Prince of Wolves - Tasha Black
Ashe clutched the small leather pouch and gazed at her homeland one last time.
She was almost at the border that separated the kingdom of Autumn from the Winter Court. In the distance, she could see the icy mountaintops overlooking marble castle where she’d grown up, moonlight playing off the surface of the frozen lake below. A sweet wind carried that familiar winter chill to her, even from so far away, drying the tears that brimmed in her eyes, threatening to overflow.
Faerie was the only home Ashe had ever known, but she had no place in it anymore. Her sister had committed a heinous act, and died in the trying. And though Ashe had nothing to do with it, she was implicated by virtue of being her sister. Without even trying, she’d earned the hatred of two powerful kingdoms.
And yet somehow, Ashe felt a wave of relief at the thought of leaving it all behind. She had never truly felt at home in the fae realm, even among her own people.
She didn’t have the stomach for all the political machinations that consumed the life of a fae royal. And there was no point being a fae princess when you didn’t possess even a hint of magic. Power was everything when it came to a faerie court, and Ashe had none. Yet her royal position made her a default part of every half-baked scheme and power grab concocted around the Winter Court.
Ashe hated being a pawn.
Which was why she decided that she was finally taking control of her own life, starting tonight, and it felt damned good.
She turned her back on the view of the distant palace.
The leather pouch was warm in her hands, as if it held a living thing. It had cost her dearly to procure such magic, and it would only work once, so she had to use it with care.
She loosened the cord that held it closed and a few dark grains were released into the swirling wind.
It was now or never.
She took a deep breath and dumped the contents of the pouch into her left hand. A small pile of dark powder, not unlike volcanic ash, landed on her open palm.
Ashe closed her eyes, blew on the dust, and stepped forward concentrating on her goal.
She felt a strange sensation, like she was sprinting against the wind. Her ears popped, and she opened her eyes in spite of herself to see the world blurring before her.
Suddenly, the motion stopped and the world came back into focus. For a moment, she thought the magic hadn’t worked. She was standing on the same hilltop.
But it wasn’t the same.
The air here was thinner somehow, with a stale aftertaste. And the sky was a hazy, starless gray instead of velvet black.
She spun to find a blanket of artificial lights behind her instead of a moonlit palace.
A mortal city.
Panic clutched her heart and she looked down at her hand.
Ashe did not have a talisman for crossing the veil. And the dust was gone. It was a one-way ticket, she had known that before she set off. She was never going back to Faerie.
Still, she could not bring herself to head for the electric city.
Instead, she turned and slipped into the woods.
It was quiet here and more like home. Though the scraggly trees were a poor echo of the lush foliage of the fae realm, it was still beautiful, even in darkness. And the scent of pine needles was familiar and comforting.
She picked her way between the trees, enjoying the song of the nightbirds, which was louder here than at home.
The slope of the hillside did not trouble her much. The fae folk were light on their feet, and Ashe had spent her childhood exploring the woods of the Winter Court with her three daring brothers.
She felt a pang of guilt at leaving them behind.
But war was afoot in the fae realm. Her brothers would be tied up in battle for the foreseeable future. And when that was done, they would all be marrying off and having children of their own. They would be far too busy to miss their luckless sister.
“I’m free now,” she murmured to herself, thrilling at the words.
That was when she noticed the birdsong had stopped.
She froze against a tree trunk, willing her heart not to beat too loudly. A predator must be afoot, and she hoped it was not large enough to be interested in a meal her size.
There was crunching in the woods behind her - not an animal