Chapters:

Prologue

 She stood in the clearing, and knew she was going to die. She’d known, from a young age, that everyone dies, of course, but she’d pictured it coming much later. After years and years, a life and a legacy left behind, the school she’d always dreamt of opening carrying on her teachings to generations of girls after her.

Now, all Bridget had to leave behind was a hastily written spell, a circle in a clearing in the woods in a land not her own, and the fierce hope that her death wouldn’t be for nothing. It was some sort of legacy, she supposed, fingers working quickly to light candles whose flames trembled in the coming wind. Some sort of legacy that would be passed down to generations after her for as long as it took to break the curse. The curses, plural now, she reminded herself, catching a necklace as it swung forwards towards the flames, the curses that would be placed on members of her family, over and over again until they finally reached the correct configuration to break them. First the one, then the other, hopefully in neat little stacks, tipping each other over and over so her future kin would only have to try once, suffer once.

Bridget closed her hand over the amulet she wore and paused, for a moment. Sighed once, eyes closed, then dropped her hands and continued moving around the circle, glancing out into the woods as she completed the ritual. Anyone who didn’t know wouldn’t have seen the nerves, the slight tremor in her lips as she whispered incantations, the hitch in a step, the way she curled her fingers in on themselves. She knew, though, and that was enough, Bridget thought. She knew, and so the other would know.

Turning when she heard crashing footsteps, she drew the short sword from her waist and fell into a defensive stance, relaxing only slightly when the saw the figures drawing near.

“I found him,” Doran announced, moving towards her quickly, one hand on his own weapon, the other carrying a lantern. “He’s coming.” Her brother moved into the circle and sheathed his sword, reaching out to clasp her arm, hands on each other’s wrists, squeezing briefly before dropping. Bridget looked out past him into the woods.

“Good. We haven’t much time. The circle is nearly complete, we just need him here.”

Doran nodded. “I know. He is coming, I promise. He was only a moment behind me. We were….intercepted at one point.” Bridget’s head whipped to look at her brother, who was moving around the circle, retracing her steps, hand glowing blue over the line she’d carved in the dirt.

“Are you hurt?” Her voice, while calm, sounded tense to her own ears, and Doran flicked his eyes over, grinning wickedly for a moment, looking every bit the teen boy he should have been allowed to be.

“Am I hurt, she asks,” he teased, eyes falling back to the circle again as he kept moving. “I’m not, no. Neither of us were. We just needed to split up. Crows, again, in great flocks. She’s certainly using all the usual tricks.” He shrugged, stepping over a rune carefully before continuing, “it feels like her, but also feels….too easy.”

Bridget nodded, gathering crystals on the makeshift altar she’d set up. “I know what you mean. A dog intercepted me on my way here--” This time, it was Doran’s head that swiveled to her, his mouth open to question, but she interrupted with a quick, almost easy grin. “Am I hurt, he asks,” she said, and Doran’s mouth closed, falling into an easy smile. “A dog, on my way here. Not corporeal. Just snarling, snapping its teeth. Foaming at the mouth, which I must say, I thought was a nice touch.”

Doran snorted, his hand falling and the blue of his magic fading. “ I’m sure she hoped it would sufficiently scare you away. If anything, she didn’t know where you were heading, I believe. If she had, the dog would have had real form, and potentially could have killed you, stopping you from arriving here. She may know, soon, this is where we were going, but for now, I believe we’re safe.”

At the noise in the distance, the siblings turned, hands resting on weapons, posture alert. Silence fell, absolute, in the moment after, and Bridget’s hand tightened minutely, sword coming out of the sheath an inch, and she saw Doran’s fingers light pale blue next to her, just barely a shimmer.

Another noise, a small squawk, a bird shooting out of the trees, and then--

Bridget dropped her hand from the sword as she saw who was walking towards them, and fumbled in the pouch at her belt, drawing out a small iron bit. Doran’s hand stayed blue, albeit more faint, and their guest stopped at the edge of the yet-to-be-closed circle, raising one eyebrow and holding out one slender hand. Bridget tossed the iron bit to him, and he caught it easily, frowning faintly as his fist closed around it before tossing it back in the circle and holding up his hand, palm out, so Bridget and Doran could see the red, angry imprint left on his skin by the iron. Doran nodded, and Bridget sighed, tucking the bit back in her pouch and gesturing the guest forwards.

“I’m sorry, Embarr,” she said once he was inside the circle, moving to finish closing it, Doran on her heels. “You know they can change faces, but none of them are fae and that’s the only foolproof way we have of checking to be sure it’s you.” Embarr smiled, an easy gesture on a pleasant face, some of the severity of his resting appearance vanishing instantly, and he touched Bridget’s shoulder briefly. 

“I know, little one,” he said, moving to touch Doran’s shoulder as well. “You’ve been doing it for years, and apologizing for years. It doesn’t hurt much after the initial contact. I keep telling you I understand the risks, and accept them.” Bridget sighed, turning away when the circle glowed blue, Doran moving in behind her to finish his part, and she held out one hand for Embarr’s. 

“Let me heal it, at least,” she requested, and the faerie gently placed his hand in hers, watching as she rested her fingers over the small burn, eyebrows furrowed in concentration. Bridget felt the brief flash of pain that accompanied healing, a sharp sting in her fingertips, and Embarr’s skin glowed brighter, briefly, before dimming again, the burn gone. Bridget nodded, satisfied, and stepped back, rubbing stinging fingers on her skirt. “Good as new,” she said, smiling up at him, studying the face of one she’d come to know since she was very small, the one who was as much family as anyone. She stayed quiet a moment too long, and Embarr’s pleasant smile turned to worry. When he reached out, touched cool fingertips to her brow, Bridget closed her eyes.

“You’re worried,” he said. A statement, not a question, and Bridget sighed. Started to deny it, then thought better of it.

“Yes. Yes, I’m worried.”

“You needn’t worry. Not about me, at any rate. Not about Donal, either. He’s a good boy. He’s smart, he’ll make it.”