THERE ARE MOMENTS WHEN THE WORLD HOLDS ITS BREATH. When the very air seems to pause, as if time itself has taken that last deep breath before…
The taste of salt and sweet metal slid across my tongue. The liquid seemed to grow, until when it glided down my throat it was like a drink of cool, clear water, if it could hold the salt of oceans and the taste of blood.
I saw the room in pieces, as if things were moving out of sync. A cloud of demi-fey flew into the room, though I knew they had been forbidden to come. Goblins thought them tasty. But the winged fey filled the room like a cloud of butterflies and moths, dragonflies and damsel-flies, and insects that had never appeared in nature. There seemed to be more of them than I knew had followed us into exile.
The air was alive with color from the fluttering of their wings, so many of them that they made a breeze that played in my hair and touched my face.
The dogs came next. Small terriers spilling around the feet of the goblins, as if the dogs did not care, and the goblins did not see them. The graceful step of the greyhounds next, picking their dainty way through the crowded room. They walked among the standing Red Caps as if they were a forest to move through instead of people. Stranger yet, the Red Caps did not react to the dogs.
The dogs went to their masters. The terriers went to Rhys. Some of the hounds went to others of the guard. My two hounds came to me. Minnie with her face half red and half white as if someone had drawn a line down her face. Mungo with his one red ear and the rest of him white as a swan wing.
They had all been waiting… for us.
Frost's voice came from behind me. "Merry, what is this?"
It was Royal's voice, from where he hovered above me with his moth's wings, that answered. "It is the moment of creation, Killing Frost."
I stared up at the diminutive man. "I don't understand."
He smiled at me, but there was an eagerness to him that I did not trust. There was always something sensual, even sexual, about Royal. Since he was the size of a large Barbie doll it was unsettling to say the least.
"We wait but for one piece more." This came from Penny, Royal's twin sister, who hovered beside him.
I didn't understand until the black hounds poured in like shadows with Darkness made flesh, whose eyes flashed red, green, and all the colors I'd seen in Doyle's eyes when his magic was upon him.
Doyle came through the door, leaning on the back of what looked like a black pony, a little bigger than the dogs. But a flash of those black eyes and I knew it was no pony. It pulled its lips back to flash teeth as sharp as any goblin's. It was a Kelpie, though how it got here I had no idea. The kelpies had been hunted and destroyed in Europe before we ever came to this country.
Kelpies either lurked in water and drew their prey down like crocodiles or pretended to be ponies on land. Then when some unwary human got on they galloped to the nearest water. They drowned their prey, or ate them as they drowned. Most of their victims were children. Children love ponies.
Frost and I both said "Doyle" together.
He managed a smile. His face was still bandaged, but he'd unbound his arm. He moved slowly, but he moved, with his hand on the back of the carnivorous pony.
"The dogs would not let me rest any longer," Doyle said.
I held my hand out to him.
Royal said, "No, Princess, that is not the point."
I looked up at him. "You said the last piece."
"He is the last piece, but you don't have to touch him. You have touched him enough for this moment to happen. You have touched them all enough to call us to you."
"Understand," he finished for me.
"You will," he said, and it was typical Royal, because he made it sound ominous.
Mungo nudged my hand. I stroked his head, and played with one silken ear. Minnie bumped my other hand as if jealous for my attention. I petted them both, feeling the warmth and solidness of them.
"There is no dog for me," Frost said. He had moved closer to me.
"What will be, will be," Royal said.
Then the demi-fey rose toward the high ceiling, sending light sparkling in rainbows from the crystal chandeliers. The light bounced and played off all of us. The goblins, even Ash and Holly, were still frozen out of time with us.
It was Jonty who blinked, and looked up at me. He, of all of them, who saw. His eyes went wide, then the world let out the breath it had been holding.