My name is Kaeleen Donovan. They call me Fury. I walk in a pillar of flame, a circle of fire. As we rebuild after the fall of Seattle, the Wild Wood has become our sanctuary and home. And yet, the Order of the Black Mist is coming close to plunging the world into chaos. I have a vision that promises a chance to prevent this from happening…but is my sight illusion? Do we risk everything on a hope born in a smoke and flame?
“STEADY—HOLD IT steady. Don’t let go just yet.” Hecate’s voice rang through the cloud of smoke and sparks surrounding me.
I couldn’t see farther than my hand. My shoulder hurt. I had been holding my arm straight out in front of me for an hour, balancing the ball of flame on my fingertips, forcing myself to stand straight and not waver. That I was sitting on a boulder helped—at least my lower back and legs weren’t aching. But I didn’t dare waver more than an inch either way. If I lost control of this little ball of flame, it would rapidly grow into a flurry of sparks and shower hell all over the surrounding area. We had had a lot of rain lately, but the foliage was thick, and it would be easy to set off some of the wild patches of long grass and weeds that rose knee high in the clearing.
“How much longer?” I exhaled slowly, trying to steady my focus.
“Just because you asked, another half hour.” Hecate laughed.
I stuck my tongue out in her direction, but said nothing. As I settled back against the boulder, I narrowed my attention. As my breathing grew deeper, I sank into deep trance.
The flame existed as an extension of myself. I was plugged into the elemental plane of fire and I was channeling the ball of fire directly from the source. It was different than drawing off my own power. Sourcing energy directly from the elemental planes made the magic flow easier and didn’t drain my own energy. But the learning curve was steep, and it had been a challenge to narrow my focus as deeply as needed. At the beginning, I had struggled, but after I finally discovered the key—to coax the energy instead of forcing it—I had made a breakthrough. Within the span of six months I had gone from barely being able to tap into the primal energy to now, where I could hold the channel open for over an hour.
As I immersed myself in the flame, a faint laughter caught my attention. I followed the source, allowing my mind to wander through the billowing clouds of smoke and flame. The laughter beckoned seductively from a glowing cloud of golden light that appeared beside me. I reached out to touch the flame, wondering what it was.
“Fury! Fury? Let go, now!” Hecate’s voice broke through my thoughts. “Don’t touch that light. Back off now.”
Reluctant—the golden light seemed so playful I wanted to stay—I obeyed. With a slow breath, I withdrew the flame, rolled it back out of my hand, and sent it home, managing to keep control of it. As the flame vanished, so did the smoke and sparks that had surrounded me, and I cautiously stretched, shaking my arm to clear the pins and needles out of it.
“What’s wrong? Why did you have me stop?”
“You were on the edge of touching a fire elemental. They’re dangerous and you won’t have the ability to contain one for a very long time. If it decided to jump you, it would be free to raise havoc here. They’re always hungry and of all the elementals, the most likely to take over the one who summons them.”
I swallowed hard. “That doesn’t sound like a good thing.”
“It’s not. I didn’t think you’d encounter one on the outer edges of the plane, so I didn’t even think to warn you. But you listened, and you acted as you should—easing the fire back. I’m proud of you. You’re making quick progress.” Hecate sat on a rock opposite me. She was watching me closely. “Any aftereffects? How are you feeling?”
I ran down the checklist we had established. My body was still quivering from running the fire through me at such an extreme rate. My mind felt singed around the edges, but my heart was singing. The flames had charred me around the edges, burning the outer layer away, and while what it left exposed felt a little raw, it also felt clean, as if scrubbed clean by the universe itself.
“Good. A little shaky and my shoulder aches, but overall, I’m feeling good. At least this time I didn’t lose control of it and we don’t have any fires to put out.” I kicked the ground toward the bushes nearby.
She laughed. “True, but just in case…” She whistled long and low, and a moment later a huge burly man with a wild beard came traipsing out from between a waist-high fern and a huckleberry bush. He was carrying a hammer that rivaled any weapon I’d ever seen.
“You rang?” Thor was massive, bigger than any man I’d ever met. He was nearly seven feet tall, and muscled in a thick, burly way. His hair was a shock of gold that flowed down his back, and his beard, a coppery color. He was gorgeous, in a gigantic sort of way.
“I think a light shower would be in order to make certain no sparks went astray. Fury kept control this time, but you never know.” Hecate winked at me.
Thor let out a chuckle. “Oh, that’s for certain. One shower, coming up.” He closed his eyes, then hit the ground with his hammer. A sudden swirl of clouds began driving over our area, thick and heavy. The god of thunder and agriculture waited for a few seconds, then struck the ground again. This time, the reverberation sounded in a crack of thunder as the clouds opened up and the downpour began, the fat droplets soaking everything, including us.
I blinked, trying to see through the rain as it sluiced down my face from the sudden deluge. “Well, that should take care of any fires I may have accidentally kindled.”
“Yes, and we should get back to the village. Lord Tam was asking for you, Fury. It seems news has come in off the grapevine and Verdanya has sent an envoy to discuss something happening in the south.” The massive god motioned toward the trail leading into the wood.
As I gathered my things, the summer rain beat a steady tattoo against the firs and cedars. Without another word, the three of us headed back to UnderBarrow as the birds took up the refrain announcing the arrival of the surprise rainstorm.
UNDERBARROW WAS NOW more than just the Barrow of the Bonny Fae. UnderBarrow was a city proper. Or rather, the cornerstone of a village—Willow Wood, Tam had named it, for all of the weeping willows around the area.
Six months before, when Seattle fell to the zombies and the Order of the Black Mist, and then to the tsunami, which pretty much put a slam dunk on a trio of disasters, Tam had shifted the Barrow. He moved it adjacent to Reflection Lake north, in the Wild Wood. We were now located north of Wyfair, the village of the Frostlings, and we were in the process of establishing a strong foothold in the deep woods.
Over the past few months, a number of the Elder Gods had joined us. At first it had been just Hecate, Freya, Thor, Sif, and Athena. But then, more had arrived, and now the Finns, the Celts, the Norse, and the Greek pantheons were building new compounds nearby. The Peninsula of the Gods in Seattle sat abandoned, and though the gods didn’t speak of it much, a pallor of sadness hung over the subject. Willow Wood had also attracted a number of Theosians who made their way through the Wild Wood, petitioning to join the village.
While only the Bonny Fae—and a few others, like me—actually lived in UnderBarrow, Tam opened the village to anyone who promised to comply with the rules. And so, for six months we had grown. Now, we were getting used to the rural life, and to the vastly different situation into which our world had been thrown.
HECATE AND THOR peeled off at the main hall of the gods—which they had named Gudarheim—and I followed the trail back into the village proper, then dashed toward UnderBarrow. I was soaked to the skin by the time the guards saw me coming. They bowed as I passed, opening the door for me without a word. They knew who I was—the lover and consort of Lord Tam, Prince of UnderBarrow.
I paused just inside, where one of the serving girls passing by handed me a towel from her laundry basket without a word. She asked no questions, just offered me a deep curtsey.
“Thank you,” I said, wiping my face off and draping the towel around my shoulders. Whatever heat I had been running from keying into the elemental plane of fire was gone. The summer rains were cool, and while it was a balmy sixty-seven degrees out, the rain brought a chill to the woodland.
Heading toward my room, I realized I was starving. It felt like I hadn’t eaten in days. Ever since Hecate had increased my training and started putting me through trials so advanced that I had never dreamed I’d be able to master them, my need for food had gone up. Magic burned calories, as did heat, and my appetite had shot up.
I was finally getting used to the labyrinth of the Barrow. The passages wound in a seemingly chaotic manner, but I soon realized that they were much like a web, with a central hub—the great hall—from which all passages snaked out. The passages wove and interwove, but I had finally convinced Tam to start labeling them like the Mudarani had in their underground chambers. The cat people who lived out on the Tremble had numbered each juncture of their subterranean lair, making it easier to identify place points. While the Bonny Fae had an innate sense of direction, any visitors to UnderBarrow easily got lost. Tam had humored my request.
I finally came to the juncture that led to my room—number F451—and gratefully darted into the chamber, ringing the bell pull for Patrice. It had taken me awhile to get used to having a personal maid, but I was grateful for her help, and she seemed to enjoy her work. I tried to make her duties easy, but she assured me that everything was fine and that she liked working with me.
I peeled off my wet clothes and gingerly dropped them into the laundry hamper as she entered the room, curtseying when she saw me.
“Please draw me a hot bath. Thor’s rain showers tend to be icy cold.”
“Perhaps it’s because he comes from the north,” she said with a grin as she fiddled with the controls on the bathtub that stood behind a screen to the side. I still had no clue of how the Fae magic managed to produce hot and cold running water, but I didn’t question it. I just enjoyed the results.
“Maybe he just likes cold showers?” I chose a bath wash—pumpkin cinnamon—and poured the last of it into the tub, sad to see it go. We’d have to send another raiding party into Seattle for supplies soon, and I made a note to ask them to plunder one of the devastated boutiques for bath wash, soaps, shampoos, and whatever else they could find. That was one downside to living in the Wild Wood. The things I had liked about civilization were no longer easily available, and pretty soon, I’d have to wean myself off a number of them as the supplies in the fallen city ran low or expired.
Patrice rummaged through my closet as I lowered myself into the steaming tub, sighing as the water permeated the aches and pains that ran though my muscles. Not only was I undergoing intense magical training, but my already rigorous workout schedule had been increased to five days a week, two hours each time. I rested my neck on the bath pillow and closed my eyes.
“What do you want to wear, milady?” Patrice popped her head out of the closet. “Something comfortable yet pretty, I would think?”
Formality was the way of the Bonny Fae, and while it still made me somewhat uncomfortable, I had forced myself to get used to it. As long as I was dating the Lord of UnderBarrow, I would play by the rules.
“I’m done with training for the day, so the green skirt and tank top. And my flats. I don’t expect to be doing much running around the rest of the afternoon.”
I slid under the water, dousing my hair. As I came up, I began lathering it up with the bath wash. I was about to duck and rinse when Patrice appeared at my side with a jug of water. Smiling at her—I knew the drill—I leaned forward and closed my eyes, holding my breath as the water cascaded through my hair, washing away the suds into the tub. She brought a second jug, and my hair was cleared of soap.
“Do you want to soak for a while, milady?”
“Yes, if I have time.” I nodded. “How long till dinner?”
My stomach rumbled. “All right. Would you bring me some bread and cheese? Also some berries and a cup of coffee? I’m starved, but I don’t feel like getting out of the water just yet.”
As Patrice curtseyed again and vanished, I wrapped my hair in a towel, then leaned back in the still-steaming water and closed my eyes. So much had happened in the past nine months. It felt like forever.
MY NAME IS Fury. Actually, it’s Kaeleen Donovan, but there are days I almost forget I ever wore that name. I’m a Theosian—a minor goddess. When Gaia rained down her anger over how her body was being tormented, she stirred up a shit storm of magic, some of which permanently became embedded in areas of land. One of those places is the Sandspit—a two-hundred-acre wasteland in the city of Seattle where rogue magic wanders in the guise of clouds, permanently changing anybody it hits.
When Gaia struck the industrial district, creating the Sandspit, the very first World Tree rose from the ashes, a hundred-foot-tall oak, rising out of a crater almost as deep, and on this oak, doors to different realms and dimensions appeared. Creatures of all sorts came streaming through, including the Abominations who come from the realm of Pandoriam. Hecate trained me to hunt them—it’s one of my natural abilities, and that’s what I did until recently, when—battered and bruised—Seattle fell and we had to flee.
Anyway, one night my mother, Marlene, was taking a shortcut through the Sandspit. She was on her way home from the Metalworks, tired and pregnant with me, when she was hit by a patch of rogue magic. Boom, my DNA was changed and I was born a Theosian. There are a number of us, and we’re all mutants. We aren’t human any longer, but our own separate race, yet all incredibly different. My powers came in flame and fire, and so I was bound to Hecate, the Elder Goddess of the Crossroads. I belong to her, forever, until this life passes.
Long story short, the government fell into a corporatocracy, ruled over by ruthless, greedy men. But a magical society rose, one bent on engendering as much anarchy into the world order as possible. They’re known as the Order of the Black Mist, and they are a worldwide threat, seeking to yank open the portal on the World Tree leading to the Elder Gods of Chaos. If they manage it, life will become problematic, and Gaia will go to war again. I was after Lyon, the leader of the local Order of the Black Mist, but things got out of hand and he helped engineer the fall of Seattle. We haven’t worked out how to stop them yet. But time is ticking, and if they find the portal before we put a stop to them, then all bets are off.
FINALLY WARM, I toweled dry and asked Patrice to braid my hair back. I had recovered fully from all the injuries that I had sustained in our flight from Seattle, but still bore a few of the scars. They paled in the brilliance of the tattoos that marked the milestones in my life with Hecate. Along my left leg, trailing down the outer thigh and calf, was a flaming whip, and when I needed a weapon, all I had to do was slap my hand against the handle and the whip came off my leg, ready to use. A quick slap against my leg and it returned to its inked state on my skin. Hecate had inked it on me herself, the night she branded me with my name.
My neck tattoo—three entwined snakes on my neck—came much earlier, when I reached puberty. It was almost like a baptism, even though I had been bound to her shortly after my birth. And the third, an ornate F in the middle of a heart with flames trailing off each side, rested against my tailbone. Hecate had given it to me six months ago, when I made a choice that seemed more difficult than it was, actually.
I had always been fit—sturdy and muscled. I had to be, given how strenuous hunting down Aboms could be, but after six months of a highly rigorous training schedule I now felt hard and chiseled. I was still solid, but I could move like the wind and I could bring down an opponent three times my size.
I slipped into my clothes—the green plaid skirt was mid-thigh length, leaving my leg free so I could easily get to my whip. The tank top was a V-neck and it was a loose gauzy cotton. I slipped on my shoes as Patrice entered the room again, carrying a tray with my coffee, a couple of rolls, a small round of aged cheddar, and a bowl of mixed berries. Most of our food was simple, but hearty and nutritious.
We had—and by “we” I mean the village—had tilled about five acres of land in a clearing. The herbalists spent a lot of energy infusing the soil with elemental earth energy, charging it so that the crops were growing huge and bountiful.
“Lord Tam is requesting your presence at a meeting in thirty minutes,” Patrice said, dipping into a quick curtsey. We kept clocks from the outer world in UnderBarrow, to keep track of the relative time, since the days moved differently inside a Fae Barrow.
“Oh?” I hadn’t seen him since breakfast. As Lord of UnderBarrow, he had a great many responsibilities, especially with the establishment of the village. We spent most nights together, and we tried to eat dinner and breakfast together, and we claimed half a day once a week, but some days were more problematic than others.
“Apparently, the runners brought news and he’s called a meeting of the Sea-Council.” Patrice kept her ear to the ground a lot. She was an excellent maid-slash-spy.
“Really?” I nibbled on one of the rolls, slicing a piece of cheese to go with it. We had formed the Sea-Council after settling Willow Wood. Most of us had been forced out of Seattle during the zombie invasion, though we had added a few members since then. Tam, me, Jason, Elan, Laren, Hans, Greta, Kendall, and Tyrell were all members, as well as Sarinka—a healer from Seattle who had joined us. We also invited Damh Varias to join. He was Tam’s main advisor. We hadn’t met for about a month, so if runners had brought news, Lyon was probably on the move again and we needed to find out why.
“I assume that Hecate, Thor, and Freya have been notified?” The Elder Gods didn’t always sit in on our meetings, but we made sure they were always informed about whatever we learned.
“Yes, milady, I believe so.” Patrice finished tidying up after my bath. “Is there anything else you require?”
“Have you seen my notebook?” During the past six months, we had had to learn to do without technology. The cell towers were faulty and few and far between, and all our lovely gadgets were so much flotsam and jetsam. But we had concentrated a few raids specifically on things like paper products of all sorts, and anything that didn’t require electricity to work. We were set for a number of years and by the time we ran out of scavenged goods, we’d be firmly set up to carry on. At least, we hoped we would.
“Here it is, along with your pencils.” She handed them to me.
I slipped them into my tote bag and slung it over my shoulder. Purses were useless out here, but a good leather tote was a goddess-send. “All right, I guess I’m ready. I’ll be back later—I don’t know if we’ll go straight in to dinner afterward. It depends on how long our meeting runs.” And with that, I headed out.
AS I ENTERED the council chamber, I saw that Jason had arrived early, along with Elan. They were finding their way as a couple, and they seemed to be doing well. Jason and I had a rough spot that lasted a couple months when I discovered that he had had an affair with my mother before I was born, but we had gotten past it. Although things were different, we were back on steady ground as friends.
Tam rose, holding out his arms. The Prince of UnderBarrow looked more in his element than ever. The Wild Wood agreed with him, even though he missed his beloved computers and gadgets. Tall and lanky, he was sinuous, and the Bonny Fae charm oozed out of him. His hair was a mass of raven curls that tumbled down his back, and his eyes were silver, ringed with black. He had an exotic look, almost alien, but it only heightened his sex appeal.
I took his hands and he planted a firm but decorous kiss on my lips. We were cautious about our public displays of affection, taking care never to overstep the boundaries of what was acceptable among the Bonny Fae. Tam’s people were very sexual, but never sloppy.
“Love, how was your day?” He led me to the chair next to his and held it for me.
“Hard. Hecate is really pushing me, but I’m making progress. It’s amazing what I can do now with the fire. Tomorrow morning, she says she’s got a special surprise for me. I’m not sure whether to be excited or scared.” I laughed, then took my seat.
Jason and Elan were listening, and Jason winked. He had taken care of me as I grew up, after I landed on his doorstep when a serial killer murdered my mother. A hawk-shifter, he had owned a magic shop back in Seattle. We had plundered everything we could from it when we left and he had set up an apothecary shop in the village. Dream Wardens might not be the same size or scope as before, but it lived on.
“I’d be scared,” he said. “When the gods talk about a surprise, I’m pretty sure they aren’t talking birthday party.”
“I’m afraid you’re right. So, how are things at the shop?” Until we fled the city, I had a secondary business—a psychic cleaning company—that I ran out of Dream Wardens. I missed it, but right now my training was so intense that I didn’t have any time to spare.
“Good. Laren is actually helping me in between boat runs. He’s handy and the clients like him.” Jason gave me a long look, almost smug, as though he were hiding a secret.
“What are you up to?” I asked, narrowing my eyes. “I can read your face, you know.”
Elan elbowed him and he shut up as the others trickled in. When we were all assembled, Tam cleared his throat.
“Hello, and thank you all for attending on such short notice. I have news from Seattle and the surrounding areas. Runners came in this morning, and Damh Varias and I have been in conference with them most of the afternoon.” He paused.
I didn’t waste any time. “Do you have news about Lyon?”
He nodded. “Of a sort. The Devani now seem to be working with the Order of the Black Mist—an odd pairing given how ordered the former are, and how chaotic the latter is. But whatever the case, from what our intelligence can gather, Lyon’s searching for the portal on the World Tree that will lead to the realm of Chaos. The Abominations are running unchecked through the remains of the city, if you can call what’s left a city. Seattle’s pretty much gone. All the Order of the Black Mist is ruling over is a ghost town.”
The last was hard to hear, though not unexpected. “Do we know how many people are still living there?” It was hard to think about the number of dead. At least one hundred thousand had perished during the zombie attack. And then, an unknown toll from the tsunami. While a number of the survivors had fled the city before the waves hit, there must have been tens of thousands who had been still trapped when the waters came rushing through.
“I don’t know, but reports are that the Junk Yard was swept away. The survivors have created a small compound they’re calling Shanty Town. The Sandspit seems to be a playground for Abominations, but the creatures are moving out into the wilds. They’re traveling out of the city for some reason—probably because of the lack of ready victims.”
The whip on my leg itched as the urge to go play hunt-and-seek hit me. But I kept quiet.
Tam tossed the papers he was holding on the table. “But we have even more disturbing news. We’ve managed to gather a few reports from the rest of the country. The Conglomerate is gone. The country has fallen into chaos—there is no more Americex Corporatocracy. The Order of the Black Mist may have taken Atlantea, but there’s been nothing but radio silence from there. We have no idea of whether they’re managing or not.”
“What about the rest of the world?” Greta was furiously taking notes.
Tam shuffled through his papers till he found the one he was looking for. “The Canadian Empire is standing, but it’s closed its borders. The same with Bifrost and a few of the other countries overseas. Other than that, we don’t know. We do know that the Asiatic Empire, New London, and Paris are all gone. Even the Kiwi Nation is lost. Most of this is due directly to the Order of the Black Mist.”
“And Lyon is still trying to rip open the portals. I wonder if they’re attempting the same thing on the World Trees around the world. It would make sense. And if that’s the case, then stopping Lyon isn’t going to stop them from achieving their goal.” I was beginning to wonder if we should just cut our losses and enjoy what time we had left until they managed to bring back the Elder Gods of Chaos.
“That, I can’t tell you. It would make sense. But if it’s true, they haven’t had any better luck than Lyon has.” Tam leaned his elbows on the table. “As things go, there’s not much we can do right now. With the Devani supporting Lyon, we don’t have the force necessary to go up against him unless the Elder Gods step in, and so far, they’ve given us no sign they’re going to do so.”
A knock on the door stopped the conversation. As one of the guards peeked inside, Tam motioned for him to enter. “What is it?”
“Lord Tam, we have reports from the south side of the village. An Abomination has been spotted near the town. The guards wondered if you would help.” He paused, looking directly at me.
I jumped up. “I’m on my way. Let me go change.”
That ended the meeting. As I raced back to my room, I called for Queet, the spirit guide to whom I was bound. He appeared in a whirl of mist.
“Come on, Queet. We have a job.” And as much as I hated to admit it, I was glad for the diversion. It made life feel somewhat normal again.