Part I: Lhiannon—Sídhe
Teagan Wylltson blinked and tried to focus on her five-year-old brother, Aiden. His best friend, Lennie—a pudgy, pimpled eighteen-year-old—was holding him up so that he could see Teagan’s perch on the roof of the porch. Lucy, the sprite who had taken up residence in her brother’s hair, was zipping excitedly around his head.
“Come quick! Thomas is growing feathers!” Aiden yelled again.
“The man’s shape-shifting,” Finn said. He had taken her hand to pull her to her feet, and he hadn’t let go. Every molecule in her was suddenly vibrating at a higher rate, and webs of electricity spread over her entire body. It felt good. Really good. But it did make it hard to focus.
“Where’s Mamieo, then?” Finn asked.
“She was sitting beside him when I went through the living room,” Teagan said, dropping his hand and stepping away.
Focusing would be a good thing right now. Finn’s grandmother hadn’t been happy when they’d dragged a wounded shape shifter out of Mag Mell, but she’d promised not to harm the creature—so long as he didn’t do anything unnatural.
“Do you think she’ll consider this—”
“Unnatural? I’m sure of it.”
“Do away with the creature?” Finn rubbed his chin with the two good fingers of his wounded hand. “I doubt it. But I’d best go check on them just the same. Thomas might be needing some help.”
“Finn,” Teagan said, as he turned away. She glanced over to make sure Lennie had put Aiden down. He had. “I do love you.”
Finn turned back, grinning. “I know it.”
“But I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it, either. I meant it when I said that I’m still headed for Cornell. I’m not giving that up.”
“You didn’t think I’d go along with you? That’s why you were crying?”
Teagan shook her head. “I didn’t believe you could love me. I was going to get over it, and get on with my plans.”
“That’s just like you. Sticking to the plan.”
“Not this time. You turned my world upside down, Finn Mac Cumhaill. If Cindy hadn’t fallen for Oscar at first sight, I wouldn’t have been thinking about—”
“Why are you guys still talking?” Aiden yelled.
“Just one more minute, boyo,” Finn called over the edge, then turned back to Teagan.
“Cindy and Oscar? Your monkeys?”
“Chimpanzees are apes,” Teagan said automatically. “And they don’t belong to me—I just work with them. They shouldn’t belong to the zoo, either. They should belong to themselves. That’s what I’m working for. That’s why it’s important that I go to Cornell. So maybe you and I should wait until things settle down a bit—”
“Tea.” Finn looked grim. “Things are not going to settle. Your relations have come calling.”
“You mean the goblins.”
“And the Travelers. There’s never going to be peace between them. And your family’s in the middle of it.”
“Are you guys kissing? ” Aiden shouted.
“Not yet.” Finn cocked an eyebrow and lowered his voice so only Teagan could hear. “But I can’t wait to get to it.”
“’Cause Mamieo said to hurry!”
Finn touched Teagan’s face, then turned and jumped, catching the lamppost next to the house with his good hand. She stepped to the roof’s edge to watch him swing around it as he dropped. She’d been coming out onto the porch roof since she was little, but her stomach still felt tight if she stood too close to the edge. She would never just throw herself off it like that. Finn landed lightly in the patch of frost-yellowed grass between the sidewalk and the street, then grinned up at her.
Kissing. Teagan pressed her hands into her stomach to stop the trembling, which was threatening to spread to her knees.
“Come on, girl.” Finn lifted his arms. “Jump down. You’re just the right size for catching.”
“Uh-uh.” Teagan took a step back. “Not while you have a hurt hand.”
“Well, then, could you bring my duct tape down with you?”
Aiden started for the door.
“Finn—” Teagan began, but he had already caught her brother by the collar.
“Not so fast, there,” Finn said as Aiden tried to wiggle away.
“I want to know what’s happening,” Aiden said.
“Thomas is growing feathers.” Lennie sounded worried. “Like a bird. That’s what.”
Lennie couldn’t see Lucy and the other the creatures of Mag Mell who were only half present in this creation. But there were some unearthly creatures that were fully present in any of the worlds of the multiverse—angels, Highborn, and Fir Bolg—that even people without second sight could see. And watching a shape shifter transform would give Lennie nightmares.
“I’ll take care of it,” Finn assured him. “But I’ll be needing two brave men to stand guard out here. Do you know where I might find them?”
“We’re brave.” Aiden stopped wiggling, and tipped his head as if he were listening. “Yep,” he said. “There are bad guys coming. We’ll fight them!”
Finn glanced up at Teagan, and she shrugged. Aiden had been saving the world from imaginary bad guys daily since they escaped from Mag Mell, sometimes by singing them away, and sometimes defeating them with stick swords and rocks.
“We will?” Lennie looked worried.
“I fought bad guys before,” Aiden assured him. “I’ll show you how.” Lucy had decided the show was over and had settled into his hair again. She always played along with Aiden’s imaginary battles.
“All right,” Lennie agreed.
Finn looked at Teagan again, and she nodded.
“You two stay right here, then,” he said, “until Teagan can walk you across the street to Lennie’s house. Got it?”
Finn disappeared onto the porch beneath her, leaving both Aiden and Lennie looking up at her expectantly.
“Jump, Tea-gan,” Lennie said. “I can catch you. I don’t have a hurt hand.”
“Thank you, Lennie,” Teagan said. “But I’m going back in through the window. You wait there like Finn said.” She wiped her tears on the back of her sleeve. Her eyes were swollen, and her nose felt like a blob. She picked up the roll of tape.
“Aiden. Come to us.”
Teagan froze. She knew that voice, and it made her hair stand on end. She stepped as close to the edge of the roof as she dared.
“Lennie!” Aiden said. “The cat-sídhe are here!”
“What’s a cat-sídhe?” Lennie looked around. “Are they the bad guys?”
“Yep,” Aiden said. “They’re the kind you can’t see.”
“I hate that kind.” Lennie picked up a stick and swung at the air.
Teagan was glad Lennie couldn’t see the creatures on the far side of the street. He would have had nightmares for months. At first glance, they looked like large housecats. Dirty, diseased housecats that stood upright. But if you looked closer, you’d notice that their mouths and hands were almost human. Bare skin showed in mangy patches through their filthy fur. The bigger one’s ears hung in tatters. Maggot Cat. The last time she’d seen him he’d flicked maggots picked from his rotting flesh at her. The wound on his stomach didn’t seem to be open, but even from this distance his bare abdomen still looked swollen. The cat-sídhe beside him was younger, and Teagan had seen it before, too. It looked like it had been sleeping in an oil pan. Both of them had hunted Teagan, Aiden, and Finn through the streets of Chicago. The cat goblins were always causing the Irish Travelers trouble and grief.
“Aiden, is Finn already inside?” Teagan asked.
“Ah, ah!” The smaller cat-sídhe pointed up at her. “Teagan!”
“Teagan!” Maggot Cat commanded. “Step down.”
Her left foot moved a half an inch closer to the roof’s edge.
“No!” Teagan said, as much to her own leg as to the goblin.
“Yessssss!” Maggot Cat said.
They can do that, Finn had told her, the first time the goblin creatures had tried to control her body. The cat-sídhe could move some people’s muscles just for a second—long enough for a car to swerve into a pedestrian if you were driving, or for you to step in front of a train. Long enough to ruin your life. But you could learn to resist them, if you focused.
“Bones,” the smaller cat-sídhe yowled. “Marr-ow! Marr-ow!”
“I heard something scary,” Lennie said. “Like a whisper in my head.”
“That’s their voices,” Aiden explained. “Don’t listen.” Cat-sídhe voices had never had any effect at all on Aiden, but Lennie was a different matter.
“Lennie.” Maggot Cat tipped his head, looking at Lennie. “We know your name.”
“Shut up!” Aiden said.
Teagan flinched. Sídhe creatures had more power to bend you to their will if they knew your name.
Lennie looked around wildly. “Where are they, little guy?”
“Leave him alone,” Teagan said.
“Step down now!” Maggot Cat focused on her again. Her right foot moved a fraction of an inch, despite her focus.
“Leave my sister alone!” Aiden yelled, and Lucy came out of his hair like an angry hummingbird.
“Ssssprite!” Maggot Cat hissed.
Sprites were cat-sídhe’s favorite food—at least in Mag Mell. Lucy zipped toward them. Though Teagan was too far away to see it, she was sure the sprite had pulled her tiny bone knife out of the sheath on her thigh.
“Ah! Dibs!” The smaller cat-sídhe leaped into the air, trying to catch her. “Dibs!”
“Leave my Lucy alone, too!” Aiden started after her.
“No!” Lennie caught his collar. “We’re not supposed to cross the street without permission, little guy!”
“Hold on to him, Lennie,” Teagan called. Lucy was fluttering too close to the cat-sídhe’s claws.
She hefted the roll of duct tape. All she needed was a distraction until she could get off the roof. Cat-sídhe were not particularly brave. If she threw it hard enough to hit the wall above them, it might do the trick. The sprite could avoid the tape; she was designed for aerial combat.
A minivan blocked her line of sight for a moment, but as soon as it passed, Teagan threw the roll hard, aiming at the brick wall above the cat-sídhe. Lucy saw the tape coming and banked to the left, through the path of the tape. Maggot Cat twisted in the air, trying to follow her.
“No!” Teagan gasped as the tape hit him, knocking him head over tail.
“Yes!” Aiden cheered. “You got him!”
Teagan reached the drainpipe before Maggot Cat could catch his breath, grabbed onto the cold metal, and kicked the toes of her tennis shoes into the trumpet vine that wound around it.
“Ah, ah, let go, Teagan,” the smaller cat-sídhe called.
“Get ’em, Lucy!” Aiden shouted.
Whatever the sprite did stopped the second cat-sídhe in mid-yowl. Teagan scrambled halfway down the pipe, then jumped to the sidewalk.
“I’m down, Lucy!” she called. The sprite zipped back to Aiden.
Blood dripped from the smaller creature’s arm and shoulder where Lucy’s blade had connected. It licked at it, trying to stop the bleeding. Maggot Cat leaned against the brick wall, panting. The duct tape had hit him hard enough to burst the swelling on his stomach. He pressed his hands against it, but pus oozed over his stubby fingers.
“You better run,” Aiden said as Lucy settled into his hair, her eyes still flashing. “My sister’s going to get you.” Maggot Cat flattened his ears and hissed.
“Who is Tea-gan going to get?” Lennie’s eyes were wild.
Teagan glanced at her front door. There was no screaming, so she assumed Finn had the situation under control. But she still couldn’t send Lennie inside without knowing what was happening in there. She was going to have to take him to his own house—across the street, where the cat-sídhe were.
“You need to go play at Lennie’s house, Aiden,” Teagan said, taking the stick from Lennie.
“But I want to—”
Teagan gave him the look.
“Wait. Shake the candy out of your hair. Like you’re putting in shampoo.” Lucy had peeled M&M’s in her nest on Aiden’s head. Lennie might believe it was the work of Aiden’s own personal tooth fairy, but Mrs. Santini certainly wouldn’t.
Tea kept an eye on the cat-sídhe while Aiden leaned over and ruffled his hair with both hands. Red, green, and yellow bits of candy shell fell like confetti onto the sidewalk. When it either was gone or had settled to his scalp, Aiden took Lennie’s hand, and Teagan walked them across the street, staying between them and the goblin cats, who were edging closer. She waited until the boys were safely inside and the Santinis’ door was shut.
“I’m sorry,” Teagan said to the cat-sídhe. “I was aiming for the wall.”
“You missed,” the small cat-sídhe pointed out.
Maggot Cat flattened his ears and hissed again.
Their voices had less power over her when she wasn’t in a situation where one move could be fatal. It was as if fear gave them that tiny bit of control they needed to cause a disaster. If she hadn’t already been afraid of the drop, they wouldn’t have been able to move her toward the edge of the roof.
“You’re sick.” Teagan took a step toward them. “I’ll help you if you’ll let me. I’ve had a lot of experience with sick or injured”—she almost said animals—“creatures. If you come with me to the clinic . . .”
“Fear says to bring Aiden,” Maggot Cat said. “Bring Aiden to him.”
Blood in Aiden’s curls, and white bone shards. It was the image Fear Doirich, the Dark Man, had spoken into her mind in Mag Mell. She could see it if she closed her eyes.
“That’s not going to happen,” Teagan said.
“Keeee-yill.” The smaller cat-sídhe’s lower jaw started to jitter. Teagan had seen a housecat do the same thing when it made a ch-ch-ch sound imitating the call of a baby bird to trick the mother into coming closer. “Keeee-yill, keeee-yill!”
Maggot Cat slashed at him, claws out, and the smaller cat leaped back.
“Bring Aiden to him, and Fear will let you live. He still wants you. Bring Aiden to him.”
“I told you, that’s not going to happen,” Teagan repeated. “And I know he can’t come out and get us. There’s an angel guarding the way.”
“Keee—” The smaller cat began, but clapped his paws over his mouth when Maggot Cat narrowed his eyes.
Teagan started toward the cat-sídhe, but the creatures backed away from her, then flattened themselves, seemingly dislocating every joint as they squeezed through a gap barely wider than their skulls in the neighbor’s fence.
Teagan glanced at the Santini house. Mrs. Santini had gone to New York to visit a cousin in the Bronx a few years back, and had come away with a healthy respect for rats. There wouldn’t be a gap big enough for a mouse to squeeze through in her home, much less a cat-sídhe. Aiden and Lennie were watching from the front window.
Stay there, Teagan told Aiden using American Sign Language. She’d had no idea how useful teaching him ASL would turn out to be.
I mean it. She picked up the roll of duct tape, and the foul-smelling smear the cat-sídhe’s wound had left on it made her stomach knot.
Her little brother had wanted to kill Fear Doirich and Kyle when they’d had them helpless in Mag Mell.
“They’re really bad guys,” Aiden had said. “We should smash them with rocks like they were going to smash me.”
She’d been the one who’d said no. She’d wanted to get her family out of Mag Mell and home again. And killing Fear Doirich and Kyle had felt . . . wrong. She’d listened to that feeling, because Fear Doirich was bound and gagged.
Yet, not an hour later, she’d fed Ginny Greenteeth to the hellhounds to save her own life. It had been . . . useful.
You can curl up and die of regret and sorrow for what you’ve done. Or—
She would never do it again. She’d never let the Highborn come out the way it had in Mag Mell. Highborn were cold and calculating, born to violence, gifted in war. No matter what she’d inherited from her mother’s twisted family, she would choose to be like her dad. John Wylltson was a lover, not a fighter. Teagan took a deep breath, then went back across the street and up the steps to her own front door.