasantly sour. “Man?” Jaycee toed her shoes off, kicking them across the floor. Barefooted, fresh ice spread from underneath her toes. “Do me a favor of being frank. Tell me what you want modified so I can tell you where to shove that request.”
Konig surveyed her features—as symmetrical yet uniquely strange as those belonging to any sidhe.
She must have meant the darknet. It was the only thing that Konig knew to be associated with the Hardwicks, since the prominent unseelie couple had declined to be otherwise involved with the activities of royalty.
“I want access to the records on the defenses on each court,” Konig said smoothly, as if that was what he’d intended all along. As if capturing Jaycee hadn’t been Marion’s idea.
“Records on defenses?” Jaycee snorted. That snort had haunted Konig’s nightmares ever since the one time she’d babysat him as a child. She’d never found any of his antics endearing, or even tolerable. “It’s insulting to use me for access to records. Gods, Konig. You may as well have contracted a mundane white hat for that.”
“You think you’re too good to give me what I want?”
“In every sense of the sentiment.”
Konig’s shoulders prickled. “What else would I want from the darknet?”
“Anything,” Jaycee said. “Everything. Rage didn’t tell you what the darknet can do?”
There was a lot Rage hadn’t told Konig.
In fact, Konig hadn’t seen the former king much lately. He’d lost his mate—Konig’s mother—to a bullet from Death’s gun, and with it had gone everything but a tenuous grip on sanity. His health was declining faster and faster. Rage seldom got out of bed.
“I’ll make a deal with you,” Jaycee said.
“You’re my captive. You have nothing to offer,” Konig said.
“Even the darknet?”
“I’ve sold administrator access away and I can buy it back from the vampire who holds it. I don’t need you for anything.”
“The administrator owns all the front end of the darknet,” Jaycee said. “There’s much more to the back end of the darknet that you can’t dream of. I can tell you what it’s capable of. I can tell you how to get what you want.”
“In exchange for what?” Konig’s eyes narrowed. “Your freedom?”
“Pierce,” Jaycee said. “He’s hiding from me, most likely somewhere in the Middle Worlds. Find him for me. Find him, and I’ll tell you how to change the rule of the Middle Worlds from matriarchal to patriarchal.”
Konig’s heart stopped beating.
If he didn’t need to be married to Marion in order to rule, then…well, he wouldn’t need Marion at all.
“I’m very interested,” Konig said.