“So you weren’t actually born with your fate-changing charms?” Puck queried after I finished explaining the story. I shrugged. In a way, I had been. My first life was not wholly mine; I saw it as only sharing with someone much weaker, more self-oriented. So my true first life continued to be the one where I met the Faery Courts and changed the course of time on purpose. “This makes absolutely no sense to me. But hey, if that armor is intended for you, I’d use it.”
“It doesn’t make sense to me either, mister. It’s like I split down the middle. The girl who saved Eliza stayed behind and befriended her, but I… well, who I used to be became the honest-to-promises Queen of Fate. You and Ash always joke about it, but what if it's true?”
Puck rolled his eyes. “This is what we get for messing with the time continuum, huh?” He glanced toward the windows. “I sent a message to Ash while you were out of it, for lack of a better phrase. Our telepathy should be functioning again, as long as no other charms were placed on our bond. We agreed to try whenever you were ready. Also,” he added as if in afterthought, “he and the others are coming from Tir Na Nog to collect their weapons. We lost a lot in the raid.” His voice broke, but he didn’t need to go on.
“These are all theirs, anyway,” I reminded him. “From God knows how long ago.”
The trickster hovered between me and the closet, the armor hidden inside. “Are we actually going into battle this time?” If I didn’t know him any better, I would have thought the hope in his voice was a hint at his bloodlust. As much as he wanted revenge, though, I knew he wanted to get over all this even more.
What bothered me was that he was still cursed, and I was still drained. “Yeah, we’re taking the final fight to them.” Since it worked so well the last time. “We can’t keep pushing this off any more. I’m not going to recover in time for us to gain any advantage, if at all, and they might have half the globe amassed in their armies by the time I am ready. It’s better we do this now, before they march on us.”
“All agreed, except on one thing, little warrior.” Emerald depths conveyed the emotion he had trouble putting into words, especially with traces of the beast still inside him. I bit my lower lip in response.
Soon, I thought. Soon I can get out of this mess, and you can be free of me.
It was my pendant that announced their arrival. Rowan and Sage found us first, followed not long after by Meg and Ash. Meghan wore armor similar to the Winter Princes’, except hers bore the colors of the Iron and Summer Courts. Kelsey trailed in their wake, flanked on either side by Ren and Kishan. Behind me, the hooks of the armory seemed to throb with restrained power.
I’m fine, guys, really, I told the boys silently, picking up on their twin waves of concern.
Puck pulled me close as Rowan called his weapons to him. I watched the blades line themselves along his belt, strap to his back and lower legs. The trickster pinched my side. That’s a lie. Neither one of us is okay.
Careful, Goodfellow. She can still stomp on your feet.
“Go ahead, Sage,” I reassured him once Rowan was armed to the teeth. “As long as we go one at a time, there’s less risk of any of us getting hurt.”
The three of us agreed to go last, although I could see in my Guard’s faces that they knew that already. Meghan then Kelsey, clad in regular gear stitched with symbols representing Durga’s gifts, went after Sage. Kishan reached across Puck to give my hand a squeeze before summoning his weapons to his sides. As soon as Ren held his own varying blades, I realized why. My throat closed at seeing the Indian princes looking exactly as they had prior to the ambush.
My dark faery lifted his chin ever so slightly. His weapons hummed through the air, somehow more quietly than all the others. I assumed it was because our affinities were closer to each other’s than I was to the rest of theirs.
Following that logic, Puck’s were near silent as he claimed them. Most of them carried the usual, daggers and swords, as well as specific weapons tailored to them. Kishan held chakrams on either hip; Kelsey leaned against a bow staff. Puck moved away from me, decked in blades. They were all in armor marking where they’d come from, or who they commanded. In Ren’s case, it was both. Emerald eyes locked on mine. All their crowns appeared on their heads. A weight fell on my own.
I wasn’t sure about what stung my eyes. I was glad to see them all together, all as deadly as they had been before, but I remembered every last detail. If anything went wrong this time, I’d go through their deaths twice over. The thought knocked my breath away.
“I don’t have the magic that allows sentient weapons to respond. I’m not in armor because I have never worn any, and because the one that was offered to me holds traces of something I would rather not remember.” I looked at all of them in turn, a wry smirk ghosting the corner of my mouth. “At least Mab can’t say I’m lacking my inner guard now.”
“Let’s give her some space.” Ren cocked his head the tiniest bit. “The Wolf is waiting outside. He might have news from the Hunters.”
Blinking my gratitude at Ren, I glanced at Ash and Puck. Stay downstairs. Kelsey and Meghan can handle whatever it is the Wolf wants, and I might need you two to stop me from changing out of that armor the instant I put it on. Hell, I wasn’t even wearing it yet and I wanted to change.
Done, they replied in unison, something that rarely happened.
The instant they were gone, I crossed the room to the legend’s wall, eyeing the inscription there. The unfinished story seemed to glare at me. “I am the queen, not the hero who saved her daughter,” I told the words, very aware of how much I’d already lost my mind since this all started. “Noble though she was, she didn’t have my power. But I’m not sure I believe what everyone keeps telling me.” I reread the combination of languages. There had to be something hidden in the myth, or else it wouldn’t have been written so close to me.
Instead of waiting to figure it out, I headed for the closet. No sooner had I donned the armor than my blades came to me of their own accord. Strength flowed in my veins, and my crown was more than a nuisance, now a welcome weight on my head. I just wished I had full magic to go along with it.
Puck emitted a low whistle of greeting before I even made it down the steps entirely. “You should’ve worn that a long time ago,” he commented, blatantly ignoring the new/old cloak that covered my left side.
Ash stepped forward and traced the family crest. An eagle soaring in flight, scrolls and runes intertwined with the silhouette so that it was an unrecognizable, awe-inducing shape. I only knew what it was because of the knowledge that came with the cloak itself. Strange as that sounded, even after everything.
His mercury gaze lightened with pride. “Starr Lord indeed,” he murmured, my full name sounding weird in his voice.
Right… Fate was said to be written in the stars. I grimaced, but the fey believed in the power of names. If I could recover in time to live up to mine, I’d agree with generations of Fair Folk. Until then, I only hoped that we lived through this wretched finale of total war. Every last one of us, fighters and civilians alike. It bothered me that Lokesh had every capability to dominate the human world, if I were to fall again.Our pendants began to glow simultaneously. I sighed, not ready for what awaited us. “It’s time.”