The gate barely missed taking the tips of Juliet’s fingers with it when it shut, close enough that she felt the brush of displaced air. Her nose filled with the scent of sun-baked dirt and dust, and she felt queasy suddenly, enough that she pressed a hand to her stomach, hoping that it was only from the stress and not from the flu. For a moment she stood framed in the open space where the window had been, staring blankly at the emptiness where her brother had vanished, before Dmitri grabbed her around the waist and dragged her away from the broken door. Half a dozen arrows whistled through the hole in the door and embedded themselves in the wall opposite, deep enough that the fletching brushed the plaster. Juliet grabbed Dmitri with one hand and cast with the other, slamming up a wall of pure magic to block the hole, where it shimmered like a mirage in the rising rays of the sun.
“Fuck.” She pointed at the arrows and let her rage disintegrate them in a blast of power, leaving the wall stained black with ash. “I need to go. I need to get Jesse back.” She tried to pull away from Dmitri but he only tightened his grip. “Let go of me! Now!”
“No. Not until you’ve calmed down a little. You can’t go running off without even a plan, Jules. We have a bunch of murderous elves outside, remember? With you gone, we’re unprotected. And if you get hurt there, I have no way of getting to you.”
Juliet twisted in his arms and glared up at him. “How selfish can you be, Dmitri? You’re talking about leaving my brother alone in the lower worlds with a crazy elf queen.”
“He’s a trained mage.” Dmitri cupped her chin, gently stroking her skin with a calloused thumb. “If you leave now, you’ll come home to nothing. Think logically, Jules, please.” He gave her a pleading look. “Don’t just go racing off without thinking about it first.”
Part of Juliet wanted to shove him away and scream at him for being so cruel, but she forced herself to take a shaky breath instead and push down her anger and fear. Her head ached with the sense of the elves outside, their foreign magic drawing the life from the land she’d claimed, twisting it to suit their own purposes. She took another breath and made her tense muscles relax. “Okay. I’m sorry I snapped at you. I’m just...”
“Worried. Stressed out and scared.” He kissed her forehead. “I get it. I love Jesse too, but we have to trust that he can get himself out or find somewhere safe to hide until we can go get him. He’s tough, Jules, tougher than you give him credit for.”
“And more powerful,” Corvin said from the doorway into the living room. Celina and Cato stood behind him, wrists linked, their bodies stiff with tension. “You’re more refined, but in terms of raw power, he completely outstrips you.”
“Thanks for that,” Juliet snapped. “I know. But raw power’s useless if you don’t know what to do with it.”
“He doesn’t have a place like you do, nothing to anchor him.” Corvin shrugged, the corner of his mouth quirking up in half a smile. “Or no one.”
Juliet felt her upper lip curl and fought down the urge to throw an unpleasant spell at him. “Just stop talking to me. I need to strengthen the wards.”
She pushed away from Dmitri and went to the back door, drawing a complicated rune on its surface with a spit-dampened finger. The dragons came out from under the table to follow her from room to room as she marked each window and door, crowding at her heels and grumbling to each other. Porthos hissed at the elves in the living room, lashing her tail, but Aramis and Athos stalked past without comment.
She ended up at the back door again when she’d finished her loop of the first floor. Outside, the backyard was quiet and empty under the heat of the mid-morning sun, but she could see movement in the fields behind the barn and sense the presence of the elves grouped around the front of the house and along the driveway. She stood at the door for a few moments, watching the barn and letting her senses checks the wards she’d placed to keep her animals safe. They were still strong and steady, allowing her to relax a little, despite her nagging worry about not being able to do the morning feed. Worrying over the animals at least helped keep her mind off the bigger worry of Jesse, trapped in the lower worlds.
Dmitri asked her if she wanted a drink and she started to turn away from the door, but movement by the corner of the porch caught her eye. She didn’t think elves actually got nervous but the slim, dark-haired elf who stepped up onto the porch looked uneasy and tense. Juliet waited to make sure the elf wasn’t going to be followed by her companions, then raised a hand to cast, pulling enough magic to turn the elf into dust.
The panic in Corvin’s voice pulled Juliet around almost involuntarily and she glared at him. “What?”
He hesitated and looked at Celina, who only rolled her eyes and said, “That’s Morwen. Corvin’s wife.”
“Seriously?” Juliet arched an eyebrow. “Since when do elves get married?”
“It happens,” Corvin said defensively. “Sometimes.”
“She’s still out there, not in here. She didn’t come with you when you all came running over here. She’s one of them, not one of us.”
“She didn’t have a choice.”
“Are we an ‘us’ now?” Celina asked. “Then I would appreciate you taking these chains off.”
“Shut up.” Juliet turned back to the door, rubbing absently at her temples, and started a little when she found the elf standing only a few feet away in the shade, violet eyes cool and wary. Calling up her magic into a shield, Juliet opened the door just enough to say, “You have 30 seconds to speak your piece, Morwen.”
Morwen flinched slightly at the sound of her name but her eyes didn’t waver. “Reinforcements are coming. Likely they are already here or just coming through the gate. This is the only warning you’re likely to get.”
Juliet studied her for a long moment. “Did someone send you to warn us?”
“No,” Morwen said, drawing herself up.
“Then why are you doing it?”
“Many reasons. You have my husband and companions. I don’t like Kith’s mother and I outgrew his cousin when I left childhood behind.” She gave a disdainful sniff, as though the thought of a childhood friend offended her. “I do like it here and I want to stay.”
“You’re not staying. None of you are.” Juliet glanced back into the house and got raised eyebrows from Dmitri. Turning back to Morwen, she grudgingly added, “Thank you for the warning anyway.”
She moved to shut the door, unwilling to have yet another elf in her kitchen, but stopped at a sudden loud bang from the barn, carrying through the still air. Something slammed against the inside of the barn doors, bowing them outwards. A second of silence passed, then the doors splintered and the gryphon shouldered its way out, spreading its wings and shrieking at the sky. Juliet heard yells from where the elves were gathered and reached out without thinking to grab Morwen’s arm and yank her into the house, shoving her at Dmitri. Down by the barn, a group of elves attempted to corral the gryphon against the wall, but the gryphon beat two of them back with its wings and tore at a third with its beak before launching itself into the air.
Juliet threw a shield up around it an instant before a trio of blue-flecked arrows would have pierced its throat and flinched when another bounced off her own shield only inches in front of her face. She threw power in the direction it had come from and opened a gate for the gryphon before ducking back into the kitchen, her stomach rolling over queasily. Dmitri handed over a glass of water, which she chugged and slammed back down on the counter, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Why’d you send it back?” Dmitri asked, leaning in towards her to keep his voice quiet.
“Because the last thing I need is a rampaging gryphon on my farm,” Juliet murmured, then raised her voice to tell the elves, “You four stay here. My Musketeers will let me know if you so much as cough too loud.”
“And if we do, you will blow us to bits,” Celina said, covering a yawn. “We’ll behave.”
Juliet didn’t bother to answer before she started up the stairs, gripping the banister tightly as she fought off a wave of dizziness. Dmitri joined her, taking her hand as they reached the second floor landing and tugging her into a hug. For a moment she leaned into him, resting her head against his chest, then she pulled away to go into their bedroom and start warding the balcony door.
“I think I have to call in Guelph,” she said as she worked. “If Morwen’s right about the reinforcements, then we need the help or we’ll get overrun. And I can go find Jesse.”
“No argument here. The more help, the better.” Dmitri sat down on the end of the bed and ran a hand back through his hair, tugging it up into spikes. “How are you feeling, Jules? You’ve been looking a little off.”
“Love you too. I’m fine. Just a lot of magic cast in a short time, and I’m still tired from all the work I did in Ottawa.” Juliet pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and dialled the Guelph Magia office, absently tapping her foot as it rang. The sudden three-tone chime and the female voice telling her the number was no longer in service startled her, and she stared at the phone’s screen like an explanation would appear there. “Out of service? It can’t be out of service.”
“You’re no longer in range.” Kith’s voice was little more than a rasp and when Juliet looked up sharply, she saw that he was leaning heavily against the doorframe.
“How did you get out?” she asked. “You’re worse than my dragons. I warded that door like Fort Knox.”
Kith shrugged, smiling faintly. “Elves and dragons. We never stay where you want us to stay for very long.”
Juliet rolled her eyes, too tired to take his bait. “Fine. Whatever. What do you mean, no longer in range?”
“I mean, your territory has been warped out of place. Too many elves. It’s been pushed to a between place, not quite in your mortal world, not quite in ours.” Kith gingerly straightened up. “Where is Jesse?”
“Not here.” Juliet hesitated, then sighed and sat down on the bed beside Dmitri, leaning against him when he put an arm around her. “I tried to shove your mother back where she belongs and she took Jesse with her. And I have to... take care of this bullshit here before I can go get him. So thanks for that.”
Something flickered in Kith’s eyes, an expression that was there and gone so fast that Juliet wondered if she’d actually seen concern or just imagined it. He looked at her for a moment, then said, “This is our territory too.”
Juliet growled, feeling Dmitri’s arm tighten around her shoulders. “Don’t start with me.”
“You’re not listening, my lady mage. My companions and I claimed this territory.” He nodded towards the front of the house. “They are trespassing.”
“No shit,” Dmitri muttered. “Do you have a point, Kith?”
“Yes,” Juliet said slowly. “He’s saying they put a claim on this land for themselves, not for all elves. That means something. They invade, take over, and change things to suit them, and they hate it when other elves come in. Kith’s been here long enough to have a claim over this land, not that he’s going to continue to have that claim once I’ve gotten rid of the larger infestation.”
Kith spreads his hands in a gesture of peace. “Perhaps it will still count in our favour, since we have permission from your Magia to stay.”
“Uh, what’s to stop them from just joining the other elves?” Dmitri asked. “Even if they hate it when other elves come in, it’d make more sense to get rid of the humans first.”
“The only thing elves hate more than humans and mages is each other.” Juliet pushed herself to her feet. “Fine, Kith, you’ve got a temporary truce, and only because the longer Jesse’s stuck down there, the harder it’s going to be for me to find him. Clear?”
Kith swept as elegant a bow as he could manage with the obvious stiffness in his back. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good. Get out of my way and go lie down somewhere before you collapse.” Juliet pushed past him and went downstairs, where she found Morwen looking through the box of tea from the Fae Lord, still sitting on the kitchen table. “Hey, you. I realize it’s in your nature to stick various body parts where they don’t belong, but get out of my stuff and stay out.”
“You’ve been to see a Fae Lord recently?” Morwen flashed a smile Juliet didn’t much like. “Why?”
“I like being condescended at, it turns me on.”
“Mmm. Do you know what’s in these tea leaves he gave you?”
Juliet tried to keep her voice even, but some of her frustration leaked through. “I had it checked for poisons and traps, so nice try.”
“Oh? Is pregnancy a trap?” Morwen asked mildly.
Juliet blinked. “What, they prevent pregnancy? I guess that’s one way to try and make sure there are less mages in the world.”
“They’re not for prevention.” Morwen dropped the leaves back into the box and dusted off her fingers. “They’re for women who are already pregnant.”